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. In the winter of 1997 I again offered the same option to my class and a similar number took up the challenge. These new results are presented in the virtual museum gallery. Previous visitors will note that the museum has undergone a name change from the Hooper Virtual Paleontological Museum to the Hooper Virtual Natural History Museum. The change was made to better represent the actual content of the museum, which contains not only paleontological displays but information on areas of earth science from geoarchaeology to volcanism. For example, in conjunction with professors Tony Fowler, and Andre Desrocher of the University of Ottawa, I taught at our senior undergraduate field camp, this year held on a tall ship touring the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. We examined not only recent and fossil reefs in Barbados and the Grenadines, but we studied the extensive volcanics deposits in the area as well, particularly the erupting volcano on Montserrat. That trip is documented in great detail (nearly 1000 files) in the gallery.
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.
Now the disclaimer. The projects you are about visit are presented "warts and all." Some of the statements may not be entirely accurate. In addition, as in all student "papers," there are numerous grammatical errors in some presentations. However, for the most part I am very pleased with the results. These will become the core of the "Hooper Virtual Paleontology Museum, named for now retired Dr. Ken Hooper, a Carleton University micropaleontologist. The mandate of the museum will be to provide an on-line paleontological resource for educators and the general public both in Canada and abroad.
We hope you enjoy your tour. Please come back often as there will be even more displays added next year.
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