DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT, AND USE OF WEB-BASED
The authors are participants in the Connected Curriculum Project, a World Wide Web project with home page at:
and materials available on servers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Duke University, and Montana State University. The project is supported by National Science Foundation grant DUE-9555407.
The Connected Curriculum Project
CCP is the result of a happy meeting of a new medium the World Wide Web with some older ideas. Those actively involved in the calculus reform movement have generally shared the following three goals: To break down the barriers between disciplines to study mathematics in the context of real problems. To engage our students in active learning. To help our students and ourselves develop a sense of ownership of the concepts and techniques discussed in our classes. Almost all of lower division mathematics was developed to study problems from the real world the same problems that most of our students hope eventually to be able to solve. By studying mathematics in context, students learn more about doing mathematics, learn more about the world around them, and are better prepared to use mathematics effectively outside the mathematics classroom. Mathematics is an essential language for studying other subjects, and it should be routinely used across the curriculum. Our first goal is Mathematics Across the Curriculum.
The architecture of the World Wide Web is ideally suited for accomplishing all three of these goals. Web browsers are designed to encourage very active and interactive engagement with material. We use a browser as a conductor, orchestrating a mix of text, graphics, movies, and sound with helper applications, such as Mathematica, Maple, Mathcad, and TI Graph Link. In a typical session, students go back and forth between their browser window, their CAS window, and "hands-on" laboratory equipment, exploring real phenomena, mathematical models, and the mathematics underlying the models at the same time.
The hypertext structure of web material emphasizes links and connections rather than compartmentalization. Students starting with material in one subject will find themselves following links to other subjects. Hypertext also emphasizes choice. By choosing applications and examples that interest them, and by selecting background material they need, students construct their own individualized courses, tailored to their own interests and background.
The malleability of web-based material encourages multiple authorship and, most importantly, multiple ownership. Web-based courses are living courses, evolving as our world evolves. Our goal is to create and maintain a large volume of highly interconnected material that will support learning across the curriculum with bridges rather than barriers.
Design, Implementation, and Learning Issues
Over the past few years we have benefitted from a study of the ways materials can and should be presented on a computer screen. Issues such as use of color, placement, and font face and size, and arrangement of text, interactive mathematics, and graphics are important factors in the pedagogical success of interactive modules. The CCP materials are designed to translate sound design principles to a web-based environment in which the author has only limited control over the final rendering of the display.
Our materials guide exploration by a variety of tools, e.g., computer algebra systems such as Maple, Mathematica, or Mathcad, Java-based interactions, and CBL data gathering. Our live presentation shows how to tie all these activities together through the web and how to use related web-based materials as part of the exploration.
How does use of these materials in a course affect the development of the course and the student approach to learning? As we outline in the next section, the materials may be used in a variety of ways. What effects do these different approaches and combinations of them have on learning? Our live examples illustrate the lessons we have learned.
Uses of CCP Materials
Our materials are being and will be used in various ways: As supplements to existing courses that use currently available textbooks. To support new courses that draw material from several different fields. By students on their own to supplement and complement material in their courses, and to help them see connections between courses and fields that are often overlooked in a departmentalized university.
These materials can also be used in different settings: In regularly scheduled laboratory components for traditionally structured classes. In self-scheduled laboratory components for traditionally structured classes, with work at various sites on campus or at home or in dorms wherever students have web access, plus a helper application and (if needed) lab equipment. In courses where some lecturing is replaced by group work, with students at workstations that include computers and lab equipment, and with an instructor circulating to work with students in their small groups. By students who choose to use CCP as an additional resource working alone or in groups at home, in dorms, or in open labs.
Contributing Authors and Participating Sites
In addition to the authors of this paper, participants in and contributors to CCP include:
William Barker (Bowdoin College, ME)
In the future we expect to accept contributions to a Connected Curriculum Library that will comprise peer-reviewed and professionally-edited materials residing on a single site, with several mirror sites. For the time being, our materials reside on three separate (but linked) sites, each with a special focus.
At the Cal Poly Site the focus is on interdisciplinary projects, student-directed investigations of extensions and applications of classroom material. These projects cover mathematical topics from agriculture, architecture and enviromental design, business, engineering, liberal arts, various sciences, and mathematics itself. The mathematical level ranges from precalculus to differential equations. Each project contains links to support modules in the relevant areas of mathematics.
The Duke Site focuses on interactive modules, self-contained lessons for use as laboratory activities, classroom demonstrations, or self-study. Mathematical topics come from precalculus, single- and multivariable calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, engineering math, and probability and statistics. The modules also cover a wide range of applications of interest to students and teachers across disciplines. This site is a descendant of the NSF-sponsored Project CALC reform calculus project. In particular, it will eventually contain web-based versions of all the Project CALC labs.
The focus of the Montana State Site is on interactive texts, detailed, full-length expositions of mathematical subjects with frequent opportunities for reader participation and investigation. Subjects include precalculus, calculus, modeling, linear algebra, differential equations, and probability and statistics. The texts are cross-referenced, linked to a library of supplementary help material, and tied together by a number of recurring "case studies." Through links to many applications, the texts seek to break down barriers between disciplines and to encourage student and teacher "ownership" of individual courses.
The Connected Curriculum Project is producing innovative interactive materials in areas of mathematics from precalculus to linear algebra and differential equations, as well as materials that illustrate the use of mathematics in other disciplines across the curriculum. Some of the units are designed to be used as integral parts of courses others are free-standing reference modules for review and enrichment.