Let me first express to all of you how honored I feel to have been asked to participate in this course as a virtual guest lecturer. I am currently working in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a Computer-Assisted Design Specialist. One part of my responsibilities is to oversee the Chemistry Learning Center. This computer classroom houses 75 computers networked to 6 servers. We run chemical education software on our local area network. The Learning Center also provides free tutoring services on weekdays. The large study tables allow students to work alone or in groups. Students can use the computers to do their required chemistry course work, and they can also get help with their homework from the tutors who work on site. The combination of technology and a human presence makes this a very productive workspace.

My other area of responsibility is to design and administer the Web sites for all courses beyond the General Chemistry level. This means organic chemistry courses, all advanced courses and all graduate courses. Not only do I assist faculty with the design of their Web sites, but I also create much of the content for the sites.

I am new to the field of chemical education. I came to the field of educational technology as an instructor of French. While finishing my Ph.D. in the Department of French, I designed and taught online courses in translation. Throughout most of my involvement with the use of technology in teaching, I have been using WebCT. This is the software with which I am most familiar. As far as I can tell, it is also the most flexible one for the designer. I would like to get back to this question of course management software later.

With a background in both the humanities and the sciences, I am very interested in exploring the application of learning technologies to all disciplines. Most of you are probably aware of the problem of faculty resistance to implementing technology in their courses. One claim that comes up often goes something like this, "yes, technology is good for your discipline, but it doesn't necessarily favor learning in our displine." My own sense is that technology is not only useful for learning in all disciplines, but that disciplines can also learn from each other. Much of what I am doing in chemistry today is influenced by my experience teaching French online. If I ever go back to teaching French online (and I hope I will), then my teaching in that field will have benefitted from what I am learning in chemistry. Let me begin by describing one project I am currently working on in the Department of Chemistry.

Pre-Lab Quizzes

One issue that concerns most chemistry department heads is that of safety in the teaching laboratory.While the safe design of the experiment is the responsibility of the department, the preparation and review of the material before lab is the job of the student. Many students neglect to properly prepare themselves for lab, and this can result in an increase in the number of lab accidents.

One response to this problem is to design pre-lab quizzes that students take on the course Web site. We are presently designing pre-lab quizzes for the beginning organic chemistry course for majors, and this semester we are piloting pre-lab quizzes (designed last semester) in the organic chemistry course for non-majors.

Instead of having one course Web site for the non-majors, we have created a separate site for each section. This allows us to open and close quizzes according to that particular section's scheduled lab period. Quizzes generally open 10 days before a lab, and close one hour prior to the lab.

The quizzes are created using question sets, so it is rare for 2 students to get the same quiz. The use of question sets also makes it just as hard to cheat as it is to actually do the work. As time goes on, we will be adding questions to our data base, which will create even more variety among the quizzes.

We solicit questions from the Teaching assistants who are currently assigned to the labs. We assume that these TAs are the ones who are in touch with the issues that arise in lab, such as procedures, safety and concepts.

Very often, the questions we receive from the TAs have to be reworded and reworked. In general, the TAs tend to submit questions that are testing too many things at once. In general, it is difficult to elicit good questions that can be used right away. This is a difficult skill to learn, and I would someday like to participate in a round-table discussion where people analyze questions and identify particular strengths and weaknesses. I am by no means an expert in this area, but I have come up with a few guidelines that I use in chemistry that would probably work in other disciplines as well. Feel free to add your own guidelines to mine.

1.Identify for yourself what concept or fact you are testing and stick to only one.

2. Keep the number of words to a minimum.

3. Clearly introduce graphics and indicate where they are. (e.g. "Study the phase diagram below...," "Consider the compound pictured here above...")

4. Pay attention to the spacial arrangement of words and graphics.

In the OLO sample course, you will find quizzes that contain some of the questions that we are piloting this semester. Let me know what you think of these.

This type of project takes a very long time to polish, and I can't emphasize enough the importance of piloting questions before integrating them into the course as a major component of a grade. My own feeling is that if a question is ambiguous, then the students have a legitimate complaint.

My experience designing the pre-lab quizzes taught me something I had never thought about before, that chemistry is the discipline par excellence for which the use of graphics is a real godsend to the students. I have been using graphs, charts, molecular models and photos in the design of these questions. The high-quality photos we are able to obtain come to us by way of Professor Stan Smith, who has over 35 years of experience with the development of interactive chemical education software. There are several software products that allow you to create geometrically accurate drawings of molecules in a matter of minutes. When we use the Web, we can put up color photos and we do not have to limit the number or the size of the graphics we use just so we can save paper. In this way, the students benefit from the technology by getting more exposure to pictures and graphics.

But then again, graphics (especially photos) are very important to teaching foreign languages. At this point, I would like to describe for you the type of work I did in the French department, and some of the possible applications of learning technologies for the teaching of French.

While working on my Ph.D. in the French Department, I designed and taught courses in translation for the Department's new certificate program in translation. Teaching translation is much like teaching writing. There is hardly ever one right answer, but there are many obvious wrong ones. When teaching translation I compiled a course packet and also put a lot of material up on the Web site. I had students using online dictionaries, doing online searches, using Babelfish and critiquing the machine translation. In addition, they submitted their homework online via the WebCT quiz tool, which allowed me to create a field for their submissions by using the paragraph question.

One advantage of the Web for courses that are writing intensive is the ability to correct students' work using a different font color and other markings such as strikethrough. If anyone would like to learn more about online correction, they can visit the ION's Web site and read last July's Pointer and Clicker on electronic mark-up). I had only just discovered this tool while teaching a course in scientific translation one year ago, and found it immensely useful. However, upon looking back on that course, I realize that I could have worked harder to make it more interactive. I could have put the quiz tool to better use to help the students better understand some of the concepts that were being taught in the course.

This type of interactivity would be very useful in lower-level courses, and this for several reasons. First, it would give the students an alternative to reading the book and learning about the concepts by reading about them. Here is something else I learned in chemistry. Most students do not read the textbook from cover to cover. They ferret out the essential information and focus on concepts, not on words. Language learning also requires some abstract concepts, and in this it is not so different from mathematics. The difference in student reading habits also related to learning styles. Some people cannot sit down and concentrate on a reading about abstract concepts. They learn better by doing.

In the early 1990s, my French students were using Plato on this campus. Many of them were regular users of the software, even though by that time the exercises were no longer a required portion of the homework. The Plato software provided an alternative to learning with the textbook. I would like to work on recreating these same types of exercises in WebCT.

Has anyone ever had a teaching experience that I refer to as "the one-room schoolhouse" course? On countless occasions I have been assigned to a language class in which the students begin at all different levels of ability. Some may be beginners, others are "false beginners," meaning they had French a while back and need a review. One course I taught on a regular basis was a course for engineering students planning to participate in a summer abroad program in France. Some students had had several years of French, others had none at all. I call this the "one-room schoolhouse" course because you have to try to deal with all of those levels at once. This is a situation in which technology could be very useful. An instructor could prepare several different levels of activities for the different levels and have them moving at different paces while at the same time using a common textbook for the whole class. This would require a lot of planning, as most uses of technology do. However, I think that once such a course were built, it could be used over and over again. I would like to hear about your experiences with a "one-room schoolhouse" course.

In the sample OLO course that I have created for this course, I have created some exercises for beginning French students. Try them out and let me know what you think.

I would now like to say a few words about course management software. I am more familiar with WebCT than with any other software, but I do know Blackboard and have looked at demo versions of many other commercial packages. Each one has advantages and disadvantages. Some, for example, have good quiz tools, but don't have other features such as a good discussion board. It seems to me, however, that every software package on the market is regularly evolving towards more interactivity. Whether you use WebCT, Blackboard or another package, it is best to get to know the tools very well, because only by knowing the tools can you know what is possible. Learning this type of software takes some time, and it is best to seek out as much support as you can. As a general rule, I think the instructor is more important than the software used, but the course is always best when the instructor knows the software very well.

I now invite you to try out the different activities in my WebCT course. Here is how you can access it:

1. Go to http://pentane.chem.uiuc.edu:8900/webct/public/show_courses.pl

2. Choose Special Topics

3. Choose OLOsamplecourse

4. Log in using your last name as user name and initial password. Change your password once you get in.

learn moreBack to Top
learn more
Return to Guest Lectures


Home | MVCR Instructors | Virtual Guest Lecture Series

Home | Online Courses | Institutes & Presentations | Educational Resources | Initiatives | Institutional Partners | About ION

uiuc uic uis