During the winter 1996 semester I gave students in my Third Year (Junior) undergraduate Evolutionary Paleoecology class the option of either writing an essay or preparing a virtual museum display using Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML). The results were a great success. More than half of the students in my class of 21 decided to opt for the HTML project. Their results are presented here as this month's PaleoNet Forum.
The impetus for assigning these projects was the success I had with similar multimedia computer-based projects a few years ago. Those projects were compiled using the Apple Macintosh development tool Hypercard and were based on various paleontological themes presented in lieu of essays. I still use several of the better Hypercard stacks as supplements to laboratory exercises. However, the HTML projects are superior to the old Hypercard projects in a number of ways. First, it is very easy to create results using HTML. Since HTML is easier to master than Hypercard programming, students were able to concentrate more on the material in their display and less on the requirement of learning a programming language. Secondly because HTML is platform-independent students could create interchangeable results on whatever computer happened to be available. This is particularly handy in the computer lab in our department where there is a hodgepodge of Macintosh, Windows, and UNIX computers. Finally, students really liked the idea that they were actually publishing something that potentially thousands of people might see. This had the advantage that most students added a little "lagniappe" (a Cajun word meaning a little something extra) to avoid being embarrassed in front of the Internet community.
Since the students were publishing their projects, issues like copyright infringement had to be considered. Some got around this by only using their own photos, or drawings. Others took advantage of the numerous images available on the net for free distribution. For photos that students wanted to use from texts or books I advised them write letters to the publishers. It seems that many publishers do not want to bother with student projects such as these, since only one publisher took the time to reply.
A list of the students who constructed displays along with their topics are listed below. Based on an informal class poll the best display was determined to be Mike Wellum's Cobalt Ontario Geology and Paleontology. However, displays marked by asterisks also received at least one first place vote. In short, a number of students created some very good projects.
We hope you enjoy your tour. Please come back often as there will be new displays added next year.
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