Authoring Modules I: Content and Structure

by Anthony Carpi, Ph.D., Jessica E. Zimmer

We would like to extend a warm welcome to you as authors with Visionlearning. This module will introduce the content needed for a module that will be considered for publication in our public library. A second module in this series provides information about using our online authoring system. Visionlearning is a close-knit community of peers. If you have any questions or comments that this series does not answer, please don’t hesitate to contact our central staff.

Visionlearning was launched publicly in 2000 with the goal of creating a new and innovative resource for improving science education (if you would like to learn more about our history, visit our About Us area). Our goal is to provide an alternative to textbooks by presenting concise, focused lessons containing new, interactive materials. Through your participation, you are helping us to overcome the poor resources that have plagued science educators in the past. Our learning modules have been evaluated extensively with students, and they are designed to focus learners on individual concepts while providing a rich learning environment through online links, simulations, research data, practice exercises and communication tools. Our modules are concise and to the point to help focus and engage learners without "dumbing down" the subject matter.

image © Corel Corporation

The core of the Visionlearning site is a library of interactive learning modules written by professionals like you. These modules are written for college classrooms; however you should keep in mind that many of these modules, especially introductory topics, are extensively used at the high school level. A major goal of Visionlearning is to improve interdisciplinary science education, so interdisciplinary topics and approaches are especially encouraged.

Guidelines for module authoring

Our modules contain concise lessons on key scientific principles and complementary links, graphics, glossary terms and animations. Before you begin, you should familiarize yourself with our writing style by visiting several modules in our site library. If you would like your module to be considered for publication in our public library, please make sure it does not cover a topic that is already available on the site. The following provides a detailed description of the content needed in each major area of a Visionlearning module.

Title and Author

Module titles should be short (1-4 words) and should summarize the main focus of the lesson, for example Plate Tectonics. Additional detail can be provided in an optional subtitle of 1-7 words, e.g. The Evidence for a Geologic Revolution. The name of the author or authors will appear below the subtitle. You should supply us with a short biography for the authors list of the site. Your biography should be less than 250 words and include an affiliation (school or institute), a description of your experience in education and/or research and a few interesting or personal points. Please email a photo to accompany your biography to

Lesson Text and Graphics

Lesson text should be targeted to the introductory college or advanced high school level. Each lesson should begin with a historical or topical introductory paragraph that helps focus the reader’s attention. The lesson should be concise (approximately 1300 - 1500 words). Please keep in mind that our modules are translated into Spanish to facilitate bilingual education, so avoid the use of colloquialisms and complicated language.

Visionlearning Books

Broad topics that require extensive discussion (for example, atomic theory or cell theory) should be divided into multiple modules to be serialized. Keep in mind that serialized modules will not always be used together. You may link to other modules within the general body of the lesson text for reference or background information. You should include 1-5 still graphics, pictures or tables in the lesson to supplement the subject matter. Graphics should be created in a standard, Web-friendly format (.gif, .jpg) and original files should be submitted with the module. If published graphics are used, please ensure that they are copyright-free or obtain written permission for their use on Visionlearning. Contact us if you need help with images or graphics.


You should consider designing an interactive animation/simulation that will help convey the basic concept of the lesson. Provide us with details regarding design, features, size and purpose and our staff will create the animation. We would appreciate detailed sketches or drawings, and for interactive animations, a short description of how you feel the graphic should flow and operate. An example of an interactive animation used in a lesson on plate tectonics is linked below.

Glossary Terms

All technical terms in the text should be defined. Glossary terms will appear in red in your module and will underline on mouse-over. Please search our existing site glossary and provide a concise definition for any terms used in your module that do not appear in our glossary.


There are eight categorized sections of hyperlinks on our modules to provide contextual material relevant to the lesson: News and Events, Experiment!, Questions, Biography, Research, Classics, Resources, and Further Exploration. In addition, a Quotations section provides contextual quotes for the modules. The purpose of these links is to provide historical or topical relevance to the concept covered in the lesson. Links should help detail or explain the lesson concept. All links should be accurate and they should be from well-respected sites that are unlikely to change URL’s. A description of each link category is given below. In addition, examples of links from our Nucleic Acids module are given in the right and bottom menus of this lesson. To see these links in context, visit Nucleic Acids.

  • News and Events: 2-3 items that link to news reports or press releases that relate to the subject and add current or societal perspectives to the lesson. These can come from reliable television, newspaper or academic news sites. It is important that if the news item becomes old, the link should not expire. You should confirm that links are active for at least a 2-week period. News link text should be an abbreviated version of the story title and the description should contain only the source (e.g. CNN, NBC, Penn. State, etc.).

  • Experiment!: 1-2 links that connect to movies, animations or interactive exercises outside of Visionlearning that supplement the subject. Link entries for this and all categories except News and Biography should conform to the following format: Author, source - a short description of the material that the user will see. For large files such as movies, please provide an indication of the file size for those users with slow Internet connections.

  • Questions: Question links provide access to Ask-a-Scientist pages and other discussion boards; these links are filled in automatically and do not require author input.

  • Biography: 1-2 links to online biographies of scientists who conducted key research in the field discussed in the lesson. Biographies and Classics links (below) should add historical relevance to the lesson. A picture of the scientist should also be provided (please verify copyright status). The link itself should be the full name of the scientist; no description should be used unless the image requires copyright recognition. Please give special consideration to women or minority contributors to a field of research.


  • Classics (optional): 1-2 links to pioneering research papers, scientific speeches or other formative material related to the concepts conveyed in the lesson.

  • Research (optional): 1-2 links to pages where research data or progress can be observed. Online journals that do not require subscription or lab research pages are appropriate. Research links should convey the dynamic nature of science to readers.

  • Further Exploration: 3-4 links to outside sites that provide detailed, interesting supplementary information about the topic discussed in the module. You should also link to other Web-based lessons that discuss the same concept described in your lesson to provide students an alternative perspective on the subject matter.

  • Resources: Please create a practice test (at least 10 questions) using multiple choice and true/false questions only. Additionally, please recommend to the Visionlearning staff which graphics, tables or animations should be separated into Overhead pages. (The Overheads are special pages formatted for teachers to use as display items in class).

The external links do not have to provide a comprehensive presentation of all material related to a topic, rather, they should be reviewed and carefully selected to provide high-quality and relevant readings that augment the core lesson. Please try to include a reference in the text to a side-bar link, for example, a module on evolution that refers to the work of Charles Darwin might include a sentence that says, "To learn more about the life of Charles Darwin, visit the biography link in the right menu."

The bottom of the text section of each module contains a link category entitled Related Modules. To facilitate the interdisciplinary nature of the site, this area allows users to link to other internal modules on the Visionlearning Web site. Please recommend a related module that should be linked to from this section.

Thank you for your participation and we look forward to working with you. Please email us if you have any questions.

Anthony Carpi, Ph.D., Jessica E. Zimmer “Authoring Modules I” Visionlearning Vol. HELP-2 (1), 2004.