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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
to Guest Lectures