Project Kaleidoscope - 2000 Summer Institute

Start Putting the Pieces Together

Workshop Session

'Virtual Plants? - Enhancing Learning with Information Technology'

Organized by

Alice BERGFELD   &   Peter v. SENGBUSCH

IT-support: Rolf BERGMANN


Links in purple connect to personal statements of web-authors

This is the final version of the workshop contents we presented to you. It contains the index of our with 'The Internet Library - Teaching Botany and Related Topics' with web-projects we collected in advance of the PKAL Summer Institute 2000. It offers you the possibility to get yourself acquainted with web projects we discussed in more detail at the beginning of the workshop. The CD, and our web-sites in particular, show you a range of possibilities the www offers for teaching botany and related subjects and provide you with a lasting documentation of this workshop. In addition, we hope to find one or more scientific non-commercial organizations like PKAL itself willing to mirror the contents of the CD on their server for public use. These servers might even develop into centres of internet teaching.

Botany online - The Internet Hypertextbook is our own project. It began with a German botany textbook (published by McGraw-Hill). Peter got the copyright back when McGraw-Hill closed its German branch. In 1994, Peter had the idea to convert this text into an electronic book to be published as a CD-ROM. During the process of conversion, we learned about the advantages electronic publishing offers compared to traditional print media. The first advantage we explored was the possibility to illustrate the text lavishly. The addition of plant pictures taken during the years before mainly in Africa, the tropical South America, and South-East Asia were the first extensions. Peter decided to improve the illustration of plant anatomy by using photos taken with interference contrast and fluorescence microscopy. The wish to picture leaf surfaces led to the addition of replica technique pictures enhanced by interference contrast microscopy. At Peter's home institute (Institute of General Botany , University of Hamburg), an extensive collection of algae exists that provided an ideal source for the electronic illustration of individual species. In order to display leaf shapes and arrangements, specimens were scanned with the surprising result that this technique is more efficient and due to its high depth of focus superior to photography. Colleagues supported us with a number of pictures taken with the help of scanning and transmission electron microscopy. In 1996, the CD was published ('Botanik Wissen-Mitmachen-Investieren ... all that students are eager to know!'). It was, just like all its successors, non-commercial and distributed by ourselves for a marginal fee intended to cover the production costs.

At about the same time, we issued this project then called 'Botanik online' on the web-server of the University of Hamburg. In doing so, we realized that several colleagues had already established teaching projects in the internet. Peter combined the effort of German web-authors in 1998 and produced a CD-ROM called 'Biologie 98' containing 250 MB of biological knowledge. Its successor 'Biologie 99' had already more than 600 MB almost exceeding the capacity of a CD-ROM. 'Biologie 2000' was issued a few month ago. It became a set of two CD-ROMs. During these years, we developed our original project 'Botanik online' into a multi-author network now titled 'Botanik online - Botany online - The Internet Hypertextbook'. In 1997, Alice joined the project with the original goal to produce an international version in English. This work is still in progress. The work on our German projects brought us in contact with a number of English and Spanish web-projects of outstanding quality. We found them to be so good that we wanted to make them known to as many experts as possible. Consequently, we decided to produce a CD-ROM to be distributed for free to the members of the XVI International Botanical Congress at St. Louis in 1999. The congress organization agreed and we convinced the authors of more than 50 web-projects to participate. The CD-ROM was published under the title 'Teaching goes Internet!'. A web-version of it can be found on the server of the University of Hamburg. For more details about its contents have a look here.


Preparing the PKAL 2000 Summer Institute

We got acquainted with PKAL during the XVI International Botanical Congress. Many of our own ideas were expressed in the goals of PKAL and other professional associations dedicated to the teaching of botany and other topics of natural science. You can find the concepts of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Society of Plant Physiology on this CD. The XVI International Botanical Congress - 1999 St. Louis, Missouri, USA passed resolutions to promote botanical research and conservation of nature and made all this information available on the Internet. Links to further concepts can be found in the 'Internet Library', bookshelf 'How to Teach Science' .

Most of the initiatives focus on traditional ways of transferring information, print media still being the prime type of communication and recording of scientific knowledge. We try to promote the internet as a far more powerful tool. As a consequence, we started to develop our 'Internet Library - Teaching Botany and Related Topics' that will hopefully develop further into a lasting collection of web-projects dedicated to the teaching of botany and related topics. The projects of this library were arranged in open bookshelves according to topics. We have to apologize that interesting web projects covering botanical subjects might be missing and hope that you will help maintaining and extending our library by informing us about projects you know and value (contact:  -

Obviously, Plant Biology is a major bookshelf. It contains projects related to the actual requirements of classes. Most of these projects are updated once a year. They differ in the target group, i.e. undergraduate, graduate, etc. they address and in their intentions. A few of them address non-major students. These projects are especially interesting for us, since they cover topics in a fairly formal and standardized way. Ross KONING, Gary WILLIAMS, and Ray PHILLIPS told us a little about the feedback they got from students using their projects. Our own project 'Botany online' differs from many of the others since it is the result of more than three decades of teaching experience at German undergraduate and graduate levels. By now, it has developed into a multi-author hypertextbook that is not restricted by a particular group of students or by local university requirements. For a similar approaches see: "The Biology Project" of the University of Arizona, and the projects of The University of California, Museum of Paleontology:

General Biology, the second bookshelf, is directed to more or less the same range of students as the plant biology projects. We included these projects, because they cover topics like cell biology and genetics that are essential for plant biology. At least two of these projects, that of Thomas M. TERRY and of Richard H. FALK use elaborate Javascript applets for self-study quizzes. Both authors have issued a statement on their personal or introductory pages giving their ideas about internet teaching . They sent us extensive reports (TERRY and FALK) on the experiences they made with web-based university courses. Thomas M. TERRY, for example, performed an extensive survey among his students and published its results including all individual judgements of his more than 110 students. Additional information we obtained from William McCLURE, Kevin GREEN, and Kåre BREMER

The Related Topics cover microbiology, cell biology, biophysics, organic chemistry and physical geography. Chemistry, as one of the major bases of plant biology, is covered in the outstanding project of Thomas A. NEWTON on organic chemistry. It is a marvellous example of how a very difficult topic can be treated optimally due to the advantages of electronic publishing making use of animated GIFs, javascript-based quizzes, and JavaGrins (an intelligent chemical structure drawing program) students have to apply to solve exercises.

The following bookshelves harbour projects that were not developed as a result of curricula requirements. Instead, they do cover topics that can be used to demonstrate special scientific features in class. The bookshelf Plant Species contains projects centred around individual plant species. Most of them treat commercially valuable plants (maize being the prime example; see: 'Corn in the Classroom' ( or 'The Maize Page' and 'The Maize Genome Database' ( Interestingly, these projects were developed in schools associated with agriculture or horticulture. C-Fern (Ceratoperis) and Fastplants (a rapid-cycling form of the species Brassica rapa, a member of the mustard or cabbage family Cruciferae) are examples showing impressively how to teach fundamental plant science to different age-groups. Leslie HICKOK and Paul WILLIAMS demonstrated during their sessions with simple, partly self-made devices, self-grown plants, and the help of everyone present what discoveries the study of plants offers and how measurements and simple experiments can be carried out. "Study life, not books", it says at the portal of the Woods Hole Marine Laboratory. "Study life, not the www", we could say today, but the web-documentation of C-Fern and Fastplants is an unbeatable aid in the effort to make what was learned by these experiments available to a large group of people and to stimulate them to copy these approaches. Three other projects of Thomas L. ROST were developed by his undergraduate students. They are good examples of how to present class results in the web. Hopefully, they can be maintained up-to-date. The snapdragon project of Kurt STÜBER is organized like a database and covers many aspects of the snapdragon as a model organism of genetics.

We paid special attention to projects concentrating on Multimedia-Applications that we hope may prompt other authors to use multimedia in the production of their teaching projects, maybe covering other fields of biological research. Chris HAWES and his collaborators worked with the confocal laser scanning microscope using specific fluorescent dyes to label Golgi apparatus and endoplasmic reticulum. By this method, they produced picture sets that Chris assembled to animated GIFs, AVI-files or QuickTime movies. They show the dislocation of dictyosomes along the tubular ER and the rearrangement of the tubular ER as a function of time. These movies are highly interesting not only for students. They have the additional advantage that they were produced especially for www publication. Another good possibility are animated GIFs of diagrams. They give a clear impression of biochemical reactions, e.g., and of membrane transports. Several web-authors have already used them (e.g. Thomas M. TERRY; Robert J. HUSKEY; Michael KNEE). TERRY's survey reveals that students like them. Some other scientific fields have profited from IT technologies, too:

Chime, a Netscape plug-in, offers a very popular and widely distributed possibility to visualize molecules and molecular structures in all possible dimensions and presentations (wireframe, ball-and-stick, spacefill). A number of web-editors use Chime to develop tutorials highlighting specific properties of molecules. Outstanding examples (that are hard to be challenged) are the DNA, hemoglobin and immunoglobin tutorials written by Eric MARTZ, the presentation of the TCA-cycle, glycolysis , nucleosome and tRNA-Tour by William McCLURE, photosynthesis by Anthony R. CROFTS (used extensively in his lecture Biophysics 354 - Biological Energy Conversion), and the elaborate 'Ribulose-1,5-Bisphosphate Carboxylase', 'Pores - Channels -Transport', 'Active Transport' and 'Bacterial Photosynthesis' projects by Rolf BERGMANN. ( He participated in our "Botany online" project right from the beginning. Without his patience and expert knowledge of hard-and software, our project would never have been launched). In order to watch Chime-scripts, you need to install Chime, a plug-in for Netscape Navigator, on your computer. It is available as freeware ( It works nicely with Netscape (versions higher than 4.06 are essential to recognize special features in a few of the tutorials) dependent on the complexity of the projects, but very unfortunately essential Java-prerequisites are not implemented in Microsoft Explorer (not even in the most recent version).

Biological Classics   is a library in itself. Printed material is copyrighted for up to 70 years after an author's death. A number of excellent representations of scientific results that have been published in the last decades can therefore not be used (or have to be rewritten). The same is true for film sequences of mitosis (excellent films by A. BAJER using phase contrast and interference microscopy - model organism: Haemanthus katharinae), intracellular movements, growth movements, nastic and tropic movements or demonstrations of life cycles that are not available to us. During the second half of the 19th century, when science started to grow exponentially, a number of milestone publications were issued. Among them were the works of DARWIN and MENDEL, now available as public domain electronic versions in the web. A few of us, e.g. K. STÜBER ( from Cologne, invested a lot of work to prepare electronic versions of HAECKEL's bountifully illustrated publications. He did also republish Otto Wilhelm THOMÉ's 'Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz' (Flora of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) that we used to illustrate the corresponding taxonomic chapters in our German version of 'Botanik online'. Consecutively, we prepared the electronic version of 'Naumanns Naturgeschichte der Vögel Mitteleuropas' ( that our colleagues W. HEITLAND & W. BÄUMLER from Munich used for the illustration of a teaching project for forestry students ( M. ENGELS has just converted 'The British Desmidieae' by J RALFS into an electronic version. Compared to the print version, its usability was enhanced by introducing hypertext to facilitate the use of its key.

Databases have already become the ultimate source of scientific information in a number of fields. It is thus inevitable for each teaching project to use the freely available data sets. Due to their structure and the offered access possibilities, they can usually not be converted into html as a whole. The size of databases makes it usually impossible to copy them into other projects, too. In a few cases, download versions are offered. The 'Kyoto Encyclopaedia of Genes and Genomes' (KEGG) presents descriptions of almost all biochemical molecules and enzymes, as well as clickable maps of most metabolic pathways. We used this information to illustrate all biochemical chapters of 'Botany online - The Internet Hypertextbook', see, e.g. 'Respiration', 'Amino Acid Synthesis', and 'Lipid Synthesis'. By now, these chapters contain our own descriptions and diagrams, Chime scripts, and KEGG data sets - a good example of how a multi-author project expands. It also shows that it becomes necessary for university teaching.

Encyclopaedias are databases of limited size. The 'Gymnosperm Data Base' by Christopher J. EARLE, and The Virtual Palm and The Virtual Cycad Encyclopaedias by Jody L. HAYNES and Tom BROOME (Palm and Cycad Societies of Florida) are excellent examples of how a single committed individual is capable to construct a database of important plant taxons. 'Vascular Plant Families' by Gerald D. CARR is a collection of first class photographs of angiosperm flowers and vegetative parts. In our opinion, none of the other plant photo collections in the internet can match the quality of this collection. Most picture collections and teaching projects concerned with flowering plants are like 'Botany 250' ( by J. REVEAL or Botany online arranged according to the A. CRONQUIST’s classification of flowering plants. In 1998, the 'Angiosperm Phylogeny Group' presented a phylogenetic classification based on the molecular analysis of a number of representative genes. We have redrawn the phylogenetic tree published in the 'Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden' in order to receive a clickable map used in the mirror of the electronic version of the APG-publication. In addition, we use it as a guide to our chapters on angiosperms. G. CARR used this approach as an alternative entry for his data sets, too. Hugh D. WILSON converted it into an additional table giving access to the 'Flowering Plant Gateway'.
The DELTA data sets ('Flowering plants (angiosperms) - families' and 'Grass genera of the world' by Leslie WATSON & Mike J. DALLWITZ present another exceptional source of information. Plants of Northern America are best represented by the 'PLANTS National Data Base' - Project of the USDA’ (photos, descriptions, distribution maps).

Our bookshelf 'Conservation - Biodiversity' has a somewhat different, but nevertheless outstanding position. Here, we collected web-presentations of organizations like

The titles of these projects are their programs. The organizations operate world-wide. As teachers, we depend on their results. They, in turn, depend on our possibilities to make their goals known to an audience as wide as possible and to encourage students to treasure these ideas and to co-operate in the projects. For more details see. We quoted P. RAVEN, the president of the XVI International Botanical Congress, in the welcome on our CD-ROM for the members of the congress saying that 'plants hold the genetic keys to enhanced quality of life today, and they will help us determine if life will be worth living tomorrow'.


Open Questions

How can our projects be of maximal use to teachers, students, planning committees or potential new web-authors? Internet teaching does not replace in-person teaching, but the huge number of teaching units offered online or on CD-ROM can be of great value for every teacher. Internet teaching should always offer solid facts. Then, a teacher can choose the information units appropriate for demonstration. Teachers will have to show their students, how to use this information and how to profit from it.

At current, all of us are 'first generation web-authors'. We initiated our projects, invested a lot of time, and enjoy the opportunity to be able to publish them independently. The university environment offers all essential technologies. All web-authors are interested to pass their work on for educational use. Web-authors do usually want to keep the right to update their projects. Some refuse to have their projects mirrored on other servers, because of the risk of being associated with outdated versions. There is no general guarantee that this is avoidable. At the moment, personal agreements seem to be the only way to minimize the risk. All web-authors are confronted with the fact, that they cannot reshape their projects indefinitely. Web-authors retire, change their university, their fields of interest or face new duties. Who will continue their work? It is certainly not encouraging to update someone else's project. But it is also a waste of time to begin a new teaching project for topics already treated optimally.

All of our material is copyrighted. Who should be allowed to extract information units for the use in other teaching projects ? We know, for example, that several of our 'Botanik online - Botany online' pictures have been incorporated into other teaching projects without us having been notified. That's alright with us. In some cases, credit is given to the 'University of Hamburg', however. That is not quite correct. Although a great deal of work is done at the university, Alice, e.g., is not a university member, she lives and works in Berlin. The officials of the University of Hamburg have not yet taken notice of us - we receive no financial support. Gale RHODES from the University of Southern Maine states: "Please support my work at this web site by requesting permission to use these materials in your teaching. Here's why". The same is true for us. The term

Optimally, every html-page is signed by an author who can be contacted directly as long as he is still actively involved in the project. All the work we are presenting in the internet is private intellectual property. Almost all internet-projects provide link lists to related projects. A big problem is that the linked pages do very often not exist any more or have been moved to another URL. This is no problem as long as automatic forwarding is provided, but what about the information lost in this way? We know a number of projects that we would have liked to mirror in our 'Internet Library', if they were still available.

How can the knowledge we collected be conserved and how can future students be supplied with high quality teaching projects? Can these projects be of use to teachers and students of developing countries, too? What about teachers and students who speak Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese or Japanese?

We need umbrella organizations. We want to convince PKAL to offer space on their server for the distribution of teaching material. We have to convince the BSA (Botanical Society of America) and the ASPP (American Association of Plant Physiology) as professional organizations for botanists that internet teaching has become a solid backbone of traditional botanical knowledge. We want to persuade international organizations like the UNESCO that internet teaching and the supply of internet based projects and CD-ROMs for offline use is the best way to transmit knowledge from industrialized to developing countries. Knowledge of botany is vital to survive in such critical areas as Africa and South America.

Of course, financial support is essential. We require neither millions of dollars nor some 1000 dollar grants. Funds for paying the salaries of a few engaged persons over a period of many years are necessary to ensure continuity of the initiated activities. These persons have to act as gatekeepers and securers of projects. They have to be in touch with web-authors. They have to find ways of distributing the compiled information sets. They have to acquire new projects and to have funds to update their working surroundings. They need travel grants, and they have to consult committees and may be involved in the training of teachers. - Who wants to join in these enterprises?

Alice Bergfeld - Peter v. Sengbusch    -