As multimedia makes concepts easier to understand, retention and application do not automatically follow as they did when students wrestled with opaque words and text. MoBy, a companion to multimedia presentations, helps students retain and apply the knowledge gained in lecture. MoBy uses a classical approach supplemented with hypertext, graphics, sound, and animations. It is available over the World Wide Web (WWW) at http://trc.ucdavis.edu/CoursePages/BCM410A/MoBy/ and on this CD. Problems have included cross-platform support and student tendencies to rely on MoBy alone. Nevertheless, MoBy has been highly successful, as judged by instructor perception and several hundred student evaluations.
"Molecular and Cell Biology" (BCM410A) is a required first year course for medical students that is taken by about 100 students each fall. There are no teaching assistants. The course comprises a lecture every weekday for 9 weeks--a total of 45 lectures. Most of the lectures are given by two co-instructors. The material focuses on the topic, protein structure and function in the human body. It is presented with extensive use of multimedia, using the power of graphics to illustrate the abstract concepts involved. The MoBy Study Aid is used in this part of the course.
Although students are highly intelligent and motivated, their backgrounds are enormously diverse--some are straight from a B.S. in Biochemistry or even a higher degree while others have no biochemistry background. Many have been out of school for several years. Students' computer skills vary from none at all to those of a professional software engineer.
Student performance is evaluated by two multiple-choice examinations, a mid-term, and a final. The quality of the course and the performance of each instructor are evaluated by written, anonymous, student evaluations and peer evaluation. Student evaluations are both quantitative and qualitative and are available for 4 years during the use of MoBy. Over 90% of the students in each year responded to our request for their evaluation. Evaluation questions and student responses for 1995 are found in Appendix 1. The questions change slightly from year to year but the questionnaire has not changed significantly in the last five years.
Course Software and Hardware
ToolBook provides excellent handling of hypertext, which is the
basis of the application. More than 500 multiple-choice test questions
form the core of the study aid.
Most of these questions are of the "choose the best answer
out of five choices" variety. For these questions, every
answer choice has a page of explanation giving detailed information,
test-taking tips, and whether the answer is right or wrong. These
answer pages often include graphics. Probably the most useful
feature is the glossary, which
contains over 800 pages of detailed information, illustrated by
graphics and some animations. Each glossary entry has one or more
words that lead to it and every time one of these words appears
in the application, there is a hyperlink to the glossary page.
A question page will typically have 12 to 15 hypertext links per
question; the same density is maintained throughout the study
aid. Because there are over 3000 pages, this makes over 40,000
hypertext links. The answer and glossary pages often contain much
more text than the questions. Thus, the dense network of links
allows a student to "drill down" to a level that is
accessible and then move up to the level needed to answer the
questions. Intelligent navigation buttons keep the student from
Access to questions is by subject or at random. Access to the
glossary is direct, from an alphabetical index. MoBy is designed
as a study aid, so it includes no form of assessment or tracking
of a student's progress. Such facilities can be easily added in
ToolBook but might inhibit students' use. Students should freely
explore the glossary, find the animations and generally follow
their interests, without worrying that someone might be metaphorically
looking over their shoulder.
Other Course Components
Twenty-three lectures use PowerPoint and a video projector linked
directly to the computer (so that the animation features of PowerPoint
can be used). The PowerPoint presentations are available to the
students in the student laboratories and on the WWW (http://trc.ucdavis.edu /CoursePages/BCM410A/).
Partial Macintosh support is available for these presentations.
The cost of color printing and the lack of animation on paper
prevents provision of printouts. Nevertheless, students do print
out the slides.
Students communicate with the instructor through e-mail and I reply individually or, through a mailing list. Reading and responding to e-mail is an every weekday morning task. No attempt has been made to develop e-mail discussion groups, newsgroups, or chat sessions.
In addition, I hold traditional office hours daily and an informal review session weekly. There is an extensive printed syllabus, available on this CD.
A highly simplified classification of student learning is comprehension,
retention and application. Comprehension requires that the student
understand the material. Lecture or individual study of textbooks
or other materials can achieve this. In many subjects, including
the natural sciences, the use of graphical illustrations is important
in helping the student understand the descriptions and concepts,
which are sometimes abstract and counter-intuitive. In the lecture,
graphics may consist of drawings on a black- or white-board, transparencies
on an overhead projector, projected slides, video on a television
screen, or computer images through a video projector. The black/white
board has the advantage of showing each graphic in steps as it
is built up. The computer can mimick this by using animated slides
in which components are added one by one. The computer can also
play animations, providing an extra dimension to the graphic.
Careful use of graphics makes it much easier for students to understand
the material. However, they may also mislead them into underestimating
its complexity, which may cause difficulty in reproducing the
material, explaining it to others, and using the material. Thus,
the addition of sophisticated and successful graphics to a lecture
class should be accompanied by material that helps students retain
and use the material presented.
Concerning the remaining two learning characteristics--retention
and application--the MoBy study aid uses the classical approach
of asking questions. The questions that form the core of the study
aid are those that have been previously used in internal examinations,
which provides a powerful incentive to use MoBy.
No other incentive to use MoBy is provided or needed, as MoBy
receives wide use. The critical component of MoBy is the extensive
glossary and the explanations of wrong as well as right answers,
often in considerable detail. Thus, MoBy is truly a learning aid
rather than a testing tool. However, students need to understand
that MoBy is a secondary learning tool for use when the material
has already been covered and understood, at least at a superficial
level. MoBy will help deepen the understanding and, by engaging
the student with the material, help with retention and application.
Apart from the general question of reinforcing the lecture, MoBy
helps address the problem of varying student backgrounds. The
glossary allows students to go back as far as necessary to understand
A questionnaire to measure student appreciation included standard
questions about the course as well as specific questions about
the MoBy study aid. The questionnaire used in fall 1995 is provided
in Appendix 1. The scale is 1 poor, 2 fair, 3
good, 4 very good, 5 excellent. Figure 1 shows how
MoBy fared in the five years, 1991 to 1995.
It is interesting to compare MoBy's rating with that for other
components of the course. Figure 2 summarizes this comparison.
Figure 2. Student evaluations of various components of
Figure 2 shows that MoBy ranked as one of the most valuable parts
of the course, much higher than the textbook assignments and the
co-op notes and comparable with the lectures. The syllabus was
the most consistently valuable item. In some years (1992, 1994
and 1996) MoBy was at the top of the list, but over the other
years there was significant variation in the score given to MoBy.
The decline in textbook use is in line with trends elsewhere.
MoBy is greatly appreciated by students, especially those who
can take the application home and work with it there. The instructor's
perception is that it helps students greatly with retention and
application but doesn't replace primary learning from the lectures
and syllabus. Students regard MoBy as much more valuable than
assigned readings in textbooks.
The format works well and requires very little computer expertise.
The program, ToolBook, is most appropriate for this type of application
because of its strong support for hypertext. Nevertheless, it
was necessary to write some utilities to automate some of the
authoring processes. ToolBook suffers greatly from lack of Macintosh
support. This may be alleviated by the forthcoming Internet-friendly
version. Most of the work in developing MoBy was in writing the
questions, answers and glossary.
In informal conversations and in their written comments, many
students have been extremely enthusiastic about MoBy as a study
aid. It seems likely that this kind of approach would be of quite
general application, especially in courses that use multiple choice
questions in their examinations.
The version of MoBy that was used in Fall, 1996, can be installed
from this CD and run on a computer using the Microsoft Windows