Welcome to Students on the PPS 96 course

peter Murray-rust (p.murray-rust@mail.cryst.bbk.ac.uk)
Mon, 8 Jan 1996 18:11:15 +0000 (GMT)

I've been looking at some of the application forms that you have sent in
and I'm really impressed! I think this is going to be a wonderful
experience and I look forward to being part of it. We shall certainly
build up a real sense of community which will extend far beyond the
boundaries of 'conventional' education.

There will be ample opportunity for us to get to know each other
'electronically' but my first impression is that many of you are taking
this course as 'continuing education' - i.e. you are already qualified in
other disciplines and want to broaden your experience. That's excellent,
because that is what Birkbeck is about. I've been helping with teaching
here for about 9 years and I am always excited to see each new intake of
students and to broaden *my* experience. In Birkbeck courses a great
deal of the 'education' comes from the informal interactions between
people as well as the formal material in the course.

In PPS1 - which was an experiment - we developed this idea
electronically and it worked extremely well. So we hope that you will
feel adventurous and will make 'virtual' contact with each other. In the
first week or two it may feel strange for some of you because there are a
number of new techniques to learn. Remember that these are part of the
course and that they will be valuable to you in the future, quite apart
from the prteins structure that you will learn more formally.

Many of you are already highly competent in some of the things we shall
be covering - we have molecular biologists, staff in hospitals, chemists,
computer scientists, experts on the Internet, etc. When we cover
something that you already know about we'd really value your input. Very
often a student is the best person to explain things. And there is so
much information now available on the Internet that the tutors almost
certainly can't keep up with all of it. So, if you ask "Has anyone seen
the site XYZZY discussing domain structure of proteins?" or "Is it a good
idea to use Y's program for predicting structure?", you might find that
you know more than the 'expert'! In this case it might be extremely
valuable for you to post a message, or create a resource for the rest of
the course.

The Internet is chaning so fast both in the technology and the
information on it that we shall find new resources appearing every month.
This may well mean that we have unplanned discussions arising out of
things that hapen 'out there'. For example, there are bound to be some
really exciting protein structures solved during 1996 - none of us know
what they are :-). (In 1995 we had ATPase, the light-harvesting protein,
myosin-actin, etc.) A major part of the course ideal is that you should
be able to interpret and comment on protein structure, so it will be very
important to get discussion going. Don't worry if something is
apparently 'out-of-order' - science doesn't progress in a straight line :-).

During the last course we developed some new technology or used it for
the first time. This included chemical/ MIME for educational purposes,
the development of a hyperglossary, andseveral of the educational
approaches that you will see in PPS2 (virtual groups in a MOO, feedback
forms, etc). It's *certain* that we shall do some new things this time
as well - a year is a long time :-). I would like to see the
hyperglossary concept extended (we needto install some new software),
methods for collaborative working, and I also expect to see continuing
developments in the MOO interface. There are likely to be exciting
things happening in related areas - conferences, journals, etc. (For
example, I am helping to set up a completely electronic chemical journal).
Much of this technology will be appropriate to education. Two
developments which will be especially important are Java (for running
applets on your local machine) and SGML for the formal organisation of
information. There will be others that haven't even been announced yet!

The electronic skills and experience that you pick up will be extremely
valuable to you. If you have little acquaintance with the Internet at
present, you'll find out how to configure your local machine (or get
someone else to do it!), download material, find your way round the
Internet, etc. If you are already experienced in the technology, you may
find opportunities to develop new ideas whetheher social or
technological. If so, you might discover an important opportunity.

You come from many different backgrounds and I'm delighted to see many
people who work in commercial organisations (as I do). Many companies are
still finding out what the Internet can do for them and you may well find
that you have to spend quite a lot of time talking with your real-life
colleagues about why this is valuable. Also there are real and important
concerns about security and it isn't always possible to configure software
to run through firewalls. You may be working in a group where you are the
only one who knows much about the Net. I understand these problems and
I'll do what I can to help with them when they arise - feel to mail me
privately - I'll treat it confidentially.

The course will be much more valuable to you if you feel part of a
group. Groups can keep in touch by e-mail and MOO and this was very
successful in PPS1. We don't know what the best organisation of groups
is, so don't feel surprised if we evolve this during the course. In PPS1
we were so overwhelmed with the numbers that we set up 20 groups (based
on the amino acids :-). We asked for violunteers from the students to
help 'glue' those groups together by e-mail and MOO sesions and many of
them were successful. If you are the sort of person who'd like to help
in this way, we'd love to hear from you.

The course is fairly 'public' in that most of the material is posted on
the BBK server or takes place in the MOO. In PPS1 there wasn't a problem
and people were quite happy to post and 'talk' freely. We're hoping that
all students will take part in discussions and to make contributions.
(If there are things that shouldn't be made public it may be best to mail
a tutor.) In the first few weeks it could be extremely valuable for you
to tell us something about yourselves - especially why Protein Structure
is important for you.

It's not easy to get informal feedback during an electronic course so it
will be important for you to let us know how it's going. During PPS1 the
feedback we got was that on the whole it was at the right level, the
right speed, etc. and was valuable. We appreciate that you have other
commitments IRL (in real life) and that your contributions or
'attendance' is not completely predictable.

I'm really excited about getting to 'meet'
you and look forward to this course.

Best Wishes


Peter Murray-Rust, Glaxo Research & Dev. (pmr1716@ggr.co.uk); (BioMOO: PeterMR)
Birkbeck College, ubcg09q@cryst.bbk.ac.uk, CBMT/Daresbury mbglx@seqnet.dl.ac.uk
http://www.cryst.bbk.ac.uk/PPS/index.html, http://www.dl.ac.uk/CBMT/HOME.html