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Digital Documentation in General Biology Lab

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ACIE
photo: Kim Ziance, Bruce W. Robart

(left to right) Kim Ziance, Bruce W. Robart
Photo by Rick Povich, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Bruce W. Robart and Kimberly Ziance, Biology, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, will use their 2005 ACIE award forIntegrating Digital Documentation into the General Biology Laboratory Curriculum to enhance the laboratory experiences of approximately 300 Biology I and II students every year. Digital imaging technology merges the magnification ability of a light microscope with the image capturing capability of a digital camera. Installation of digital compound and stereo zoom microscopes, laptop computers and appropriate software into laboratory classrooms will advance students’ (1) digital microscopy skills, (2) ability to incorporate accurate, detailed captured images into their laboratory notebooks, (3) engagement in the classroom and, (4) intrinsic motivation in the natural sciences.

Laboratory activities, assignments and materials are being revised to take optimal advantage of this technology and “extend traditional laboratory experiences beyond previous capabilities.” Historically, students had to try to reproduce visual representations of the microscope images for notes or lab notebooks. The new equipment will enable students to not only generate, set up, and orient their own slides, but also to manipulate, enhance, label, and share images for individual or group lab exercises, and ultimately to interpret, review, and study captured images.

When Robart introduced the prototype of this technology, “the students’ enthusiasm was immediate — they gravitated to it, lining up behind the one microscope in the classroom.” Robart and Ziance have been similarly impressed with faculty’s enthusiastic response to conference presentations detailing experiences with digital imaging and documentation technologies. As a conference workshop participant noted last year, this application certainly inhibits students’ “see and flee response to labs.” Robart and Ziance agree that students’ responses “have been unbelievable.” Students work together on group projects, “bouncing ideas off each other, seeking out and exploring supplemental resources, and synthesizing information from previous lessons.” Enhancing, labeling, and incorporating digitized microscopic images into their lab notebooks and projects, they now take that extra step. Robart recalls, “It was a student who suggested calling this process digital documentation .” In addition, students with visual or processing impairments benefit from image enlargement and flexible accessibility. Robart and Ziance are confident that this technology enhances the quality of students’ laboratory experiences, engagement with the discipline, cognitive level of functioning, and learning outcomes. The project’s instructional benefits will be documented by comparative examination and student surveys.


OCTOBER 2005

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Web-based Teaching for Ambulatory Education
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