Motivation for Hyperscripts

  Written around 2000
While doing a "quick" special lecture for advanced students ("Defects in Crystals"), the need arouse to produce some lecture notes and viewgraphs with pictures.
While these notes were mainly for the lecturer, the idea was to produce a conventional script some time later and therefore a decision was made to write everything into the PC from the very beginning (as opposed to the more usual way of having a large number of crumbled up notes that only the producer - with luck - can decipher).
While this took some discipline (not to mention the fights with the idiosyncracies of word+windows), an unexpected side benefit emerged:
The result quickly lost all similarities to short notes and started to resemble a script if not a book.
This happy fact coincided with the urgent wish of some politicians and university strategists "to do something" with the Internet in teaching.
In due time a project was created with the goal of converting the lecture notes to HTML. Some brave (or reckless?) people told us that this was easy - Wolfgang Lippik, having just finished his Ph.D. thesis in Materials Science, and being imbued with some affinity to PCs and some money from a grant, started to work on this assumption.
Well, the result (the hyperscript "Defekte in Kristallen") can be inspected on-line. However - it was not easy!
Wolfgang Lippik, in desperation, even wrote some software to convert "word" files to HTML files since HTML editors did not then exist .
More important, however, he convinced his Professor (me), that all things considered, it would be far easier for everybody concerned, if I would write my notes in HTML from the start.
He not only convinced me, he taught me HTML with the help of an early version of HoTMetaL that became then available.
An interesting side effect was that some coworkers - Ph.D. students, senior scientists etc. - who almost by definition know a lot more about computers and programming then their Professor - felt that this was a serious thread to their superiority and commenced to look into HTML, too.
As a first side result, we started a lecture course, centered around J. Carstensen, where the knowledge about the Internet, HTML etc. was passed on to interested students (by now with its own Hyperscript "HTML").
More important, however, the idea came up to create a Hyperscript for all lectures taught within my chair of Materials Science.
In particular, the two beginner courses "Introduction to Materials Science I + II" (in short: MatSci I + II) were believed to be prime targets for hyperscripts for the following reasons:
These lecture courses are taught in the 3rd and 4th term of all engineering students of the Technical Faculty - including , besides Materials Scientists, Electrical Engineers and Computer Engineers.
The lectures thus naturally were supposed to emphasize semiconductors as the unifying factor for all engineers.
Understanding a p-n-junction quantitatively, however, needs a lot of solid state physics and thermodynamics on a not so trivial level. No lectures or text books meeting these requirements could be found, so MatSci I + II were composed from scratch.
A conventional script was duly written, but found to be too conventional. Since absolutely necessary ingredients like, e.g. crystallography, reciprocal lattice, Schrödinger equation, wave vectors, Boltzmann- and Fermi distributions, Fermi energy, or band structures are always taught on an advanced level (assuming as a matter of course that everybody is familiar with quantum theory and thermodynamics), new ways of introducing the subjects to students not knowing quantum theory and the like needed to be found; which is easier said then done.
Hyperscripts offered a solution to many problems in teaching MatSci I + II. To give a few examples, it should be possible, in principle, to:
Make it less tedious to understand basic crystallography by using many illustrations, animations and the like - helping to grasp the (difficult) three-dimensional aspects of the subject matter.
Make it easier to grasp the basic concepts of quantum theory by providing many faces of the subject using the interlinked "basic" "illustrations" and "advanced" levels.
Make the Math much easier by solving equations with the computer. The Fermi energy EF of a semiconductor, e.g., is determined by a single equation with the one unknown EF. But since we have a transcendental equation that we cannot solve on the blackboard, we resort to split the issue into special cases and use mathematical approximations - very confusing if your first priority is simply to understand, e.g., the carrier concentration in semiconductors as a function of temperature and doping. Solve the equation numerically, pluck the result into the Boltzmann distribution - and here you are! Possible in a hyperscript with some JAVA.
Make learning easier by providing all kinds of on-line exercises and examples.
Make learning more interesting by providing connections - you start with dislocations and suddenly find yourself reading Internet papers about the art of making a Japanese or "true" damascene sword.
Make learning more contextual by providing links to historical developments or philosophical issues.
Make learning more fun by providing the occasional comic relief.
The list could be easily enlarged in this vein (try the guided tour for examples), but one key issue would still be missing:
It is a lot of fun to write a Hyperscript,
because you learn a lot yourself!
It is actually more than just fun - as its happens, the Hyperscripts sort of developed into my personal data base.
As soon as there is enough coverage of all the scientific issues necessary for teaching materials science (and that level was reached sometime in 2000), there is not much out there in current research, new marvels technology, history of science, idiocies of media, and so on and so forth, that can not be included somewhere on the appropriate level.
This is not only fun - what emerges are connections. Everything relates to everything - the world becomes a little bit more coherent.
I do not claim, however, that this is particular useful for students. But - after pouring a lot of time work and sweat into teaching as best as one can - forget the students! Have fun yourself.

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