Collaboration between Scientists and Educators in the
Development of Distance Education Curriculum for the Web


Rita Karl, Lunar and Planetary Institute
Leslie C. Hunt, Intructional Technology Graduate Program


In support of the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s goal to provide educators and students access to on-line interactive activities as a part of it's educational mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, the development of several web-based curriculum projects have been undertaken.  The education staff is working with graduate students in the University of Houston Clear Lake's Instructional Technology program to design and develop a series of on-line multimedia activities to support space science distance education on the web.  Current topics include the planet Mars and the Evolution of the Solar System.

Utilizing the scientific research, data, theories and expertise of the planetary scientists at NASA's Lunar and Planetary Institute, a prototype interactive web-site has been developed focusing on the planet Mars.  The site will be featured as part of the distance education programs available for K-12 educators and students accessing the LPI web page.  The Mars curriculum will be targeted to students in middle and high school (grades 5-12) and will be presented as part of LPI's support of the White House Mars Millennium Initiative which challenges students to imagine a human colony on Mars in the year 2030.

A need for scientifically accurate inquiry-based materials to support on-line distance education about the planet Mars has been identified by the Institute, the White House and educators who are interested in the future of human space exploration and colonization of Mars.  Students and educators entering into the study of Mars often have preconceived ideas and biases based on popular entertainment and misconstrued scientific data.  This curriculum addresses this issue by having students learn and apply the scientific method, review past and present scientific theory, research and data about Mars, and explore the requirements of Mars mission design.

The on-line activities focus on having students design a series of missions in preparation for a human colony on Mars utilizing the scientific method and current information known about the planet.  The final projects and mission designs are submitted to the web site for evaluation, comments and posting.   As part of the groundwork for this project students are able to research and explore the history, evolution and geology of Mars, and learn to identify geologic features and weather patterns on Mars by using Earth analogies and 3-D imagery on-line.  The Lunar and Planetary Institute is one of the world's largest Regional Planetary Image Facilities (RPIFs) which catalogues and stores all of the planetary mission imagery on-site, much of it in digital formats and accessible via the web for students of all ages doing research from a remote site.

Students will have the opportunity to practice discriminating between theory and fact by applying the scientific method through a series of interactive on-line activities. By exploring current cutting-edge scientific theory and research based on mission data; students will be able to debate the previous existence of oceans and rivers on the planet and the theory that a subsurface aquifer may still exist on the planet.    Digital video, animation, graphics and text will be used to allow students the opportunity to investigate the scientist's theory and the missions that support it.  By navigating through the web site and out to a variety of related NASA mission sites, students will be able to discover what implications that the discovery of water on the planet will have for a human colony.  Students will review in situ resource utilization, the making of fuel, air and water for human survival in an on-line chemistry lab.   They will also review the implications that the discovery of water on Mars has for the possibility for the existence of life (past or present) on the red planet.  Students will then survey NASA's current plans for robotic and human missions to the red planet in preparation for their own designs to be submitted for posting at the web site.

A second on-line curriculum is being developed in partnership with the University of Houston and LPI scientists focusing on the evolution of the solar system.   Initially a video is being produced for the web that highlights the current theory about how stars are born, planets and moons are formed, and the recent discoveries of planets around other stars.  Scientist interviews, NASA animation and LPI illustrations will be woven together in a short video production that will be a part of an interactive web site on this topic.  The web site will also include a series of activities for the classroom, an interactive timeline of events that took place during the formation of the solar system and a slide show.

In response to the stated need for teachers and students to have access to current information about space science and activities to support an inquiry-based approach to learning via technology, the education staff of the Institute entered into a partnership with the University of Houston Clear Lake.   Graduate students in the Instructional Technology program working with the education staff of the LPI are designing and developing a variety of modules and prototypes for these web sites.  Collaborating with students in this degree program which emphasizes the use of appropriate technology in a variety of learning applications (including the web) helps the Institute to envision and implement a broad range of developed multimedia activities utilizing the scientific data and research done by the planetary scientists.


This paper will present information on the collaborative process used for the design and development of this curriculum, as well as examples of the on-line instructional activities created (web sites, videos).   The steps used during the collaborative process between scientists and graduate students in the education program to systematically design the curriculum will be outlined and modeled.  The process of developing interactive web-based activities based on science research using a variety of emerging technologies and Internet tools is one of the key elements in producing quality distance education web sites.


It is intended that this paper will serve as a document for other curriculum designers and educators to use, should they encounter a similar need for collaboration with professionals as subject matter experts for the development of distance learning curriculum.  Medium-size group of science teachers, technology teachers and curriculum designers specializing in science or astronomy related course design for the web.


The is paper will be presented using internet technology, group discussion and a demonstration of the instructinal activities developed for the curriculums being addressd, including interactive web-sites and digital video.