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Mitochondria and management: Educational design overcomes a difficult topic

Linda Slack-Smith
Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia
Quality teaching requires both appropriate transfer of knowledge and skills and also the promotion of inquiry and independence. Innovative teaching with interactive multimedia may help achieve such quality. In an introductory biochemistry unit for nursing students at Curtin University, advancement has been made with computerised testing, print based guided self study and now with the introduction of interactive computer tutorials. A tutorial on the function of cellular mitochondria has been developed using an interactive Supercard program and implemented in tutorials. This paper will demonstrate the program and discuss the educational design issues involved in program planning.


Teaching biochemical processes is often difficult in undergraduate classes. Students experience some difficulty in visualising the processes occurring at sub-cellular level and often lack confidence in chemistry or have no chemistry background at all. Although the contact with students in the traditional lecturing environment provides some feedback to the lecturer about student understanding, this becomes limited with larger classes. Increasing sizes in both the lectures and tutorials may alter effectiveness of more traditional teaching methods. It is valuable to periodically review our use of teaching approaches and ensure there are not better alternatives. Various authors have examined modes of teaching and attitudes vary between different workers. Ostmoe et al (1984) found that varied achievements in learning were affected by individual learning styles, modality strengths, cognitive styles and learning preference. Self instructional modes have been found beneficial in teaching biochemistry even in early work (White et al, 1973).

Despite the fact that computer assisted instruction (the synonyms here warrant an individual paper) has been around for some time, we still need to carefully monitor aspects of its development and implementation. It may not be a cost effective alternative unless the program has widespread usage and is used for some time. We also need to move beyond looking at what students "like" to concurrently investigating whether educational objectives are being met. This may include implicit objectives such as an independent student working in an "active learning environment."

This paper discusses some of the background of the teaching methods used at Curtin, the development and implementation of the "Mitochondria and ATP" program and demonstrates some of the program.

Previous teaching innovations

Previous developments in this introductory biochemistry unit have included production of a study guide with the unit divided into modules with clear objectives, some notes and figures and review questions. Thew clear modules and objectives have been useful for development of multimedia. Students have generally found the study guide with limited notes extremely useful.

Further developments have included guided self study modules and computerised multiple choice assessment conducted throughout the semester (using Computer Managed Learning, CBTS software). Currently, around 30% of lectures have been replaced by guided self study modules and tutorials and practicals have been combined as "interactive sessions." This has been designed to promote active learning and promote the responsibility of the individual student. The implementation of each change in the unit has been carefully monitored by a "Student Opinion Questionnaire" used as a standard questionnaire at Curtin and individualised questionnaires in addition to monitoring of student performance in exams and assignments and informal discussions with students. Some changes, such as computerised assessment have been largely requested by students while other changes, such as guided self study modules, were largely chosen by the academic. Although students often preferred lectures, many of them stated the guided self study did promote "active learning." and did value such a style in retrospect.

The use of guided self study modules and Computerised testing have allowed more flexible time management for both students and the lecturer (LSS). Isaacs (1990) has noted we should allow students to take control of their learning by gradually giving them control. It may be difficult at times to maintain a balance between academic responsibility for teaching and the encouragement of individual learning in the student. A major aspect of this appears to be the need for academic teachers to provide appropriate availability even when hours of contact may lessen.

This background of educational design was useful in the development of this first computer tutorial but the development process still was a serious form of education and enlightenment for this author.


The planning of this "Mitochondria and ATP" program took a substantial amount of time, particularly for the academic but also all other members of the development team. Although very frustrating spending so much time before anything was put on screen, this meant the project could work quickly with few corrections once design and programming commenced. There are advantages and disadvantages to completing design before programming. Communication with all parties was essential and this project was probably largely facilitated by the availability of email. The program consists of 5 sections: Most planning took place on a storyboard such as that shown in Figure 1. This has been adapted only slightly by one used previously at Curtin Computing Centre. One of the most valuable aids to planning was a running footer showing the version date so the multitude of paperwork passing between the various participants could be kept track of. Coloured paper alterations were tried but caused confusion.

Figure 1: Diagram of storyboard

Figure 1: Diagram of storyboard

Much time was spent designing figures and altering text. Some time was spent on design of the overall program, largely with the addition of screens. Very valuable input came from the professionals working on the development team. The fact that they were not content experts meant they could see whether the program was clearly explaining what it is meant to.

It was decided, with a little uncertainty, to introduce the program without a demonstration or tutorial on the use of the Macintosh. An early screen gave students to explore the operation of the program and students were expected to learn the Macintosh features such as the mouse and click and drag as they proceeded through the program. This was successful with only a couple of students finding the use of computers difficult and this would have probably been the same even with introductory sessions.

Evaluation and implementation

Evaluation involved academic staff, developers, students, tutors and observers. The program was initially demonstrated to one class with academic, programmer and designer present and shown to fellow interactive multimedia developers and postgraduate students. However, it was realised that true evaluation could only occur in the setting for which the program was designed. The program was run for one week during the normal "interactive sessions" (which are a combination of tutorial and laboratory sessions). "Interactive sessions" are titled as such to encourage students to participate and feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the sessions. After this week trial, the program was reviewed, revised and trialled again with students in classes the next week (ie, a different group of students). This was not expected to run so smoothly so consequently we videoed the trial, and brought in research assistants as observers to note whatever went wrong and additional tutors to help with the class. All of these precautions proved unnecessary and the program went well from the beginning with most students responding extremely well and many requesting additional use of the program for revision.


"Mitochondria and ATP" was developed and implemented within a working year. The prototype was ready in approximately six months and the evaluation went extremely smoothly and will be discussed in more detail at a later date. Students were very supportive of the introduction of the program and wanted more programs of that type in their unit.


To achieve a working program which is implemented within a year is due in no small part to working in a supportive institution with an excellent team. The program has been used for one semester with students and is now included in the tutorial program. This is the first such program for the author who has gained a lot of training in the development of the program. The decision about which learning strategies are most effective needs careful consideration for individual circumstances and review as technology and educational research progresses.


This project was primarily funded by a grant from the Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching (through Department of Employment Education and Training). Rob Phillips has made a substantial contribution to the management of multimedia at Curtin and allowing forums for cooperation. Onno Benschop has provided excellent programming and Susan Perry has done a wonderful job as designer. I would also like to individually acknowledge John Winship for his support of Educational Multimedia. Acknowledgment must go to associate Professor John Wetherall and Dr Susan Jordan for creating an environment in which such work can occur and be implemented. George Borzykowski and Professor Patricia Stevenson are thanked for their suggestions. Special acknowledgment must go to Chu Yuen Diong for her wonderful drawings. The excellent assistance of Paul Sparrow of Biomedical Sciences, Curtin Computing Centre and the Teaching Learning Group, particularly Robert Fox are gratefully acknowledged. I would particularly like to thank the Nursing students at Curtin for their enthusiasm, feedback and support for trialling new teaching approaches.


Isaacs, G. (1990). Course and tutorial CAL lesson design: Helping students take control of their learning. Educational and Training Technology International, 27(1), 85-91.

Ostmoe, P. M., Van Hoozer, H. L., Scheffel, A. L. and Crowell, C. M. (1984). Learning style preferences and selection of learning strategies: Consideration and implications for nurse educators. Journal of Nurse Education, 23(1), 27-31.

White, H. B. Smith, T. M. and Sulya L. L. (1973). Self instructional and audiovisual methods of teaching biochemistry laboratory. Journal of Medical Education, 48(10), 939-944.

Author: Linda Slack-Smith, School of Biomedical Sciences, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U1987, Perth, Western Australia 6001.
Tel: (09) 351 3007 Fax: (09) 351 2342 Email: islacksm@info.curtin.edu.au

Please cite as: Slack-Smith, L. (1994). Mitochondria and management: Educational design overcomes a difficult topic. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 516-519. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/slack-smith.html

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