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Terry uses Web as tool for effective teaching
March 2, 1998

His students solve puzzles, take practice exams and write term papers on the Web. And not a day goes by that Tom Terry isn't looking for new ways to enrich student experiences electronically.

Terry, an associate professor of molecular and cell biology, is a leader in applying technology to education in microbiology. "He has made a large impact on science education nationally as well as here at UConn, both because he was one of the first to explore new technologies and because of the quality of the material he has produced," says Philip L.Yeagle, professor and head of the molecular and cell biology department.

Terry, who joined the University faculty in 1969, uses the Web for all his courses. These web pages provide students with quick access to lecture notes, supplemental materials, images, animations and study guides for the material covered in class. The site also provides announcements, practice exams, exemplary student work and links to news in the field. He also uses the Web routinely during class.

Terry wasn't always computer savvy, though. In 1993, he decided to spend his sabbatical developing software for education. He worked on software for six months and says that's when he "began to see myself as having a contribution to make." He produced several pieces of software that were useful, he says. "Then the Web came along and I became convinced that it was the right medium to pursue because it works for all people, for all computers."

"I've made it a mission to push the envelope and see how far we can use the Web as a tool for effective teaching and supplementing lectures to enrich student experiences," Terry says. He adds that it is particularly important to have class lecture notes and practice exams on the Web. Having access to the lecture notes reinforces information and serves as a backup, he notes. And interactive practice exams - where students type in short answers or click on correct answers - foster thinking, he says. "Studying old exams and posting old answer keys doesn't encourage thinking so much as memorization," Terry says. "Making the exam interactive encourages the thinking exercise."

Terry has become well-known among microbiologists around the country because he makes his materials available to anyone interested.

The American Society of Microbiology (ASM), the primary professional organization for microbiologists in the U.S., has chosen Terry's virtual classroom as an education resource for budding as well as established microbiologist.

Terry is a faculty affiliate with The Biology Place, a website designed to promote biology education. The Biology Place was developed by the former biology editor from Benjamin/Cummings, who wanted to create a web-based product that had all the standards of textbook publishing (quality editing, quality graphics, peer review) but focused on what the Web does best - accessing information that is uniquely available, such as enormous data bases, and providing interactive experiences. The idea was not to duplicate a textbook, but to complement a textbook, Terry says.

Terry develops interactive learning activities for the site. Through his work on The Biology Place, he has become a leading author of online biology tutorials for students all over the world.

Sherry Fisher