SPIRES IT Workshop

A. Malcolm Campbell
Biology Department, Davidson College

If we want students to have 24 x 7 access to reading materials, paper is still the best medium. However, paper versions, especially photocopies in black and white, cannot provide all the information that can be provided on the web. This page illustrates several ways I use the IT for enhanced communication with studentst.

Examples I have developed and collected

Virtual Reprints

Virtual reprints is the term I use to describe online reproductions of primary literature. Photocopies of originals suffer from several disadvantages. These pages were produced prior to PubMed Central and free PDF reprints but the concept is the same. Obviously, professionally designed PDF files would be best.

1) Subtle details are lost in figure so students cannot evaluate data for themselves and therefore rely on authors' interpretations instead of developing their own. Example

2) Some colors do not photocopy at all and figures wind up at black boxes (in more ways than one). Example

3) I project figrues in class and label them on white boards so everyone can see the class discussion develop. Example

Interactive Viewing Molecules in "3D"

Much of biology occurs at the molecular level, which is too small for some students to comprehend. Since all molecules occupy space and have specific shapes, it is important for students to understand the shapes. One rule in biology is that form meets function. To understand function, students need to understand the structure.

Chime is a free web plugin that allows the user to view molecules interactively.

Compare ATP and cAMP

Examine the structure of dsDNA

View a protein with its ligands


Interactive Animations

Many text books have very good content, both in text and in graphics. However, some concepts are so difficult that students have a difficult time constructing mental models which put all the information into one integrated picture. To help students with difficult concepts, I have begun to create Molecular Movies which summarize well written text. These animations cannot replace the text but they help students who have read the material.

DNA Microarrays

B cell Maturation

Prelab Tutorials

There are some methods that are easier to understand if students can see what is supposed to happen, rather than just reading about them. This is not unusual; imagine learning how to tie your shoes by only reading directions but never seeing anyone demonstrate how. For this reason, I have started to create tutorials for some methods. The idea is for students to look before they come to lab and/or for me to show them with the AV systems so we can all watch at the same time.

This example shows an interactive tutorial on the proper use of microscopes used in Introductory Biology (Bio111). It combines image maps and mpeg movies. Internet Explorer works best for the movies.

Hyperlinked Human Histology

HHH is a collection of sites I created to let students link what they knew (cells and tissues) to what we were learning in immunology. This is a set of image maps and histology photomicrographs I created in conjunction with our histology instructor.


Over the course of several years, I have gotten permission to mirror a number of good but short movies on our web site. I did this because I got tired of fixing broken links each year when others redesigned their web pages. I know this has been helpful to me as well as other instructors. When we got a new server and web master, the main page was moved and we got quite a few emails asking for the new location.

Data Mining

With the advent of public databases and genomic/proteomic methods, PUIs have access to the best data in the world. Therefore, we can utilize this information in our courses and we can train students to search and understand these databases. I have created several online sets of questions that you can try out. Click on the "Thought Questions" that are associated with selected databases.

Student Assignments

I have converted all my course assessment, except tests, to web page assignments. Initially I did this to teach students how to make web pages (still a surprisingly valuable skill). I began this in 1997 and gradually became aware that the quality of their work was better than when I had them submit their work privately to me on paper. Peer pressure is not necessarily a bad thing. In addition, parents can view their children's work and this is a motivating factor that I enjoy. I find it easier to evaluate their work. I can click and follow their links to view any web resources, and can catch plagarism easier, and can copy and paste their content when I send their grades (by email link they must create). Finally, students have received complementary email from the "real world" which is a great morale booster.

Student Posters and Theses

Part of science is communication with a larger audience. Posters and talks are the normal ways to do this but some times students cannot attend real meetings or even if they do, you might want their work to be accessible after the meeting (how many posters can you keep?).

I have all my research students submit their work in html. Posters are eaisly converted to web pages, as are reseach papers and theses. This not only increases student pride, but adds to the lab's ongoing memory, attracks new students, alumni enjoy going back and looking, and is good PR for the College. Many of these links are available on my CV page or the student page.

Course Material Dissemination

I have all my course material available online. Students can see syllabi, assignments (including past ones), old exams, lecture IT materials, etc.


Some people in my department say that I have never met an IT tool I haven't liked, but this is incorrect. I do not like PowerPoint for several reasons. The files are huge, when converted to html, they are low quality and different from the original presentation, and you cannot do what I like to do within PPT.

The only time I like PPT is when I make a poster. This allows me to build a file that our plotter printer can use to produce a roll-up poster that is easy to carry and post at the meeting. You can see one I made recently.

Biology Department

© Copyright 2002 Department of Biology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28036
Send comments, questions, and suggestions to: macampbell@davidson.edu