Using Computer and Calculator-Based Interfaces in Biology
A New Type of Learning and Understanding
The primary goals of this session are to:
- improve laboratory experiences for students.
- encourage inquiry based problem solving.
- provide a place for teachers to learn how to use computer/CBL
assisted data collection tools.
- collect and disseminate ideas for conducting probeware experiments
for classroom use.
- share teaching ideas and experiences so that we learn from
- have students ask similar questions in different areas, generate
data unique to their locale, and share data and interpretations.
Technology is with us to stay. Computer interfacing has blossomed
recently - a whole new and exciting arena of experimentation in
the laboratory is now possible. Students now have access to real-world
data collection tools that are easy-to-use, compact, portable
and affordable. Students can unleash their creativity and enthusiasm
and be problem-solvers.
The limits and restrictions of the traditional 45- or 55-minute
class period can be breached with this technology. Data collection
can occur instantaneously, overnight, or over a period of weeks
or months. Students can expect instant feedback on their experimental
designs, since data may be graphed as it is collected. The analysis
of data has never been easier. When students used to spend hours
making sense out of data by hand, it was almost impossible to
have them modify their experimental design and retake a series
of measurements. In some cases students actually forgot what they
had done by the time they collected the data, made the measurements,
and figured out what they meant. As a consequence, teachers often
had to abandon inquiry based experimentation. Labs were designed
where students made measurements in class, analyzed their results
at home or in class the next day, and hopefully had "the
right answer" for class discussions.
Things have changed. With the instantaneous feedback that computer-assisted
data collection offers, students can experiment with techniques
and ideas. Self discovery is an integral part
of a probeware based, computer/CBL laboratory. Parts of the investigations
we propose are prescribed, but much of the excitement will be
generated from the open ended constructivist components of the
laboratories. Students will be primed to self direct many of their
inquiries. Students are encouraged to ask and then answer questions
such as "how does the dissolved oxygen content of water upstream
from a sewage treatment plant compare with the dissolved oxygen
content downstream or what happens to the mineral content of soil
if I drip acid rain through it? This technology enables
students to pose questions and explore answers as never before
Portable real-world data collection tools are a special bonus
for biology. They will redefine the nature of field trips. When
our students measure the quality of our watershed, they can monitor
dissolved oxygen, temperature, water hardness, and pH at the site
in a very few minutes. That frees them to participate in other
activities and reduces their exposure to the chemicals found in
many water testing kits.
Computer assisted data collection doesn't give students the answers,
but it gives them a place to start finding answers. It directs
them into a new type of learning and understanding.
Two types of data collection systems will be explored in this
- Computer Interfacing, which provides a powerful workstation
for data measurement and analysis in the classroom. Data and plots
can be placed directly within spreadsheets for further analysis,
into word processors for reports, e-mailed to others, or printed
- Calculator Based Laboratory (CBL), which is portable, inexpensive,
and wonderful for field studies. Since they are used in conjunction
with a graphing calculator, analysis of data is at your fingertips.
Many ideas for integrating these tools into your biology classes
will be explored. So join in! Learn new techniques and ways of
thinking about biology labs! Share your ideas and experiences
and let us learn from you!
We invite you to join us actively and frequently. Try out
a few of the ideas found here and suggest many of your own. Ask
questions. We're looking forward to working with you and learning
Dave Masterman (1996)