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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


HHMI/LON-CAPA: 'Anatomy and Physiology' of Online Learning Guides for Introductory Biology

Jim Smith.

In 1998, a group at Michigan State University (MSU) received funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to produce sets of online, learning modules for Biology courses at MSU. These modules utilize the LON-CAPA format (, with students accessing tutorial pages and responding online to questions within web-based problem sets. During the past two years, students in Dr. Smith's Introductory Biology courses have been using a set of fourteen LON-CAPA modules covering various aspects of Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Module design has been based on educational principles and we have attempted to use instructional technology to its best advantage. Because our goal is conceptual understanding, we have focussed on major concepts. In addition, we have incorporated into the modules multiple representations of concepts. Research on how students learn has shown that content 'experts' can move fluidly between alternative representations and are able to use representations as cues to bring up other ideas. We have also implemented within these modules interactive questions of 'high quality' (as judged by Bloom's Taxonomy). Most publishers use questions of 'low quality' as end-of-chapter questions in textbooks and in question sets contained in supplementary CDs.

Student response to the learning tools produced by our group has been very enthusiastic and, in his presentation, Dr. Smith will be discussing his experiences using these online resources. He will also discuss research that has been carried out by the HHMI Core Group to study how students use the modules, and the effects that these modules have on student learning.

A demonstration site for the HHMI/LON-CAPA learning modules in Biology is available at


Jim Smith  (United States)
Associate Professor

Michigan State University

Jim Smith is an Associate Professor jointly appointed in the Lyman Briggs School (a residential science and liberal arts program) and in the Department of Zoology at Michigan State University. Dr. Smith's research in Zoology pertains to the evolutionary relationships of flies in the true fruit fly genus Rhagoletis (Diptera: Tephritidae). Dr. Smith's teaching emphasizes writing in the classroom, placing knowledge in a broader context, active and group learning, the use of technology in the classroom, and using research to inform teaching.

  • Online learning
  • Biology
  • HHMI
  • Educational principles
  • Student satisfaction

(30 min Conference Paper, English)