IIMS 94 contents
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Interactive energy

Patricia Weaver
University of Western Australia

Linda Slack-Smith
Curtin University of Technology

Many issues in teaching biochemistry are common in different courses. In this case teaching energy metabolism, nursing, medicine and science have similar needs in terms of visualisation and a need for students to be interactive. A tutorial is being developed to introduce metabolic energy. Using the Mentor author system based on a HyperCard environment, it is easy to adapt the material to different courses in different institutions. Students and staff can gain greater control of their lime and the value of communication is increased with utilisation of interactive multimedia. Support in terms of hardware for students, supportive management and technical backup allow successful introduction of interactive multimedia.


How to teach more, better, with diminishing resources, in less time, providing greater relevance and opportunity for independent study is the common catchcry today in most fields of education. Obviously a situation that demands interactive multimedia. The solution may be obvious but it can still be very difficult to achieve. Assuming the unlikely situation of unlimited funding to purchase programs and their delivery systems, is suitable teaching material available? Certainly catalogues of courseware are constantly growing in size. But it is still difficult to find material that exactly fits the requirements of the course, the educational background of the students and the personal emphasis of the educator.

Material at a level above or below the ability of the student will alternatively lose or bore the student. If it is deficient in important areas or if the emphasis is different to that of the course, supplementary course notes have to be prepared and perused. The alternative of authoring is a daunting prospect both in terms of financial resources and the time and energy required from the author. And then the product may only be suitable for that one class.

Flexibility and adaptability are obviously desirable qualities for educational programs. Authoring becomes a more attractive prospect if the product can be used for many classes; and even more so if the program can be modified readily to meet different needs. Time management for teachers and students needs greater consideration (Slack-Smith, 1992). Development time for multimedia demands that the product is useful for several years and students are often not willing to invest a deal of time learning a difficult program.

Computer assisted instruction is not new, but the technology is improving and our understanding of educational design is improving. Apostolides (1987) suggests that although a deal of time is required to develop computer lessons, it can reduce the time to master academic objectives. He suggests a decrease in cost of delivery and a major role of computer lessons in providing excellent education.

Joint authoring across campuses obviously expands the potential use, increases creative scrutiny and reduces the individual author's input load. And there are other advantages. There is a great value in sharing ideas and working across campus, if only to break the mindset that may occur within one environment. One positive outcome is the development of a program which can be used in more than one unit, even more than one institution. However many other aspects of the interactive process are valuable; it is useful to experience another form of administration and different departments to learn and to give. Networks broaden and resources can be shared.

In preparing a shared tutorial for various classes across two campuses, it was important to achieve a high degree of flexibility and adaptability to allow selection and deletion of certain sections to suit the needs of particular classes. Easy adaptability by the authors and users to changing future needs was equally important. The Mentor program developed at the University of Western Australia offered was readily available and appeared to meet the adaptability and flexibility criteria. The reasons for using computer media were to:

Another important consideration was the wider mode of use possible with this media. While classroom presentation would be used initially, use in a library setting (reference and revision) and home use by the individual student was desirable. Video was another possibility but student access to computers was judged to be higher. Also video material is not so readily adapted by the individual user (student or educator)

Biochemistry is a central subject for pure and applied biological sciences. With the growth of molecular biology and genetic engineering, the field of knowledge has expanded enormously. But more importantly, biochemistry has become more important to fields such as Medicine, Nursing, Agriculture, Horticulture, Conservation, Forensic Science and Biotechnology. The advent of the long-life tomato, DNA fingerprinting in paternity disputes, human hormone "factories" in bacterial cells and superior kits for medical diagnosis will have a big impact on society but they have also produced an information overload for those teaching biochemistry. Improved efficiency in teaching and learning is essential. The area is not an easy one for students. It is the meeting place for the biological and physical sciences. Students need some ability in areas such as physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics before they can understand biochemical concepts.

Thus, biochemistry is often a difficult subject for students to grasp. Traditional lectures may not always be applicable in our changing tertiary environment and are difficult to pace correctly in classes of mixed levels of competency. With the change in biochemistry laboratories to a much more automated style, it is not surprising that students in the field are likely to respond well to a computerised learning environment.

The aim of this software program was to introduce students to energy metabolism, providing a simple introduction but with more detail available for more advanced students. The tutorial program provides an overview of energy metabolism in heterotrophic organisms including man. This topic is part of most courses in Biological Science and is a problem area for both students and educators. It is an area that requires the student to maintain an overall view of body function and its individual systems while considering reaction pathways for individual molecules. A number of concepts essential to clear understanding are not easy. Essentially, the processes being developed are dynamic but in lectures and in texts are presented in static form. Interactive computer based tutorials would allow a dynamic, animated presentation of the material. The tutorial allows students to cover material at a pace suited to individual needs and to more easily grasp the complexities of the area.

Class backgrounds

The students for which this program is designed come from a variety of backgrounds with varied abilities, different amounts or no chemistry and Students worked in varied class sizes employing different teaching approaches in different teaching schedules on different campuses. We hoped that by fulfilling such varied groups, the program would be likely suited to many other tertiary environments for which it would be easily adapted.

Planning the software program

A large amount of time was spent in the early stages of design selecting appropriate content as suitable for software development and flexible enough for utilisation across campuses. Both developers have some experience in educational design and various applications of computers in educational settings.

Early stages of design involved writing the plan of the program. This was amended and expanded many times to be as complete as possible before programming began. One difficulty with the material was the abstract nature of some concepts, potential and kinetic energy forexample.

Individual objectives

Much time was spent developing the educational objectives for the program. These are outlined below.

After completing this program, the student should be able to:

We are currently completing the program and will demonstrate some sections of the program.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Summary of program

Figure 2

Figure 2: Students are introduced to the sections of the program by simple
menu screens where clicking on descriptive text takes them to that section.

Development of the software program

Once much of the content was clearly on paper and discussed by all those involved in the project, the production of the software could begin.

A concern in deciding on the imagery for the material was the vastly different range in sizes from the individual molecules to the whole human body (and in fact to the inclusion of energy supply for the whole earth). The tutorial content included rather abstract concepts such as different types of energy.

These needed to be presented visually in a manner that retained scientific validity while providing a useful image to guide the understanding of the user. Chemical structures for the molecules used in energy metabolism were included to identify the sources of energy and the way in which changes in molecules provided energy for living tissues. Location of different processes in the various tissues were presented in the frame of a human body picture. Integration of the whole picture from molecular source to body use of energy was important and this was provided as a non pictorial summary chart. Thus there are four main themes continued through the program, caveman rock pictorial presentation of energy, molecular structures, human body and the summary process chart. One of these is demonstrated here - our caveman to represent energy.

Figure 3

Interactivity was provided both within the material itself and in the questions within the sections of the program. The material is organised into a linear flow, that appears to us to provide the easiest and most logical sequence of covering the material. However the user is offered menus that allow free choice and can move in which ever way he chooses. It is likely the new user would follow a largely linear course while repeat users are likely to use the program in more varied ways.

Cooperation and interaction

There were advantages and disadvantages to working across two campuses. On a support level, the universities used varied teaching styles with quite different computer laboratories for students and even quite different computer facilities for staff. The interaction provided a comparison of these which at the least provided a questioning for both as to why we always do things in a particular way. Disadvantages mainly surfaced early in the design when trying to compromise content and decide on plan of the software. However, this helps in the longer term to overcome what we consider to be a major disadvantage of many programs ie being developed by one person for thus limited implementation. A serious disadvantage was trying to find time within two busy teaching schedules, even with some limited time release provided. We might suggest a couple of weeks somewhere, with no phone or students, to develop the plan! Advantages were the input of two people and the sharing of tasks. Providing motivation for each other and the feeling or a good working partnership were invaluable and will make a positive contribution to other aspects of teaching.

Implementation and evaluation

Currently, we are at early stages of trialling the software. Postgraduate students and colleagues are of some use but their input is limited. Student evaluation is extremely valuable. This can really then only be evaluated by long term use with students and review by academics as to whether the implemented program is fulfilling educational objectives. Initial use is largely under controlled conditions for evaluation and backup if problems occur. In the longer term, we intend to also make the program available in die libraries and/or on disk for individual learning and revision. Evaluation of this mode of use and of the adaptability of the program is also proposed.


It is encouraging to see a prototype from, the project after a deal of time spent planning the project. We hope our product will ultimately be used by many other institutions (with our permission). It would also provide a useful framework for approaches used by other authors such as a case study approach (eg, Morley & Blumberg, 1987). It also has the programming flexibility that we can adapt and expand the framework developed, either for our own use or for the use of others.


Apostolides, Z. (1987). Computer assisted instruction in biochemistry. Biochemical Education, 15(3), 129-133.

Morley, C. G. D. & Blumberg, P. (1987). Learning medical school biochemistry through self directed case oriented study. Biochemical Education, 15(4), 184-88.

Slack-Smith, L. (1992). Excellence and survival teaching biochemistry to nursing students. In Colin Latchem & Allan Herrmann, (Eds), Higher education teaching and learning: The challenge.


This project was primarily funded by a grant from the Divisional Unit of Instructional Technology (from Office of Staff Development, Department of Employment Education and Training). Staff at DUIT including Roger Dickinson, Mike Waldhuter, Mike Wheatley. Norman Palmer, Head of Biochemistry at UWA and John Wetherall, Head of Biomedical Sciences at Curtin for support.

Authors: Patricia K Weaver
Department of Biochemistry, University of WA
Tel. 09 380 3337. Fax. 09 380 1148
Email: pweaver@uniwa.uwa.edu.au

Linda Slack-Smith
School of Biomedical Sciences, Curtin University
GPO Box U1987, Perth, Western Australia, 6001.
Tel. 09 3513007. Fax. 09 3512342
Email: islacksm@info.curtin.edu.au

Please cite as: Weaver, P. and Slack-Smith, L. (1994). Interactive energy. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 567-571. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/weaver.html

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