Interact availability, the classroom remains the primary venue for education and is likely to remain important into the foreseeable future.
Approaches to integrating computers in the classroom have varied from complete replacement of parts of the curricu- lum (Papert 16, Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT)
Classroom 2000 1),
specific topic support in the style of older technologies such as slide strips and movies (e.g., the Library of Con- gress project American Memory 14, Tom Snyder 6).
For example, in the JavaLab project at the University of
into a large introductory physics computer lets these students learn
tation (there were
course), the use of a series of rethinking of the syllabus, the sented, and the addition of lab
Java-based labs required a way that topics were pre- times. The use of the Java
labs had the positive effect, however, of more concept-based approach to teaching,
"facilitating a as opposed to
In two courses at Brown computer labs were introduced
with quite different results. computer labs seemed to fill
In a biology course, simple a gap but had dull interfaces
which made them unpopular with the students contrast, in a multivariable calculus course 2,
ences, but the difficult room
high-end graphics and interaction created scheduling problems and dramatically in-
creased time support staff.
Using Interactive Learning Experiences in an Introductory Graphics Programming Course
To deal with these issues, and others, the Exploratories project has been creating 2D and 3D interactive learning experiences and exploring strategies for integrating these materials into traditional classroom settings as well as less traditional Web-based venues.
Each approach described below is discussed first in terms of our goals and expectations, then how we tried to achieve them, and finally the results and student response.
Our first approach was an obvious one, in-class demos. Since one of the important goals of an exploratory is to harness the power of interactive graphics to explain an idea, most function well as demonstrations. We selected about a dozen for use at appropriate places in the lectures.
Like any demo, use of an exploratory takes time away from the lecture, so we also had to slightly compress points or eliminate material. Our lecture room has computer projec- tion, but otherwise we would have had to arrange for AV support and perhaps book a separate room. Given the un-
predictable nature of Web-based Java execution, we had to test all our Java-based demos on the actual equipment, and even with the actual logins that would be used ahead of
We found in-class demos to be extremely successful. For example, demos of our applets about signal processing en- abled us to explain convolution much more clearly than in previous years. The convolution applet in Figure 1 shows an original function, drawn by the user, a filter, also drawn by the user, the product of the filter as it slides over the function, and the changing area under the product--the con- volution of the filter and the original function. In the past, the instructor had relied on colored pens and the layering and sliding of overheads to' explain these relationships. With proper planning, we had few technical problems and students appreciated the change of teaching approach. It also served to awaken interest in the materials and in- creased the chance of students using our applets on their own time.
Student feedback, gathered in mid-term and final question- naires, was overwhelmingly positive. The time cornm- itrnents and logistical preparation thus seemed well worth while. The chief problem, aside from those created by lack of adequate preparation, is that software can always crash and hardware can always malfunction, A demo that blows up not only requires some fallback explanation (perhaps the old class notes) but can also have an unpleasant psycho- logical effect on the class--a sense that things are not under control. This applies to lab sessions as well. For ex- ample, in one of our experimental lab sessions, a student's exploratory ceased to function when the whole class tried to use it at once. The student ended up leaving the lab in tears and her fellow students were understandably upset as well. When computer demos and lab sessions are common- place, this problem's impact should lessen considerably, but for students unused to them, such technical difficulties can be very disconcerting.
Figure 1: An interactive applet to teach convolution.