We have a lot of new chapters, labs, and program features in the works for fall 2011, and I’m excited to share them with you after another year of hard work by everyone at SimBio. Since there is so much new, I am going to split it into two blog posts. This week, I’ll share what is coming for SimUText Ecology, and next week, I’ll write about our new labs.
Let me start with the new chapters we’re working on. One of our earlier outlines in developing SimUText was for a Decomposition chapter, and we’re now finishing that up. It uses two storylines, one about a change in tree species at the Coweeta LTER site, and a second about forsenics, to help students explore the decomposition triangle of litter quality, temperature, and moisture.
Our second new chapter is on Biogeography. Some of you have seen the single section of that chapter we currently have available. We are fleshing this out into a full four-section chapter that will cover biodiversity measurements, global patterns in biodiversity, island biogeography, historical biogeography, as well as biomes and the associated global weather patterns. We’re working with folks from The Nature Conservancy among others to get associated real-world conservation examples. While slightly delayed, we expect this chapter by September 2011.
In addition to new chapters, we have several major upgrades. Physiological Ecology went through two major revisions, the first as we officially released it this winter (it was in beta last fall), and another this spring as we fine-tune presentation of more complex ideas like transpiration and the heat balance equation. Population Growth is also going through a major overhaul. This was the first interactive chapter we ever wrote, and is showing it’s age. A major addition is a new section on metapopulations. We’ve also added material on time-lags in population growth, and reworked some of the mathematical sections as we learn what helps students through these. Finally, Competition had a big revision based on feedback, including an even nicer section on Lotka-Volterra competition models.
In parallel with chapter upgrades, we’ve been busy improving the underlying software. You’ll see a dramatic change in the look and feel of chapters. The navigation is much improved with fly-out menus letting you jump around more easily, and options to see the full glossary, full bibliography, or all the formulas in a chapter. These make information more accessible and should aid students in studying for exams. We will also have beta-versions of new note-taking and highlighting tools.
Our Instructor Portal is getting some love too. The biggest addition is a Statistics Panel where you can sort questions to zero in on those where students are doing well or poorly. We’ve also added flexibility in the score export spreadsheet, and made changes under the hood that will keep everything responsive as the number of students continues to grow. Finally, we are working on making the powerpoint slides that complement the chapters more useful.
That’s a lot of new stuff. It feels really good to have so many of you using SimUText Ecology again in 2011/12 as a replacement or supplement for the text in your classes. We don’t yet have samples showing the new features, but if you would like a tour, I or one of the other authors would be happy to do a demo for you. Just let us know.
Next week – the new labs.