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Professors Receive Fellowships To Develop Technology for the Classroom


December 4, 2000
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

by Alexandra Obregon '00

Belloni and Student
ACS Fellow Mario Belloni is developing Physlets software for students like sophomore Nick Mantina.

Five Davidson College faculty scientists--Michael Dorcas, Barbara Lom, Mario Belloni, Larry Cain, and Wolfgang Christian--have been named Summer 2001 Technology Fellows by the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS). The fellowships, which include a $2,500 stipend, are awarded to faculty creating and developing technology-based teaching or research materials that can be shared with colleagues on the 15 campuses that comprise the consortium.

Dorcas, an assistant professor of biology, is developing materials that will assist his students in the study of herpetology. His proposal, entitled "Techno-Herpetology: Advanced Data-Collection Techniques for Students Involved in Long-Term Ecological Studies," outlines two methods for more effective and accurate data collection in long-term, student-based research projects.

Dorcas explained that undergraduates involved in long-term analyses must often use data collected by former students, in addition to the data that they collect. Consequently, consistency and accuracy of data and data collection techniques are paramount. To increase accuracy and consistency, Dorcas is developing procedures whereby students can use handheld computers (i.e. Palm Pilots), rather than traditional paper data sheets for data collection. Additionally, he is creating a web-based, amphibian and reptile observation report form that can be filled out by students from remote locations.

"These technologies will allow students to get past slogging through data entry, and focus more time on data analysis and interpretation," Dorcas said. These new methods will be implemented into biology courses spring, beginning with "Vertebrate Field Zoology," taught by Assistant Professor Mark Stanback.

Another ACS Technology Fellow in the biology department at Davidson is Assistant Professor Barbara Lom. Her project, "The Four-Dimensional Brain: An Interactive Tool for Teaching Developmental Neurobiology," involves the development of interactive computer-animations to demonstrate the developmental progression of retinal ganglion cell axons‹neurons that provide the sole physiological connection between the eye and the brain.

In her proposal, Lom points out that the timing of retinal axon extension and the anatomical trajectory of the axons from the eye to the target region of the brain have been well-documented, but all documentation is limited to two-dimensional, static representations. Using animation software, Lom will transform the static images into interactive animations that present this process in the brain of a tadpole in three dimensions and across time.

The visualization will help students understand a dynamic developmental process that is a difficult, but very fundamental concept in neurobiology and developmental biology, Lom said.

She plans to use the animations as a lecture and laboratory demonstration in various biology courses such as "Developmental Biology," where students perform investigative experiments on the development of retinal axons in the tadpole, and as a presentation tool in research seminars.

Physics professors Larry Cain and Wolfgang Christian, and Assistant Professor Mario Belloni, are collaborating on a project that will combine two web-based pedagogical techniques, Physlets® and Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT), to develop innovative curricular material for their quantum mechanics course.

They will develop pre-instruction exercises (called WarmUps in the JiTT approach) that will involve Physlet® (a Physics java applet written by Christian) animations to actively engage students outside of the classroom (using the World Wide Web) and enhance their in-class experience. Several hours before the beginning of class, students submit their answers to the WarmUps questions through a form on the Web. Instructors receive and analyze the student submissions, and craft a lecture based on those responses.

The inherently mathematical nature of quantum mechanics makes the subject a challenge for most students. The Physlet®-based WarmUp exercises, which have already been assimilated into Belloni's lower-division courses, present animations of concepts that help students understand those mathematics and actively participate in class.

Incorporated in August of 1991, the Associated Colleges of the South supports liberal arts education and strengthens academic programs at the member institutions. The ACS Teaching with Technology Fellowships are funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by "U.S. News and World Report" magazine.

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