Collaboration between Scientists and Educators in the Development of

Distance Education Curriculum for the Web

Rita Karl

Lunar and Planetary Institute

Leslie Hunt

University of Houston - Clear Lake

Abstract: This paper describes the collaborative process utilized by scientists and educators at the Lunar and Planetary Institute and graduate education students from the University of Houston Clear Lake in the development of web-based curriculum for the Instituteís Mars Millennium web site and CD-ROM project to support of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It is intended that this paper will serve as a guide 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. In support of the Lunar and Planetary Instituteís (LPI) 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 at the Institute is collaborating with the scientists at the Institute and 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.

Program Description

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 Mars Millennium Project which challenges students to imagine a human colony on Mars in the year 2030 (see The Mars Millennium Project is an official White House Millennium Council Youth Initiative engaging students in classrooms and youth groups throughout the United States to participate in an interdisciplinary learning experience focusing on the exploration of the planet Mars. Working with educators, community leaders and professionals in many fields, students will weave the arts, sciences and humanities together in their design of a new community on Mars that is scientifically sound and offers a high quality of life.

Each educational team participating in the Mars Millennium Project has been giving the goal to design a livable life-sustaining community on Mars that is culturally and artistically rich. The Mars Millennium Project is spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the National Endowment for the Arts, and the J. Paul Getty Trust. NASA's Lunar and Planetary Institute is contributing to the project by developing web-based curricula and piloting that curricula in Houston-area schools, libraries, youth and arts centers (see The web-based materials will be tested with the LPI gifted and talented 5th grade students provided by a local school district who attend a weekly "Exploring the Planets" class. It will also be tested with educators at the LPI summer workshop, 'Liftoff 2000: Mars'.

A need for scientifically accurate inquiry-based materials to support on-line distance education about the planet Mars has been identified by the Institute. It is also of interest to the White House and to 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 set of curricula 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 planning and colony design.

This paper outlines the collaborative process used by the instructional design teams as they began to systematically design and develop web-based curricula with scientists and science education staff members from the Institute, and with graduate students from the Instructional Technology degree program at the University of Houston Clear Lake. These teams developed interactive web-based curricula based on scientific theory and data, incorporating a variety of emerging technologies, Internet tools, and innovative instructional strategies.

The instructional design teams used learner and context analysis data to identify appropriate instructional theory to use as a basis for their curriculum development. The designers then developed instructional analyses of the subject matter, which impacted their selection of instructional strategies and media. The teams developed the web interface and page layouts in collaboration with the LPI scientistís theories and with space science mission data. A variety of other collaborative efforts between the Institute and the University of Houston Clear Lake have been initiated, which illustrate the nature and diversity of applications that can be developed for distance education on the web.

Curriculum Design and Development

The on-line activities being developed for the Mars Millennium Project focus on having students design a series of missions in preparation for a human colony on Mars, by utilizing the scientific method and current information known about the planet. The studentís final projects and mission designs are submitted to NASA for evaluation, comments and posting on the web-site. 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 discrimination 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 for the Institute, which focuses on the formation and evolution of the solar system. Initially, a digital video was produced for the web and CD-ROM in collaboration with graduate students from the digital video production class at UHCL and LPI scientists and education staff. The video highlights the current theory about how stars are born, planets and moons are formed, and recent discoveries of planets around other stars. Scientist interviews, NASA animation and LPI illustrations were woven together in a five-minute video production. This video 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.

Collaboration with Scientists

A group of scientists at the Lunar and Planetary Institute dedicate part of their time in support of the various LPI education initiatives and projects. The focus of these initiatives is the dissemination of space science education curriculum via the web. The curricula is intended for teachers, students, and the general public, in order to further the understanding of space science within those groups. The Lunar and Planetary Institute is a NASA Office of Space Science Broker/Facilitator, charged with the task of forging relationships between scientists and formal and informal educators in their designated region (composed of eleven states). The Institute has a small education staff of three people. They have elected to expand their team to include instructional technology graduate students from the University of Houston Clear Lake. This collaboration allows for larger teams to systematically design innovative multimedia web-based curriculum using cutting edge technologies to support a variety of space science education topics. Two such topics currently in development are the study of the planet Mars, and the formation of the solar system.

In collaborating with scientists on these curricula the design teams decided to focus primarily on one aspect of the scientistsí work (one particular theory, for example). Scientific theory is often based on prior mission data. This theory can then influence future mission designs. This model helped to shape the design of our Mars curricula, which introduces students to a theory, gives the example of a mission designed to research this theory, and then tasks the students to develop a mission design of their own. Our initial collaboration with Dr. Stephen Clifford (a Mars scientist at LPI) focused on his theory that there is a subsurface aquifer (perhaps an ocean) frozen under the surface of the planet Mars which was formed early in Martian history.

The team used a laymanís version of Dr. Cliffordís theory as an introduction to the Ocean on Mars unit, enhanced by a series of color graphics based on his original figures. This was augmented by two short video interviews with Dr. Clifford, in which he answered basic questions about his theory. A current mission to Mars (Deep Space 2) was highlighted as a particular example of NASAís designs for an unmanned robotic mission to begin to determine the validity of the theory (water on Mars). Mission information, animations and additional links were included to give students a more thorough understanding of how scientific theories and research are used to influence mission designs. A communications link was developed so that students could e-mail questions to the Mars science staff at the Institute to help facilitate their mission designs. Studentís final projects (text and drawings) would be published on the web-site.

A second, related unit, Mars of the Mind, was developed by another UHCL graduate student team led by LPI education staff member, Rita Karl. This unit was an introduction to how improvements in technology has shaped our view of the planet Mars through out history. Students would be taken on a web quest to explore how the technological improvements in the telescope changed man's view of the red planet. Students would then be tasked to consider new technologies that may be available to them in the year 2030 that would facilitate establishment of a colony on Mars and then write an essay or draw a picture of this technology for an on-line student gallery.

The Ocean on Mars web pages were authored with Dreamweaver, while the Mars of the Mind web pages were created using Netscape Composer. The team believed that it was important to demonstrate that instructionally sound web-based instruction could be created using both high end and basic web authoring tools. The result of this work on both web sites can be found in prototype format at (Ocean on Mars) and at (Mars of the Mind).

Formative evaluation of the web-sites with the subject matter expert, Dr. Clifford, will be conducted following the completion of the first draft of the curriculum to ensure accuracy of data and review the objectives, content and assignments.

Questions will include:

Figure 1. Scientist interview screen from Ocean on Mars web site.

Click on Image to View

Our second collaboration was for the web-based digital video on the formation of the solar system. It was accomplished with the support of Dr. David Black and Dr. Joseph Hahn, two of the LPIís foremost scientists studying planetary formation. The instructional design team was composed of LPI education staff and graduate students from UHCL enrolled in the fall 1999 Digital Video Production course. The team did the original instructional analysis, design and production of the video for a distance education web site, currently in development at LPI.

The video is 5-minutes in length and gives an overview of what scientists believe occurred as the solar system formed, the planets and small bodies were created, and how the Earth-Moon system came into being. The design team prepared an illustrated storyboard and script (using Storyboard Tools and Scriptmaker software) that was based on the objectives and instructional strategy defined by the Instituteís education staff. The scientists reviewed the storyboard and the team made revisions based on their input. The written script was based on questions that the scientists would answer in an interview format, describing a series of NASA images, original footage and animations developed by NASAís Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Kennedy Space Center. The final production included narration by the LPI education staff member, and comments by one of the scientists, Dr. Joseph Hahn, who was available during production.

Collaboration with Educators

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.

For the Mars of the Mind and Ocean on Mars web-based instructional modules, the LPI education staff collaborated with graduate students enrolled in the summer 1999 Distance Education course. The instructional design team for these projects consisted of six instructional technology graduate students who were interested in providing a prototype distance education curriculum for the LPIís Mars Millennium web site and CD-ROM project. One of the members of the team serves on the educational staff at the LPI and secured approval for the team to undertake the assignment.

Guided by the LPI staff, the design team used an existing proposal for a curriculum design for the national Mars Millenium program. From this proposal, the team selection two instructional modules: Mars of the Mind and Ocean on Mars. The team divided into two separate groups with each three-person subgroup assuming responsibility for one module.

The contents of the proposal included critical instructional analysis information that the graduate students needed in order to develop sound systematically designed instruction. This information included the purpose statement for the LPIís Mars Millenium curriculum project, which is:

"To create a curriculum that is suitable for use in 5-12th grade classrooms with the goal of impacting students and teachers at a national level through the Mars Millennium project, our gifted student program, Alpha, and through a variety of outreach endeavors, including Liftoff and Explore (National Educator Training Workshops) by addressing the following goals: The Institute also provided the graduate students with direction concerning the instructional context and content: With this information in hand, the instructional design team developed goal statements for each of the modules. The Ocean on Mars goal became: "To present an integrated interactive site for distance education serving the Mars Millennium high school student by using chemistry, scientific theory and mission data in order to design new missions to Mars." And, the Mars of the Mind module goal became "Gifted fifth and sixth grade students will hypothesize as to what Mars might look like in 2005 with improved technology. Students will accomplish this by navigating the Mars of the Mind web site to (1) review examples of well-known inventions and discoveries which hold a prominent place in history due to the way mankindís view of reality and truth were altered by them, (2) view historical pictures of Mars from different time periods and study the then available technology used to form those picture, (3) use this information to form opinions concerning the accuracy of technology and its effect on manís view of the universe at any given time, and (4) use these opinions to imagine what technology will be available five years from now and what manís view of Mars will be because of it".

Given this instructional analysis data, the design team selected a constructivist approach for their instructional modules and lesson designs. Designers of constructivist learning environments subscribe to instructional methods which provide students with experience in the knowledge construction process and appreciation for multiple perspectives, embed learning in realistic and relevant contexts, encourage ownership and voice in the learning process, embed learning in social experiences, encourage use of multiple modes of representation, and encourage self-awareness of the construction knowledge process (Wilson, 1996, pp. 11-12). Constuctivism seemed an excellent approach given the exploration- and discovery-based theme of these instructional goals, the inquisitive nature of the gifted student audience, and the web-based delivery method.

Only by collaborating with the LPI education staff, the studentsí client, was the team able to create a firm foundation for the subsequent design and development of the instructional modules. Without this data, systematically designed instruction would have been impossible. Further collaboration occurred when the team began the actual development of the web-based curriculum. Logos for the web site were based on the NASA mission patch for the Mars Surveyor í98 missions. Digital images used to enhance the various web pages were provided by the LPI, which has a vast repository of NASA mission imagery, and is one of the worldís largest Regional Planetary Image Facilities (RPIFs).

Figures 2 and 3 show the basic web interface for both sites, which was kept the same for both units to provide users with a common frame of reference. Figures 4 and 5 show the goal analyses for both the Ocean on Mars and Mars of the Mind units. These illustrate the design teamís initial outlines for each web-based unit of instruction. They flowchart the series of the lessons that were developed for the prototype versions of each web site. The entry-level behaviors are indicated below the double line for each lesson. Instructional analyses for each lesson were then developed and charted in the same fashion. These charts were then used as outlines for the actual development of the curricula.

Figures 2 and 3. Web interface for Ocean on Mars and Mars of the Mind units

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Figures 4 and 5: Goal Analyses for Ocean on Mars and Mars of the Mind units

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The Institute and the University

LPI and the University of Houston Clear Lake have collaborated on a variety of other related projects for the Institute and for NASAís Office of Space Science Broker/Facilitator initiative. For the UHCL Internet for Educators course, LPI education staff provided a resource list of NASA web sites for review by graduate students. This annotated list of space science web sites was created to enhance undergraduate education students understanding of NASA and space science content and curriculum on the web for use with their students. The NASA Office of Space Science is also in the process of determining a format for evaluation of their distance education web-sites and the studentís feedback for the course was compiled and delivered to LPI to incorporate into a summative evaluation report to be submitted to NASAís evaluation team.

In addition to the two Mars units (Mars of the Mind and Ocean on Mars) designed for the summer Distance Education course at UHCL, an instruction design for an entire web-based Mars course (and a second draft of the Mars of the Mind unit) was developed by students (led by LPI education staff member Rita Karl) for the fall Systematic Design of Instruction course at the university. The instructional design team completed a goal analysis and a learner and context analysis for this complete six-unit course on the planet Mars entitled, Earth Attacks! The objectives for each of the six units were:

A series of instructional analysis flowcharts were done for the revision of the Mars of the Mind unit, objectives written and an instructional strategy developed highlighting the variety of multimedia that could be incorporated by an instructor leading students through the on-line activities. A series of performance assessments were created based on the objectives to allow for assessment of student achievement through out the unit. The option of creating a CD-ROM version of the curriculum in addition to the web-based version was considered to allow for more educators to take advantage of the material off-line. For a review of the Earth Attacks! instructional design, see

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The Collaborative Process

In deciding to extend the instructional design teams to include instructional technology graduate students, The Lunar and Planetary Institute is integrating a group of professionals who can add their expertise and experience in the development of distance education projects that utilize a variety of emerging technologies. IT students at the UHCL spend valuable research time investigating best practice uses of technologies on the web and participate in a variety of distance education experiences. In designing for the web, these technologies need to be carefully chosen and integrated in to the final course design.

As a Broker/Facilitator for NASAís Office of Space Science, LPI has been tasked with the challenge of utilizing subject matter experts in the field of space science to leverage the educational opportunities available to K-12 students and educators through out the country. Projects like Mars Millennium offer the chance to develop new and innovative web-based courses in the field of space science and distance education utilizing the talents of professionals in the field, in education and in technology.

The web below (Figure 6) illustrates how LPI supports NASAís Office of Space Science initiative as a Broker/Facilitator by facilitating collaboration between scientists and educators. The collaboration with LPI and the University of Houston Clear Lake involves undergraduate and graduate education students and impacts educators, students and the public via distance education curriculum for the web.

Figure 6: Web outlining the collaboration between NASA, LPI, UHCL, scientists, educators, students and the general public.

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The authors would like to acknowledge the UHCL Distance Education design team for his or her contribution to the design and development of the Mars of the Mind and Oceans on Mars instructional web sites. Thanks to Brigid Dixon, Brent Goucher, Amy Riley, and Deborah Sanders. Thanks to the Digital Video Production team JayDee Wilkins and Suzanne Cobarruvias, and to the Systematic Design of Instruction team Ron Williams and John Roberts. Thanks also to the instructors, Ruth Cook, Guy Watson, Atusi Hirumi and Trudy Driskell.


Dick, W., & Carey, L. (1996). The systematic design of instruction. New York: HarperCollins.

Karl, R. & Clifford, S. (1999). [Water on Mars educational curriculum: In development]. Unpublished raw data.

Wilson, B. G. (Ed.) (1996). Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design. (pp. 11-12). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.