Microscopy is always a favorite unit among my students. There is one page in our text that discusses transmission and scanning electron microscopes. It is quite a forgettable page. However, after Bugscope, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that my students have a profound understanding of a scanning electron microscope and that they will remember this day for the rest of their lives.
Elementary School Teacher (5th grade)
The overall goal of the evaluation is to develop an understanding of how relatively low cost sustainable access to the microscope can be achieved. As the project currently has K-12 classrooms participating from across the nation, it is critical to evaluate what works and why as the project continues to grow and develop further. Specific questions include: How are teachers integrating Bugscope into their curriculum? How useful is Bugscope as an educational innovation to examine high magnification images of insects and other arthropods? How are classrooms using the remote access to scientific instrumentation? How sustainable is Bugscope over long periods of time?
In order for teachers to provide useful information about the project, a three-part online teacher survey mechanism was developed for data collection.19 The surveys included open-ended, multiple-choice, and Likert scale questions.20
The first survey was organized to get additional background information about the teacher beyond what was asked in the application. Teachers were asked questions such as how much they knew about insects and other arthropods, what kind of microscopes they had used in the past with their students, and how comfortable they were in working with computers. Teachers were to complete this survey prior to their session.
The second survey was organized to get feedback about the implementation of Bugscope in the classroom. Teachers were asked questions such as how useful was Bugscope to their classrooms, what was their overall impression, and were the presets helpful in directing their students' inquiry during the sessions. Teachers were to complete this survey following their session.
The third survey was organized to get a summary report of the impact of the project in the classroom. Teachers were asked questions such as were they able to accomplish their project objectives, what their students learned that they could not have learned without participating in Bugscope, and what suggestions they had for improvements to the image database. Teachers were to complete this survey within a week or two after their session.
In addition to the surveys, a variety of online data was collected. This included electronic interactions, image acquisitions, and session logs. For instance, for each classroom session, the operations team filled out a session log. A session log would record the opinion of the operations team regarding how the classroom used the microscope.
Thirty-six teachers (28 females, 8 males) were selected to participate during the first year of the project. Twenty-nine teachers (80%) submitted all three surveys. Two teachers submitted the first and the second surveys. Three teachers submitted the first survey. Only two teachers did not submit any of the three surveys. Based on the survey data, this section provides background information about the project participants-schools, teachers, and students.21
Teachers represented 33 schools from 18 states in the United States and the US Virgin Islands. Many of the schools were from California (15%) and Illinois (24%). In all, there were fourteen elementary schools, seven middle schools, and seven high schools. In addition, there was a state agency institution for young people representing middle and high school grade levels, a K-12 home school, a K-12 science center, a school representing both elementary and middle grade levels, and a staff development program on technology integration for K-12 teachers.
Schools (N=31) included public schools (77%), private schools (16%), a charter school, and a state agency. School communities (N=31) included urban communities (52%), suburban communities (16%), rural communities (22%), an island community, an exurban community, and a bedroom community.
Teachers integrated Bugscope in different subjects across K-12. In the elementary school grades, it was integrated into all subjects as well as computer lab, multiple intelligences and technology, problem-based learning, reading (as a learning disabled resource), and science classes. In the middle school grades, it was integrated into math and computers, math and science, science, and technology integration classes. In the high school grades, it was integrated into advanced placement (AP) biology, biology, forensic microscopy, marine biology, science, and zoology classes. One elementary school teacher used Bugscope during an after-school science enrichment program for exceptional students in elementary and middle school grades, and another teacher used it as part of an inservice session on technology integration.
Prior knowledge about bugs and microscopy. On a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "a lot" (1) to "not much" (7), the teachers (N=33) had some knowledge about insects and other arthropods (3.4 average). The teachers (N=34) also had some knowledge about microscopy (3.6 average) and electron microscopy (4.6 average).
Most of the teachers (79%, N=34) included some form of lessons or units about insects in their curriculum. More than half of the teachers (62%, N=34) included some form of lessons or units about microscopy in their curriculum. Half of the teachers (50%, N=34) included some form of lessons or units about insects and microscopy in their curriculum. Only two teachers did not include any form of lessons or units about insects or microscopy in their curriculum. Most of the teachers (79%, N=34) had previously used microscopes, such as light and dissecting microscopes of different magnification capabilities, with their students. Only one teacher had previously used electron microscopes, such as the transmission electron microscope, with her students. Less than half of the teachers (41%, N=34) planned to collaborate on their project with other teachers at their schools.
Computer usage. On a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "very comfortable" (1) to "very uncomfortable" (7), the teachers (N=34) were somewhat comfortable in working with computers (2.9 average). Most of the teachers (78%, N=32) had a technology coordinator or computer teacher at their schools to ask for help on any computer-related questions.22 In addition to web browsing, the teachers used computers for HyperText Markup Language (HTML) authoring, image capturing, and image editing. A small number of the teachers (21%, N=28) used computers for image processing.
The majority of the teachers (88%, N=34) assigned their students to use the web for classroom activities. A small number of the teachers (18%, N=34) had prior experience with remote scientific instrumentation projects.
About 661 students (342 females, 319 males) participated in 29 classroom sessions.23 In addition, some teachers shared their classroom experience with other students and teachers in their schools (e.g., by using a television monitor or a projection system).
To determine the ease of use of the irma software, students from three elementary, middle and high school classrooms in Champaign and Urbana performed usability inspection of the software during the course of the first year.24 Students in these classrooms provided data before and after their sessions through age-appropriate short paper surveys, designed and administered in cooperation with their teachers.25 To give an example of background of students participating in Bugscope, we present the background of students from one of these classrooms.
Student background in one high school classroom. Sixteen students (9 females, 7 males) from a 9th grade biology classroom provided information about their experiences with bugs, microscopy, and computers, prior to their session.
On a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "a lot" (1) to "not much" (7), the students had some knowledge about bugs (4.3 average) and microscopy (4.8 average). The students did not know much about electron microscopy (6.4 average). The students had used light microscopes to examine plant and animal cells. On a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "very comfortable" (1) to "very uncomfortable" (7), the students were somewhat comfortable in working with computers (2.7 average). All of the students used the web for classroom activities.
Student expectations for participating in the project included "to better understand electron microscopy" and to take "a closer look at the way insects look."
This section provides information about the implementation of Bugscope based on the survey responses and session logs. The evaluations by the aforementioned high school students are also presented. In addition, we provide a summary of the high school students in the operations team.
Thirty-four sessions were scheduled for 36 teachers from participating schools.26 The majority of the teachers (93%, N=30) accomplished their proposed project objectives during their session. Only two teachers felt that they had not accomplished their project objectives. On a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "not useful" (1) to "very useful" (7), the majority of the teachers (87%, N=31) thought that their session was very useful (6.1 average). A small number of teachers (13%) thought that their session was sometimes useful.
Session preparation. The majority of the teachers (96%, N=29) used the Bugscope setup tester program simulator to test their computer/browser setup for connecting to the microscope. The majority of the teachers (93%, N=28) felt that the project documentation was helpful in getting their students started. The presets provided by the operations team were considered by all teachers (N=30) to be very helpful in directing the students' inquiry during the sessions. A small number of teachers (21%, N=29) tested connecting to the microscope just before their scheduled time.
Session log. The operations team recorded a log for each session. Of the 34 sessions that were scheduled, 29 sessions (85%) were able to successfully acquire images remotely.27 A small number of sessions (15%) were scheduled simultaneously as multiple sessions.28 The majority of the sessions (86%) used the irma software to connect to the microscope. A total of about 4,819 images were acquired during the sessions.29 At least 30 different types of insects and other arthropods were imaged during the sessions.30 Most of the teachers (78%, N=36) sent insect specimens for their sessions.31 The duration of the sessions ranged from less than one hour to less than four hours.
The operations team also rated how the classrooms used the microscope by observing their image acquisitions and their use of controller parameters for these acquisitions. Less than half of the sessions (45%) used the microscope very effectively. About one-fourth of the sessions (24%) used the microscope effectively. A small number of sessions used the microscope somewhat effectively (14%) and not very effectively (17%).
The operations team had electronic interactions (message service and chat program) with students and teachers in over half of the sessions (59%). The majority of the sessions (87%, N=8), where students and teachers interacted with the operations team using the chat program, the microscope was used very effectively or effectively.
With over one-third of the scheduled sessions (35%, N=34), the operations team communicated by telephone with teachers or technology coordinators to assist on a variety of technical questions (e.g., filtering software). While there was only one hardware related (i.e., microscope related) crash during the sessions, about one-third of the sessions (34%, N=29) had minor software related problems (e.g., server running chat program crash) that were quickly resolved by the operations team.
Students from the high school classroom mentioned previously performed usability inspection of the irma software interface to determine its ease of use by completing a survey after their session.
The classroom teacher, who had integrated Bugscope into her biology curriculum, sent several water bugs to the operations team. The teacher wanted her students to have a close-up view of the insects through Bugscope. On different 7-point Likert scales such as one ranging from "difficult" (1) to "easy" (7), the students felt that it was easy to control (5.7 average) and observe (5.6 average) through the software interface.
Although the students felt that the design of the software interface was wonderful (6.2 average), they had trouble sometimes in figuring out what they were looking for using interface (4.9 average). In addition, over half of the students (62%) would find themselves in places where they did not know where they were (i.e., these students thought they were lost) while using the interface. However, these students were always able to find their way back to familiar places (6.1 average). Also, all students were able to use the presets to find a way back to the familiar places whether they were lost or not.
The students found the buttons on the interface always easy to use (6.1 average), and they found the terminology on the interface always easy to understand (5.8 average). About one-fourth of the students (25%), who had reviewed the help documentation before they started on their session, found the documentation sometimes helpful (5.5 average). But, the majority of the students (87%) found that the documentation always provided instruction and help when they encountered problems (5.8 average). The students offered many suggestions such as making the interface easier as well as faster to use.
I got the scope set up, helped set the presets, started the servers, and [got] everything ready for a class to connect.
High School Student (10th grade)
Since the core members of the operations team that supports remote classrooms are high school students (1 female, 3 males), a summary of their background and operations team activities is presented.32
A high school biology faculty, who is a member of the project team, selected the students. The students completed short paper surveys to provide background information before the start of the project and summary about their activities towards the end of the spring semester.
Student background. On a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "a lot" (1) to "not much" (7), the students knew a lot about insects and other arthropods (2.5 average) and had some knowledge about microscopy (4.5 average) and electron microscopy (5.0 average). On a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "very comfortable" (1) to "very uncomfortable" (7), the students were very comfortable in working with computers (2.0 average). The students used the web for classroom activities. The students viewed their participation in the operations team as an opportunity to gain research experience, learn about insects and microscopy, and work with leading-edge technology.
Student activities. The students performed a variety of tasks, such as identification and preparation of specimens, operation of the microscope, setup for remote classroom sessions, and content development for the web site.33 The students would meet with other members of the operations team, such as the electron microscopist, and receive appropriate training for one hour a week. Over half of the 30 one-hour sessions (63%) during the spring semester were dedicated to specific training activities, such as taking low magnification images of the specimens sent by schools using a dissecting microscope. The remaining sessions were devoted to performing specific tasks in support of the classrooms that were scheduled to participate.
According to the students, the most important benefits of being part of the team included operating the microscope, learning to work in a group, and getting exposure to electron microscopy (as a possible career choice!). The students felt that Bugscope enhanced a typical high school biology curriculum. As one of the 12th grade students commented,
Bugscope opens up whole new avenues of study for students studying insects. We could study minute structures in exquisite detail and [hypothesize] why those structures look the way they do.
To illustrate how classrooms participated in the project, we provide a typical scenario of one high school teacher's implementation of Bugscope in the classroom.34
The biology teacher at a public high school in a rural community in Arkansas wanted her students to do science by utilizing technology to better understand the relationship between the two. The teacher then submitted a classroom project proposal related to a water quality project that her 10th grade biology students were planning to undertake.
We will be doing chemical analysis on local water sources. We would like to participate in the Bugscope project so that we can view [the] macroinvertebrates that will be utilized as indicator species for Ozark water quality.35 One of our major objectives is to introduce students to as much technology in our science classes as possible. The opportunity to participate in the Bugscope [project] should fulfill this objective and will also increase interest in the environmental issues that we will be studying. We are in a rural agricultural area with concerns of chicken, hog and cattle operations causing runoff pollution. This will be one more way to utilize technology to make local science relevant to our students.
Teacher background. Prior to participating in Bugscope, the teacher had some knowledge about insects, microscopy, and electron microscopy. The teacher has included some form of lessons or units about insects and microscopy in her curriculum. The teacher has used both light and dissecting microscopes with her students previously. The teacher was also somewhat comfortable in working with computers. The teacher assigned her students to use the web for classroom activities.
Session preparation. After the teacher's application was accepted, she sent five insect specimens, which included a water bug, a roach and a spider, from the local water area that her students wanted to study. The operations team set eight presets on these specimens for the students to begin their explorations. One of the presets was the roach antenna, for instance, and another was the head of water bug. In addition, one of the presets was a mystery for students to identify. Before the students gained access and control of the microscope, the teacher had already verified that the computer/browser setup in the school computer laboratory qualified for connecting to it. The laboratory had thirty computers (all Pentium-equipped PC with Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator 4.0 or higher browsers) connected to the Internet.
However, due to the last minute school 10th grade testing plans, the students were unable to participate. The teacher then invited her eight 12th grade students from the advanced biology (College Biology) class to participate. The 12th grade students (4 females, 4 males) were also conducting water testing and had been identifying macroinvertebrate indicators. Hence, the project proposal was relevant to these students as well. Prior to the start of the session, these students had looked at electron microscopy pictures.
Session. Since there were only eight students, the teacher grouped the students on different computers in the laboratory such that one student controlled the microscope, one student used email, and one student was using the chat to interact with the operations team. Eventually all students got an opportunity to control the microscope. According to the teacher,
The session was very successful, [and] the students were very motivated and excited. We will follow up this activity with looking at EM [electron microscopy] pictures of cells/organelles. We discussed the images as the session proceeded -- we emailed and chatted with Bugscope technicians as the session progressed -- the students were very intrigued with this aspect of the technology utilization.
The students acquired over 200 images of their specimens. The image in Figure 5 is a good example of the images acquired by the students. According to the electron microscopist, the students used the roach antenna preset and the controller parameters to locate the roach's face by first moving along to an area of interest to them, second magnifying that area, then focusing, and finally adjusting the contrast and brightness parameters. This was apparent to the electron microscopist, as the image is a close-up of the "ball" part of the "ball and socket" mechanism through which the antenna is attached to the head of the roach. The students had magnified the most distal portion of the roach's antenna.
The students also marked images of special interest, such as spider images as the 10th grade students were studying spiders. The teacher felt that these images will enhance her curriculum by using technology to make local science relevant to the students.
Utilization of the images derived during [the] Bugscope project will allow me to enhance my curriculum with material that will be relevant to the Ozark environment. The images will enhance my water project by allowing me to have specific examples and images from our area. I expect the interest that was generated in my classroom initially to continue the whole year.
The students used the microscope very effectively, and the teacher reported that the session was very useful to her students since it illustrated the complexity of microscopic structures. The teacher believed she accomplished her project objectives, although with a different group of students. The session also raised issues and questions that will allow the teacher to continue to engage her students in scientific inquiry.
The activity really demonstrated to me that the power of the Internet and technology in motivating my students. There were many questions and side issues related to the activity that it will take most of the year to address them all. I found that all of my classes can benefit by the experience as we will access the images during computer labs and discuss them and incorporate them into the lessons.
The Bugscope project, like the Chickscope project previously, has demonstrated that it is feasible to provide remote access to scientific instruments to K-12 classrooms. However, unlike the Chickscope project, the Bugscope project continues to grow. In this section, we address issues based on the aforementioned questions for a formative evaluation of the project in order to understand its current impact and to guide further development.
Teachers integrated the Bugscope project to enhance their curriculum across K-12 in different subjects in a variety of ways. The majority of the teachers have said that they accomplished their classroom project objectives. Some examples of how teachers incorporated the project into their curriculum are presented.
An example of elementary school curriculum integration. A teacher who taught in a 1st grade elementary school classroom in a rural community in Massachusetts was interested in finding how Bugscope complemented the project on insects she did with her students.
At the beginning of each year I complete a six to seven week project on insects with my first grade students. We do some field observations at school and at the local Audobon Sanctuary. Identification of insects and knowledge of body parts, life stages and habitats are the main areas, which are explored in this unit. We have created our own imaginary insects using plaster. The children then gave them their own names and described body parts, habitat and food sources. I'd be interested in how you see [the Bugscope] project complimenting [sic] what we do. Is it applicable to first grade children?
The teacher sent over twenty-nine insect specimens (the most so far) after her application was accepted. Since her 17 students (10 females, 7 males) were young, the teacher organized the session carefully.
I set up the project so I was the one who manipulated the scope. The children sat and observed the images on either three computers around the room or on an overhead TV monitor hooked up to my computer. They gave me suggestions as to what body parts to focus on and what magnification they wanted to see. I did this due to their young age. I had shown them [Bugscope] web site the day before and shared the images from the gallery. I talked briefly about the microscope but for most this was too technical. We did get out a map to see how far it was to Illinois and decided it was close to 1000 miles away; including the ferry ride from the island. I also sent home a notice to parents so they could talk with their kids about it at home. The children were quite impressed with the images we saw and saved. In the afternoon pairs of children who were interested used the controls on the computer. It was easy for them to use with a little guidance.
[Bugscope] gives a whole new dimension to the children's understanding of key objectives. It also connects technology in a real life way to other areas of study. It can be challenging to tie in technology to classroom studies in new and different ways. This project certainly meets this goal.
The teacher's careful organization included giving her students a concept of the remote distance of the microscope, and involving the entire class during the session. In the beginning the teacher was not sure if Bugscope would be applicable to her 1st grade class, but towards the end found that it connected very well to the project on insects that the students were doing.
An example of middle school curriculum integration. A math and computer teacher in an urban community in Illinois wanted to expose her students to new technologies. Bugscope was ideally suited to her curriculum plans.
I want very badly to expose my students, who are all African American and who come from impoverished backgrounds, to the new world of the next millenium. My students don't have computers at home and I want them to be able to explore as much as they can in the time that they are with me. I happen to be fascinated with bugs and all children are and I thought that this would be a great project to involve them in and myself.
After the teacher's application was accepted, she sent five cockroaches for her students to study. Bugscope inspired the teacher to develop math activities for her 29 students (14 females, 15 males) from 6th and 8th grades.
I made some math problems from the roach facts about gestation, etc. It made my curriculum more exciting for the students and it gave us an opportunity to share an experience with one another as a team, to bond under one mission that none of us (even the teacher) had experienced. My students felt very special.
An example of high school curriculum integration. A science research and AP biology teacher in an exurban community in New York wanted to immerse her students in designing an experiment involving the woolly adelgid.
First and second year students in [the high school's] three year science research course will investigate the impact of the woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an aphid-like insect, on several species of hemlock (Tsuga spp.) --- with a specific focus on the effectiveness of integrated pest management (IPM) approaches in slowing hemlock mortality rate. Students will use Dialog, an online international database, to access relevant journal articles. Based on his/her reading, each student will design an experiment involving the use of the ESEM. One experiment will be chosen and carried out, hopefully in conjunction with a scientist/mentor in the field.
The teacher sent more than five insect specimens, including woolly adelgids. The teacher reorganized her session to include seniors. She wanted the science research students to focus their study on the woolly adelgid, and the AP biology students to focus on electron microscopy. The teacher involved 27 students (13 females, 14 males) from 10th to 12th grades in the session after they had done background preparation for it, such as reading articles related to their project, collecting samples, and contacting scientists.
[Bugscope] provides a very powerful model to science research students who are embarking on carrying out long term (3 year) individual original research projects. To participate in a project from start to possible finish in a short period of time gives them an idea of what's involved and the experience of knowing that it is doable.
For the AP [biology] students, it lets them see first hand what electron microscopes are all about...especially the new and improved ESEM, which isn't even in their textbook yet.
Science research curriculum programs are designed to teach students how to conduct scientific research, and to provide them with opportunities to work with scientists.
In addition to integrating Bugscope, how teachers integrated the project content (i.e., entomology and microscopy) into their curriculum may have also played an important role in generating interest about the project. For instance, most of the teachers (77%, N=22) in classrooms where students used the microscope very effectively or effectively included lessons or units about insects in their curriculum. Half of these teachers (50%, N=22) included lessons or units about microscopy in their curriculum, while most of the teachers (77%, N=22) previously used microscopes with their students. About one-third of the teachers (36%, N= 22) included lessons or units about insects and microscopy in their curriculum.
It is also important to point out that Bugscope may have been just one small component in the overall curriculum plans by teachers. For example, Bugscope was integrated into an entomology unit for 51 3rd grade students (23 females, 28 males) at an elementary school in a rural community in Rhode Island (see Figure 6).36
The entomology unit focused on different aspects about insects. One instructional objective of the unit was to provide students with tools used by entomologists, such as a microscope, to carry out scientific investigations on insects of their choice. This was the unit's connection to Bugscope. The students learned new terms during their session, such as deer tick's proboscis and electron microscope. According to the teacher,
They learned about the fine details of an invertebrate that allow it to live and function in a world that was previously foreign to my students. It opened the door to scientific pathways they hadn't even dreamed of before. They became absolutely glued to the screen viewing these "unknown" images through the eyes of a scientist. This project stirred curiosity that led to wonderful observation, questioning techniques and thinking strategies. It also provided them the opportunity to feel like they were real scientists with real work to do.
Bugscope allows students to examine high magnification images of their specimens. However, a concern was whether the project was useful to students and teachers. For instance, were students learning things that they would not have learned without participating in the project. Some examples from the elementary, middle, and high schools previously mentioned are presented to indicate the usefulness of Bugscope.
Usefulness of Bugscope to students and teachers at an elementary school. The teacher from an elementary school in Massachusetts was pleased about the experiences her 1st grade students had in learning about different characteristics of their insects by understanding how the parts of these insects are connected. As the teacher said,
It really showed a compound eye, which is a difficult concept for them to understand. They were amazed by the segmentation and hairs on the insect bodies. I think they will have a much clearer sense of how the parts are all connected through seeing actual objects rather than pictures in books and taking my word for it.
The class took a series of images about the ant's head focusing on its compound eye. The image in Figure 7 magnifies the ant's mouth. The entire series of the images taken by the class demonstrated (to the electron microscopist) an intelligent use of the microscope.
An important project benefit to the teacher has been a new confidence, which increases likelihood of her applying to become involved in projects that she would have not considered otherwise. As pointed out by the teacher,
[It] will give me different reference points to use when talking with the class about the different characteristics of insects. I may be more inclined to apply to more projects of various types, which might have seemed overwhelming before.
Usefulness of Bugscope to students and teachers at a middle school. The math and computer teacher from a middle school in Illinois seemed delighted by what her students learned by examining their roach specimens up close. It was interesting to learn about the efforts by the students to do research about their insects for a science activity in a math class. Bugscope motivated these students in carrying out their own scientific investigations and made the teacher's curriculum more personally meaningful.
The beauty of things close up. How intricate even the smallest of bugs is. How an animal's body is built for its survival, etc. We were motivated to research facts about roaches that blew us away before we even started to view the bug.
Usefulness of Bugscope to students and teachers at a high school. The science research and AP biology teacher from a high school in New York thought of the woolly adelgid project proposal, specifically for Bugscope, so that her students could get the experience in doing a research project in a short period of time from start to finish.
There's no way to replace the experience of picking out tiny little orange nymphs from many hemlock branches, sending them through the mail and then seeing them magnified 25,000 times on a giant screen! And to be able to manipulate the samples, photograph them, have the digitized images available to anyone on the Internet, and possibly characterize something no one else has ever done...is a bit mind boggling!
There's no way we could have done this without Bugscope...nor would I have ever conceived of the hemlock woolly adelgid project!
An important project benefit to the teacher was "being able to operate the ESEM remotely." The teacher planned to use the woolly adelgid images acquired by students in her biology classes, and work with an entomologist to review these images.
We have/are continuing to create montages of some of the images by importing them into Adobe Photoshop.
Our goal is to characterize the pore plates on the dorsal surface of the adelgid. We really only did a thorough scan of one or two adelgids but it should give us some information. We will work in association with an entomologist in doing this work.
For school classrooms, remote access to scientific instrumentation is not an everyday activity. Additionally, teachers, or more specifically classrooms, rarely have access to a supporting infrastructure of people and technology for their class projects, as they had with the Bugscope project. Although only a small number of teachers who participated in Bugscope had previous experiences with remote scientific instrumentation projects, the majority of the classrooms were able to connect to the microscope to acquire images, and the majority of the teachers considered their session to be very useful. Most of the sessions used the microscope very effectively or effectively. Two issues emerge from the remote access to scientific instrumentation by classrooms: session organization and communication.
Session organization. It seems that how teachers prepared for and implemented their sessions related to how their students used the microscope. For instance, while the majority of the teachers used a simulator to verify that their computer/browser was capable of connecting to the microscope, only a small number of teachers actually tested connecting to the microscope just before the scheduled time of their sessions. These teachers may have become more familiar with the project technology, especially the irma software, and so may have been able to facilitate their sessions very well. The students in classrooms of these teachers (83%, N=6) used the microscope very effectively.
The organization of the sessions by teachers had three components to a varying degree. First was how teachers introduced the project content and technology to students, prior to the session. Second was how students were involved during image acquisitions (e.g., working individually, in groups, or as a whole class). Third was how discussions took place in classrooms during sessions. For instance, a 5th grade science teacher describes how she organized her session.
I needed to include 40 students in our session because I teach 2 classes of 20. The students sat on the floor in front of a lenticular screen because I attached LCD projector to my computer. I downloaded the instructions for the ESEM controls and xeroxed the diagram of the controls. We spent three class periods the week of our session preparing. We discussed the purpose of the controls and how to use them.
I divided the students into groups of 5. Each student in the group was given a control as his/her personal responsibility. There was a child in charge of magnification, the stage, focus, contrast, and brightness. During our preparation I gave scenarios, such as: Suppose the image is clear but still difficult to see and it is not on an interesting body part. What control(s) would you choose to use? The groups then discussed their game plan and the student(s) in charge of the controls would have been the one(s) to maneuver the ESEM. It was most fair way to deal with so many children. This did not ensure that every student got to manipulate the ESEM during our session, but since we role played in advance and discussed this problem they handled it rather well. We also discussed download times. By knowing about this in advance, it helped the students cope with download times, which could be wearisome. Each group had little over 5 minutes at the controls and we switched groups during a download.
There was lively discussion as we acquired images. Most of this discussion centered on the successes of the group at the control for choosing the right controls for better imaging.
This teacher, who was from a lower (i.e., elementary) school in US Virgin Islands, used her class computer (Pentium-equipped PC) with access to the Internet via 56Kbps ISDN connection, which accounted for the delay in image download times. This delay did not seem to have affected the students, as they used the microscope very effectively, due to the careful organization of the session by their teacher which included a detailed preparation on how to use the controller for acquiring images effectively.
Communication. Classroom interactions with the operations team during the sessions also played an important role. Students and teachers from the classrooms that communicated with the operations team using the chat used the microscope very effectively or effectively. The high school biology teacher (referred to in A sample scenario section) commented that "incorporating the chat seemed to stimulate even more interest and involvement" from her students. The chat allowed the operations team to guide investigations by students and teachers during sessions. For instance, a member of the operations team (Bugops) guides three students from a private school, which has a small coniferous forest within its campus, in a suburban community in Washington as they identify their insect specimens during the following chat interaction:37
Roger> How do we get the picture to stay on the walking stick? Alan> Where is the wasp that we sent in? Melissa> Can you present the wasp head? Bugops> Ok, first a question for all of you. How many controllers are you running? Roger> 1 Bugops> Ok. Now to answer the two questions... [...] Alan> What are we looking at? Bugops> To stay on the walking stick, you should use the "click to center" feature on the observer. That's the easiest. Your second option is to set the distance to be something good corresponding to the magnification on the image controller and use the up/down/right/left arrows. For a high magnification, the image distance should be something like .01mm. Melissa> Thank you. Bugops> If you want to see the wasp head, we can take you there. But it will take a second or two to find it. You'll have to stop sending commands through the controller and the click-to-center feature. [...] Bugops> Should we find the wasp head now? Melissa> Yes.
The teacher involved 17 students (6 females, 11 males) from 4th to 8th grade science classes in Bugscope. The teacher had indicated in his application that his students were very interested in insects, especially in parasitic wasps that they raised the year before, and walking sticks, native to the northwest, that they were raising this year. The teacher indicated that because of Bugscope his students were able to see the fine details in the insects they saw everyday in the school. During the session, in addition to the chat interactions with the operations team, the students were also engaged in discussions in the class. According to the teacher,
There was lots of discussion during capture. There was not only lots of science discussion but the math skills they used to measure specimens were great.
Teachers nationwide continue to apply to participate in Bugscope from a variety of settings, such as a school classroom, a home school, and an after-school science program. Some issues related to project sustainability that have emerged are presented below.
Bugscope classrooms nationwide. One of the goals from the beginning was to make Bugscope available to over 100 classrooms nationwide in the first year. Although we have received enough teacher applications to easily meet the goal, we have reached only about one-third of the goal because we have not received many project proposals of good quality in these applications, even though detailed project proposal guidelines have been developed for teachers. The project information has been shared on a variety of education web sites (e.g., The Exploratorium's Ten Cool Sites).38 Additionally, the classroom stories about the project have been covered in newspapers (e.g., The New York Times' Circuits section)39 and radio programs (e.g., National Public Radio's All Things Considered program).40 As the project develops, efforts will continue to distribute project information to a wide variety of avenues, such as science teacher workshops and conferences, so that it is more known to teachers nationwide.
Availability of the microscope. Another project goal was to make the microscope available to classrooms once a week for less than three hours. Except for a few exceptions, this goal was achieved. One such exception was scheduling classroom sessions on two days during the week. This was done because we wanted to encourage more classrooms to participate when the project started. Another exception was giving classrooms additional time on the microscope during their sessions, as the students were using the microscope very effectively and the operations team was willing to continue to support these classrooms.
Minimal staff resources. Yet another project goal was to provide training to a team of high school and undergraduate students to primarily manage the operational aspects of the project to support the remote classrooms and to reduce operational cost. The operations team has successfully managed to support classrooms during the first year. For instance, the operations team needs less than half-hour on the microscope for getting it ready for use by classrooms remotely. The operational cost, which includes personnel support for setup, running, and archiving classroom sessions, comes to be less than $100.00 per classroom. This cost does not include the cost of the microscope or the cost to develop the technology infrastructure to support the project.
Automation of tasks. As mentioned previously, one of the critical aspects of sustaining the project was to automate many tasks, such as project administration and data handling tasks. Administration tasks include reviewing teacher applications and then scheduling sessions when the applications are accepted. Data handling tasks include the storing of images acquired by classrooms such that the images can be accessed at any time by any one. Without automation of such tasks, sustaining the project over long periods of time would require a full-time administrator.
Teachers offered suggestions for improvements on different aspects of the project, including the database, the irma software, and the sessions. We have incorporated some of their suggestions as the project has continued to develop during the course of the year. For instance, a team of teachers from a middle school in Illinois suggested after their sessions that the observers should have the capability to mark as well as label images. Such a capability, which has since been incorporated into the observer, would make the students more actively engaged while they observe images that are acquired by their classmates during their sessions.
We are still reviewing some suggestions by teachers. For instance, a teacher from an elementary school in South Carolina, who used Bugscope with her 5th grade students for their unit on insects, suggested that a school or bug name could be used to search the database index rather than the proposal number (as it is currently designed). Such a change would make it easier for students to find images about specific insects after their session. The students in her class marked several images, and they used the microscope very effectively. As the session was very successful, the teacher invited several students from other grades to participate as well.
This was just too cool to only do with one class! This was such an incredible stretch of technology for this district that I wanted to impact as many students as possible and get the attention of administrators to get them excited enough to further the teachers' learning with technology.
A frequent comment by teachers is to request additional sessions to continue to engage students in doing their investigations. As one high school teacher from Illinois said,
I would like two short sessions in which the students could view the insect and then decide what to study. The images from the first session might cause the students to go off on a different tangent. This is exactly what discoveries do - peak [sic] our interest and cause us to investigate something further.
20 The surveys went through two or three revisions. A few teachers who participated in the project were consulted during these revisions. Thus, there was some difference in the content and format of the initial versions of the surveys that the first few teachers completed when the project started than the final versions of the surveys that most of the teachers completed. Only the final versions of the surveys were made available online.
21 Sometimes responses by teachers to certain questions were surprising, as the responses were contrary to their overall feedback. Thus, it is possible that some teachers were not always attentive when responding to the surveys.
23 This total includes 14 teachers (11 females, 3 males) who participated as students in one inservice session. Additionally, there were 129 students in two sessions where the teachers did not complete the third survey, which asked for data on student gender distribution.
26 One middle school had two sessions scheduled simultaneously, with two teachers working together on each session. A team of four teachers from four classrooms (one 7th grade and three 8th grade) had applied to participate the project. The irma software at the time, when the school was scheduled to participate, could not accommodate four sessions. Therefore, two sessions were scheduled. Each session had a controller and multiple observers.
27 Five classrooms were unable to connect due to a variety of technical problems, such as firewall, filtering software, and Internet connectivity problems. The operations team would often acquire images for classrooms when such problems occurred. For instance, one classroom was unable to connect to the microscope using the irma software due to filtering software, and the CGI version was not available at the time. The high school students in the operations team acquired images for the class, which were all immediately accessible through the image database. The images acquired were related to questions sent by the teacher regarding what she and her students would like to see on the specimen (caddisfly larva) they had sent (e.g., "Can you show us a close-up of the eyes?"). Also, comments were included in several images to provide the class with additional information on the questions.
28 Classrooms scheduled as multiple sessions are not aware of existence each other (see Grosser & Kisseberth, 1999, for technical description of the irma software operation modes). The exception here was in case of the aforementioned middle school where the teachers and the students worked together during the school's two sessions. Multiple sessions were scheduled at the same time or back-to-back.
31 Some teachers were unable to send insect specimens due to time constraints. Often specimens would get damaged in mail. In such cases, the operations team would come up with specimens based on the teacher's application for the specific classroom session.
32 As of the fall 1999 semester, only one of the four students is a regular member of the operations team. Two students who were in 12th grade graduated at the end of spring semester. The other two were in 10th grade. One of them did not plan to continue. An undergraduate student in entomology has the joined the operations team since the beginning of the fall semester.