BioXplorer PlusMark O'Brien
School of Life Science, Queensland University of Technology
BioXplorer Plus (BioXP) is, according to its creators, a program designed to help students understand the material presented in the 6th Edition of the textbook "Biological Science" by J.L Gould and W.T. Keeton. The software package consists of four set-up disks; a single-page installation instruction sheet is also provided. No additional hardcopy information is included. Both PC and Mac versions are available. Minimum system requirements for PC's are Microsoft Windows 3.x or higher and 8MB of hard disk space. Minimum system requirements for Mac's are Macintosh 040 computer or better with System 6.5 or higher; 8MB of RAM, a monitor that can display 256 colours and 10.5MB of free hard disk space.
Installation instructions are clear and straight-forward; the user can choose either the full or custom installation option. Minimal computing skills are necessary to install the software and run the program.
BioXP is very easy to use and highly intuitive in its operation allowing first time users to get up and running quickly. Clicking on the Help button provides an on-screen display of instructions on how to use the program effectively; instructions are easy to read and understand. The program provides a comprehensive treatment of the six parts covered in the textbook: I.The Chemical and Cellular Basis of Life; II. The Perpetuation of Life; III. Evolutionary Biology; IV. The Genesis and Diversity of Life; V. The Biology of Organisms; and VI. Ecology. BioXP is split into three linked modules: a tutorial book with simulations, a quiz book and an interactive glossary. The user can easily and quickly navigate through all three modules.
Each screen in BioXP provides key notes on selected material from the textbook together with drawings, graphs and animations of selected concepts. At the bottom of each screen are well-defined buttons which help you to easily navigate through the program and provide access to auxillary learning aids such as the Glossary and Quiz modules. The information provided is, for the most part, accurate and user-targeted. As its creators rightfully point out: "Since the textbook is effective in presenting detailed illustrations and factual information, this program should be used as an adjunct to, and not a substitute for, the textbook."
Positive aspects of the program include: Well-structured, very user-friendly, computer-aided presentation of selected factual material and concepts drawn from the accompanying textbook. Although some attention to multimedia styling is needed, BioXP generally has a visually pleasing style presenting information in an easy-to-read format so that the learning process should be an enjoyable one. In this regard, the very clever mix of animation, video material and interactive questioning will help students better understand key concepts in biological science. Instructions are clear and informative. Control buttons allow for very easy and fast movement around the program; it has a really intuitive feel. Hypertext functions are very effective. The multiple-choice question module in BioXP can be accessed at any time with the click of a button. The users are informed as to whether their answers are correct or incorrect and a running score is also available; descriptive feedback is displayed for a correct response. A comprehensive glossary complements the package; access is available via an on-screen control button or via a hypertext function within an information screen. Key notes and concepts presented on-screen in BioXP can be directly related to textbook information since the corresponding chapter and page numbers appear at the top of the screen. An additional noteworthy feature is that the user can make on-screen notes which may be saved and/or printed.
Negative aspects of the program include: No control buttons to allow the user to print on-screen information; students frequently request such an option. Some additional attention to multimedia styling (on-screen presentation of graphics, artwork and text) is needed. No feedback given for incorrect responses in the multiple-choice quiz.
Overall, for university-level students studying general biological science or related speciality areas, BioXP is a potentially useful and exciting teaching/learning aid, particularily with its mix of animation, video material and interactive questioning. However, to maximize its value as a learning tool it must be used in conjunction with the textbook.
UniServe Science News Volume 8 November 1997
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