California State Polytechnic University, Pomona Biological Sciences Department

Computing Resources

June, 1997

David J. Moriarty

The Biological Sciences Department has considerable variability in the computing resources available. Some areas have been emphasized and received substantial support, while other areas have others have not received adequate attention. The major strength of the Department is in the area of computer assisted instruction (CAI), while the major weakness is scientific computing.

Computer Assisted Instruction

CAI has been a priority for several years. The instructional materials developed are primarily for use in nonmajors classes. Although there is no centralized effort to provide CAI materials for majors classes, some faculty have nevertheless introduced the computer into their courses.

With respect to CAI for nonmajors, there are two current projects: Computer Assisted Laboratory Instruction Program (CALI), and the Integrated Sciences General Education program. Both projects utilize the Science Multimedia Learning Laboratory (98-C5-8), discussed below in the CALI overview.

CALI (Computer Assisted Laboratory Instruction Program)

The CALI Program is perhaps best described by the overview found on the CALI website (http://www.csupomona.edu/~cali/):
"As a part of the Excellence in Biology Teaching and Learning Program, a team of faculty, teaching associates, and instructional support technicians in the Biological Sciences Department have joined in a collaborative effort to develop a series of instructional modules for introductory laboratories in Biology. In support of this effort, the Department has purchased a variety of state-of-the-art hardware and software support programs. In addition, the Department established the Biology Multimedia Development Laboratory. Each year, more than 1000 introductory biology students will access the CALI multimedia instructional modules in the Science Multimedia Learning Laboratory (98-C5-8), a 25-station Macintosh lab in the CLA building (Fifth Floor, Room 8)."

Currently, there are instructional modules developed in the areas of photosynthesis, human cardiovascular system, and genetics, with modules in population ecology and DNA replication and protein synthesis under development. The modules are used in the BIO 111 Life Sciences Laboratory course, and integrate interactive software, CD ROM, videodisc, and slide technology. An important feature of the modules is the assessment component. Students are continually quizzed as they go through a module, and their answers are saved and made available to the instructor. The module also provides answers to the questions.

ISGE (Integrated Sciences General Education)

The ISGE program is probably best described by the overview, history, and purpose found on the ISGE web site (http://www.csupomona.edu/~isge/):
"The Delta Integrated Sciences General Education (ISGE) project grew out of the interest of faculty at California State Polytechnic University (Cal-Poly) Pomona in offering a one-year, integrated science course designed to give non-science majors an understanding of the most important concepts in seven natural sciences, as an alternative to the customary choice among many disconnected, disciplinary-based courses. Aware of the uneven success of interdisciplinary instruction, and of the difficulty of sustaining even the most successful interdisciplinary programs, project leaders decided to employ multimedia technology to deliver course content and to manage data on student learning. They were also encouraged by the uniformly positive results demonstrated for computer-based training from a meta-analysis of 134 individual projects. Still skeptical of solely technological approaches, team members designed a "hybrid" learning method that integrated multimedia with group-learning and problem-oriented approaches. Design of the courseware began in 1989 and proposals were carefully studied at all levels before conditional approval by the College of Science and the Faculty Senate at Pomona. Production work began in Fall, 1992 with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Project DELTA support was awarded in 1994 to extend production and enable the involvement of faculty and staff from other campuses. The first "alpha" test course was offered at Cal-Poly, Pomona in the Summer of 1994 followed by two more "alpha" tests in Fall, 1995; one at CSU, Monterey Bay, the other at Pomona. Completion of all 60 multimedia modules is projected for June, 1998."

"The goal of this project is to demonstrate that the fragmentation of knowledge reflected in the traditional, cafeteria-style General Education program has several weaknesses that result in the poor learning documented in numerous recent critiques of higher education. It will test whether or not these weaknesses can be overcome through a rigorous systems-based, transdisciplinary approach that fully integrates the knowledge bases of seven natural sciences, and connects that integration to practical concerns of the "three cultures" (science; humanities; professions) that dominate our academic world. The project also seeks to demonstrate that interdisciplinary teaching can be facilitated and made more cost effective through very intensive and prolonged collaborative faculty development of multimedia courseware. This project uses a "hybrid" method that balances the technology aspect with 4 weekly, face-to-face activities to show that learning improves when students have greater control and responsibility over the mode and pace of presentation and have frequent and immediate feedback on their work."

The ISGE project has received approximately $580,000 in grant support from the National Science Foundation, DELTA (CSU System), Cal Poly Pomona, and CSU Monterey Bay. The program has been tested at both campuses, using up to 14 multimedia modules. By the end of the current year (1997), it is projected that 20 modules will be completed.

Scientific Computing

Although the department has been successful with CAI projects for nonmajors, the computing resources for the scientific environment have been inadequate. Two major areas of weakness are easily identified: (1) inadequate/nonexistent computer resources in majors courses, particularly laboratories; (2) inadequate support of faculty in terms of computing resources.

As mentioned previously some faculty have introduced computers into majors courses, but this has been with great difficulty and often with inadequate resources. A few examples: Dr. Chan has made use of computer resources in the Epidemiology class, but there is no lab available enough hours during the week with capable machines (486 based processors at a minimum) to meet the student needs. Exactly the same situation exists with Dr. Clark's graduate course in computer graphics, Dr. Campbell's Advanced Genetics, Dr. Moriarty's Population Ecology, and Dr. Carlton's Community Analysis. Drs. Hoyt and Stiffler utilize computers for data analysis in Comparative Animal Physiology, but they have to struggle with extremely outdated XT class machines. Necessary computer labs are not available for courses such as Biometrics, where students should be learning statistical analysis on the computer. Similarly impacted is the Principles of Ecology class, which does not have access to computers. Ironically, the Computer Applications in Biology class (required for Biotechnology majors), is taught in a classroom without any computers. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but does represent the problem. Biology majors are not receiving adequate training in and exposure to computing in a scientific environment. The prospect of the new Biotechnology building offers some hope to improve this situation. Several labs with computers are planned for the building, although buying the actual computers will be difficult due to the minimal amount of Group 2 equipment money provided with the building. A group of faculty led by Dr. Curtis Clark is beginning a grant writing process, in an attempt to secure adequate funds for the machines.

Related to the inadequate support for the Biology majors in scientific computing is the inadequate support for the faculty that teach the major students. The department needs to find the resources to provide faculty with capable computers in their offices. For example, one of the most computer literate faculty members in the department, an individual who maintains the departmental web site and is called upon by the university to instruct other faculty in web page design, is provided only with a 486 class machine - very outdated technology. Most of the faculty in his web design classes have more capable machines than the instructor. Another computer proficient faculty member, unable to deal with the frustration of inadequate resources, has brought a personal machine into the office. Faculty in the department were requested to provide information on the computer in their office, including the type of computer, source of funds, and how computers are used in courses. The following table presents the responses. Note: DNR indicates "did not respond."

Faculty Member Type of Computer Source of Funds Courses
Adler-Moore DNR    
Baskin DNR    
Bath DNR    
Bozak DNR    
Brum Mac Centris 650 - 5 yrs old; CD ROM Departmental - cpu, monitor; PERSONAL - laser printer  
Bryant Pentium 90; 32M RAM; 4.9G HD space; Laserjet II PERSONAL - everything except monitor and printer BIO 211; Mystat program
Campbell Pentium 200; 32M RAM; 3.1G HD Foundation EMC funds BIO 421; BIO 510; Internet usage; Bio dept lab needed
Carlton DNR    
Castro DNR    
Chan 486-66 Department MIC 330
Clark 486-66; 8M RAM; 760M HD Space Department BOT 125; BIO 190; BIO 542; BOT 343; Need graphics set-up: scanners, color printers;slide makers; CD ROM burner
Daniel 486-66; 8M RAM; 1G HD Department. PERSONAL - upgrade RAM, HD BIO 190; Need departmental lab available to 190 students
Edmonds QUADRA 630-33MHz; 36M RAM; 250M HD Dean's office ZOO 426; ZOO 137; Internet searches
Firstman DNR    
George 486-66; 16M RAM; 425M HD College/University; PERSONAL - upgrade RAM, software BIO 115 (CALI - lab at CLA too far away); BIO 407; BIO 311; BIO 416; Need departmental lab
Hoyt 486-100; 32M RAM; 1.2G HD; Laserjet II printer ICR funds from NIH grant ZOO 424L
Jackson DNR    
Kageyama DNR    
Martinek DNR    
McKane DNR    
Moriarty Pentium 100; 16M RAM; 1.2G HD RSCA Grant BIO 190; BIO 211; BIO 256; BIO 418; BIO 499; Need departmental lab
Pal DNR    
Quinn Compaq Presario; 32M RAM; 3.2G HD + Quadra 660 Grant overhead BIO 110; Internet
Shafia DNR    
Sperry DNR    
Steele Unknown (PC Compatible) Dean's office  
Stewart Quadra 660AV; 16M RAM Department  
Stiffler 486-66; 8M RAM; 425M HD Department ZOO 424L
Stoner DNR    
Szijj DNR    
Troncale 486-50 + Quadra 840AV-35; 16M RAM; 250M HD PERSONAL - 486-50; Grant - Quadra BIO 303; BIO 310; SCI 499

As can be seen in the above, the computers provided for faculty are entirely inadequate. In the "IBM compatible" category, there are only three machines with pentium processors in the department - one purchased with personal funds and the other two from grants. Virtually all of the computers provided by the department of "486 vintage" - very obsolete machines.

The professional horizons of the faculty would be greatly expanded by access to capable computers. For example, with capable machines, a biology group on the campus intranet could facilitate the sharing of both instructional and research related materials. The expertise to establish such a group exists in the department, but the hardware is not available.

The areas of Biology and Biotechnology have been recognized for their great opportunities in the next century. In order to provide students with the technical training and experience they need, the department needs to commit to obtaining and keeping updated the latest in computing resources. To do less is to devalue of the majors in the Biological Sciences Department.


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This page prepared by Curtis Clark, jcclark@csupomona.edu
Last revision Tuesday, August 19, 1997.