Saturday, October 08, 2005

Wright, Yoshimi and Gavilan

Open Education at UC Merced

Jeff Wright, Jeff Yoshimi and German Gavilan
University of California, Merced
Wednesday, September 28, 2005, 3:15-4:00 pm

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The University of California, Merced, the new tenth campus of the UC system, opens Fall 2005 to an inaugural class of 1000 students. The campus has made a commitment to innovative pedagogy using open source and open-content tools. We describe a variety of efforts currently underway at UC Merced, including the following:

An introductory course in computer science, which uses UC-Wise (Web-based Instruction for Science & Engineering) a real- time collaborative tool for teaching. UCWISE is a UC Berkeley and CITRISled partnership of four UC schools including Merced. Researchers in the College of Engineering and the School of Education are changing the paradigm of distance education to bring highly-rated courses to community and state schools. UC WISE consists of a customizable learning management system (LMS), collaborative tools for projectbased work, communication and assessment mechanisms, as well as support for connecting technology and teaching practices. Teachers and students access the system through web-based portals, allowing location-independent access to learning materials. The online format allows for the replacement of didactic presentation of topics (lecturing), either wholly or in part, by targeted small-group or one-on-one instruction (tutoring) in a lab setting. UCWISE combines a sophisticated web-based learning environment with a wealth of interactive, collaborative, and assessment materials. UCWISE researchers are also examining new forms of pedagogy that this system affords.

A course in psychology and cognitive science in which students build simulated models of the brain using an open-source software package called Simbrain ( The software is being developed at UC Merced with the help of local transfer students. Users create the neural networks using a familiar, visually oriented “draw” interface, and use them to control a simulated agent in a virtual environment. The software is easy to use and does not require formal background in mathematics and programming, making otherwise challenging concepts accessible to a broader range of students. The course is being developed using Connexions modules, and plans are underway to interact with local community colleges in incorporating these modules into their psychology, engineering, and biology courses.

A course in world history incorporating open-content historical spatial data, and animated maps made with an open source mapping tool called TimeMap ( The software, developed at the University of Sydney Archaeological Computing Laboratory, is being adapted at UC Merced for use in a Digital Atlas of World History. Spatial resources from the metadata clearinghouse of the UC Berkeley open-content Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI) (, developed in conjunction with TimeMap, are being incorporated into the Digital Atlas of World History. A UC Merced community college transfer student is identifying digital and paper historical maps that can be incorporated into the Digital Atlas of World History as additional resources. Students in Introduction to World History will be able to use the Digital Atlas in two ways: 1) packaged modules that highlight particular course themes will incorporate authored interactive maps that allow panning, zooming, layer control, animation, hyper linking, and access to time-enabled geodatabases. 2) A searchable metadata clearinghouse with links to each of the datasets that comprise the Atlas will allow advanced students, instructors, and researchers to select data and author their own maps. This data can also be exported into ArcGIS or other programs with advance spatial analysis tools.

Campus wide deployment of open source tools such as 1) Zope ( an open source web application server primarily written in the Python programming language. It features a transactional object database which can store not only content and custom data, but also dynamic HTML templates, scripts, a search engine, and relational database (RDBMS) connections and code. It features a strong through the-web development model, allowing you to update your web site from anywhere in the world. Zope’s security architecture also allows you to turn control over parts of a web site over to other organizations or individuals. The transactional model applies not only to Zope’s object database, but to many relational database connectors as well, allowing for strong data integrity. This transaction model happens automatically, ensuring that all data is successfully stored in connected data sources by the time a response is returned to a web browser or other client. 2) Plone ( a user-friendly and powerful open source content management system built on Zope.


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