R. A. Brown, J. Ishee, and C. Lallo
Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Dr., Baltimore, MD 21218
In 1990, the Bahcall committee called for an ``educational initiative'' associated with its decadal plan for astronomy research (Bahcall 1991). It urged that new resources and innovative partnerships be developed to foster beneficial connections between the exploration of the universe and basic teaching and learning and, in particular, to address the deficit our society faces in the math, science, and technology skills of the next generations.
A study and report entitled An Education Initiative in Astronomy (EIA) (Brown 1990) is an informal appendix to the Bahcall committee report. This work is the product of seventeen professionals in education or astronomy, who deliberated the question of strategies and approaches for connecting astronomy research and basic education. The connection is not obvious, after all: the former activity is the acquisition of advanced knowledge about the universe, which may be understandable in detail by only a few; the latter is aimed at helping all inquirers learn ``the basics,'' that is, information and concepts often long known by past---even ancient---scholars.
The EIA report affirmed manifold opportunities for astronomy research to contribute to education, noting that the astronomy enterprise has many relevant assets, including a broad domain of inquiry, role models, advanced technology, cadres of semi-professionals and amateurs, and interdisciplinary connections. Two prime objectives promoted by EIA were sparking pre-college interest in science and improving the accuracy of astronomical information presented to students and the public. One strategy recommended by EIA was using innovative technologies to disseminate science results, and in particular, using advanced communications networks to facilitate delivery of electronic information to computers in homes and schools.
Today, many new programs are seeking to exploit the connections between astronomy research and education. The Exploration in Education (ExInEd) program at the Space Telescope Science Institute (ST ScI) is one such program. The focus of ExInEd is to enable individual authors in the community to communicate the ideas and results of their activities in the form of computer multimedia software, which is distributed over Internet, via on-line services, and on durable media.
The Electronic PictureBook (EPB) is our primary product category. It is educational software of the show-and-tell variety, consisting of a HyperCard stack that runs on the Macintosh platform. The basic elements of an EPB are picture-caption pairs that are augmented with a structural framework (indices, navigational buttons, overlays) and additional content (an introduction, a glossary, reading lists, credits). The EPB uses an introduction to orient the user in the topic at hand, and provides navigation tools that enable him or her to explore the pictures and captions in either a hierarchical way (via indices and sub indices) or sequentially, as in a slide show.
EPBs have a serious---but unstructured---educational purpose. They are designed to: (1) capture student interest, (2) provide quality information, and (3) construct understanding and skills. We hope that by browsing through their exciting images and informative captions, children and adults will receive the message that science is fun, that learning is a process of exploration and discovery, and that these activities can be enjoyable and rewarding. We are encouraged, based on voluminous, unsolicited correspondence and favorable reviews, that EPBs are being well received by the press and public, by students, and by school teachers in particular.
From the author's standpoint, ExInEd provides a simple and inviting interface. An EPB author has simply to provide ExInEd with pictures and captions along with a brief introduction, and ExInEd does the rest. We have the technical capabilities to accept images and text in a wide variety of forms and formats, which we transform or translate appropriately for the EPB. Editorial responsibilities are shared between the author and ExInEd staff. Once all the edited materials are in-hand, production of an EPB is generally completed in a period of a few weeks.
At the current time, ExInEd has completed and is distributing ten EPB titles over the Internet, through on-line services and bulletin boards, and on diskette and CD-ROM:
ExInEd has also created its first CD-ROM, entitled Space Science Library of Electronic PictureBooks. It includes all current EPBs plus GIF-format images of 330 individual images in 640x480 pixel format.
In the coming months, we propose to expand our collaborations with at least five new EPB titles:
ExInEd plans to produce additional multimedia products for both the Macintosh and the Windows PC platforms. As noted, EPBs are currently based on the HyperCard engine and are thus available only for the Macintosh computer. In the future, we will be using the Apple Media Tool (AMT) authoring system in addition to HyperCard, and will be producing runtime executable software for Windows also. The content will be derived from EPBs, which we will continue to produce. This will expand ten-fold the installed base of computers that can use our products.
ExInEd is also exploring new products specifically for Internet distribution. The Electronic InfoCapsule (EIC), for example, will be small cross-platform interactive computer presentation incorporating images, sound, text, and video. Authored with Apple Media Tool, EICs will run identically on the Macintosh and Windows PC platforms.
All ExInEd titles currently available can be obtained by downloading them from any one of several electronic sources, including SSO's electronic bulletin board system (bbs) at 410-516-4880 using user ID ``guest'' and password ``guest'', then searching under the heading ``Conferences''; via anonymous ftp over the Internet at host address stsci.edu in directory /ExInEd; through America Online using the search term ``ExInEd'' in the Macintosh software library; and from ExInEd's Mosaic/WWW Home Page.
ExInEd EPB's can also be purchased on durable media, diskette or CD-ROM, by contacting The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (415-337-2624) between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Pacific Time or writing to: The Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Ave., San Francisco, California 94112. They may also be purchased from NASA's Central Operation of Resources for Educators (CORE) by calling 216-774-1051, ext. 293 or writing to NASA CORE, Lorain County Joint Vocational School, 15181 Route 58 South, Oberlin, OH 44074.
To receive a copy of An Education Initiative in Astronomy, to obtain more information on the ExInEd program, or to provide comments or suggestions on the EPB concept, please write to: ExInEd, Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218. FAX: 410-516-7450. Internet: ExInEd@stsci.edu.
Support for this research was provided by NASA Grant NAGW--3048 through the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.
Brown, R. A., ed. 1990, An Education Initiative in Astronomy (Baltimore, Space Telescope Science Institute)