Information Technologies (IT) In Chemical Education:
The Columbia Experience

Dr. Nicholas J. Turro

Table of contents

"Subvert the current paradigm!"
Consider Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" as a background when attempting to change an intellectual community.

I. The wilderness years: 1981-1990

"Something not worth doing is not worth doing well!!!"
  1. Computer modules developed but fail to make an impact
    1. Delivery systems and good software unavailable
    2. Modules too primitive and unexciting
  2. Teaching versus Research. Little interest in effort in enhancing teaching

II. The realization years: 1990-1993

"Everything has been thought of before, the challenge is to think of it again."
  1. Innovators, early adaptors, early majority, late majority, laggards
    "Many Professors are like Miss Daisy, they know the way, but they don't drive any more."
    "Some things have to be believed to be seen."
  2. Columbia experiment in general chemistry

    About 28 general chemistry students attended special help sessions faithfully after two hour exams. For these students, the best projected grade before the help session was a D. For those attending the help sessions the worst actual grade was a C-, but the average grade was a B- (the median grade for the class) after the third exam and final.

    1. Bringing in help from experts in student learning
    2. Some students who perform poorly can learn more effectively in group instructional settings
    3. Student teaching students!
    4. Faculty as coaches
    5. Vision of changing the way chemistry is taught and learned
    6. Use information technologies to implement change

  3. Intellectual "hole burning"
    1. Teaching to a specific distribution of intellectual learning skills
    2. Teaching to the average may hit nobody!
    3. Commonality of symbolic representations in learning

  4. Enabling Factors
    1. National concern about undergraduate science education
      1. NSF Divisionof Undergraduate Education created
      2. NAS Division of Undergraduate Education created
      3. Project Kaleidoscope
      4. National meetings on how to improve science education for undergraduates
    2. Funding to develop use of IT in undergraduate education
      1. NSF
      2. Dreyfus
      3. University
      4. Industrial sector
      5. Publishers
      6. Alumni
      7. Foundations
    3. Enabling tools
      1. Fast Macs and PCs
      2. Powerful authoring software
        1. Macromind Director
          1. IR Tutor
          2. Modules for courses
          3. Seminar presentations
        2. Commercial software
          1. ChemTV
          2. Spectradeck
          3. Organic reaction mechanisms
      3. Internet explosion: Gopher, Mosaic, Netscape!!!!

III. The experimentation years: 1993-1995

"There's always a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it's not a light year away."
  1. Appearance of facutly innovators and early adoptors of IT
    "The difference between genius and ignorance is that genius has its limits."
    "Only the mediocre are always at their best."
    1. Computational chemistry course created
    2. Honors Organic Chemistry
      1. Macromind Director to product modules for class
      2. Use of IR Tutor and other software in a classroom setting
      3. Lectures on computer
        1. Frank Carey's book and slide shows for General and Organic Chemistry
        2. Coupling of text with ChemOffice
      4. Connections with vendors
        1. Spartan
        2. Biosym
        3. ChemOffice
      5. TAs as module makers
      6. Use of email to communicate with class

  2. Summer NSF undergraduate workshops: VizKids
    "Bring together students and faculty to work on simulation, visualization and multimedia represention of chemical concepts and practice."
    1. Postdoctoral associate as organizer
    2. Demonstration of the power of students teaching students
    3. Demonstration of the ability of drawing early adoptor faculty into developing IT modules for instruction
    4. Demonstration that ordinary undergraduates are capable of learning chemistry as they produce modules
    5. Strongly collaborative and interdisciplinary
      1. Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Geology, Biology, Engineering, Psychology,
      2. Student-student interactions
      3. Student-faculty interactions
      4. Faculty-faculty interactions

  3. Organization for submission of NSF Course and Curriculum Development Grant
    "Hey! It's really happening here!!!!"
    1. Stimulated organization
    2. Stimulated experimentation
    3. Stimulated funding
    4. Stimulated faculty and student interest in coupling IT and undergraduate education

  4. NSF Curriculum Development Grant funded

IV. The implementation years: 1995-Present

"Beware reinventing the wheel or, even worse, the flat tire!"
  1. Incoming graduate students trained in IT for courses
  2. General chemistry experiment in Gateway lab
  3. Development of modules throughout the curriculum
  4. Connections with other science departments
  5. Expanded use of WWW for instruction
  6. Upgrade of laboratories through IT

V. What has worked

"The most important powers of an excellent teacher is the ability to make new things seem familiar, and familiar things still seem new and exciting. IT can help the excellent teacher do these things."
  1. Faculty with energy and passion for teaching and learning can make things happen

  2. Student-faculty managed learning using IT
    "The best way to acquire a green thumb is to see things from the plant's point of view."
    1. Student is part of the creative process
    2. Pride of authorship and ownership of module

  3. Connecting research and undergraduate instruction through IT
    1. Presentation of seminars
    2. Interfacing computers with instruments
    3. Lowering barriers to using computation and modeling

  4. Faculty view undergraduates using IT as resources analogous to graduate students. Merging of research and undergraduate education.
    "People are usually more convinced by reasons they discover themselves than by reasons discovered by others."

  5. Interdisciplinary instructional efforts facilitated by common use of IT

  6. Administration support tremendous (Construction of a $1M multimedia classroom as an example!)

  7. Networkings and collaborations. Columbia and University of Richmond
    1. Information on activities across the country
    2. Use of the internet as a vehicle for obtaining information

VI. What we have learned for sure

"The knowledge that counts is what you learn after you think you know it all."
"You'd be surprised how expensive it is to save on the costs of education!"
  1. That we can have fun trying to make systemic changes in science instruction through information technologies
  2. That there are several cultures which must be brought together
    1. Research community
    2. Teaching community
    3. Learning community
  3. That there are alliances and networking that must be created to drive the near term successes

VII. Continuing obstacles

"You can lead a student to IT, but you can't make him/her think"
"Faculty: a group that behaves wisely only after all other conceivable altenatives have been exhausted."
  1. Mechanical
    1. Large classes
    2. The exams and grading system for large classes
    3. The lock of textbooks on the contents of the curriculum
    4. Different platforms for presenting modules (Mac, PC, Unix)
  2. Student and faculty attitudes about learning
    1. Separation of teaching and learning processes
    2. Conflicts between commitments research and teaching
    3. Integrating different disciplines
    4. Non-science preprofessionals
  3. Need for continuous serious systematic evaluation
  4. Inherent complications in using IT
    When it comes to IT, Murphy's Law is too optimistic!!!

VIII. Clash of paradigms

When there is general agreement that something is wrong with an intellectual system, the time is ripe for an intellectual revolution. Consider the fall of the Soviet Union.
  1. A. Normal science: directed by the standard paradigm
  2. Revolutionary science: caused by the new paradigm
  3. Paradigm shifts: results from the clash of the two paradigms
  4. Need to improve edcuational experience

IX. Vision of the future

"Prediction is very difficult, especially for the future"
"The future is much like the present, only longer."
  1. Routine training of faculty and students in the exploitation of IT
    1. Universal access to local networks and the internet for both students and faculty
    2. Transparent availability of IT classrooms and deliverysystems

  2. Enhanced instruction and learning through IT
    1. Development of hypermedia modules to enhance current methods of instruction and learning
    2. Evolution of undergraduate majors as developers and evaluators of modules
    3. Integration of IT into undergraduate laboratories
    4. Enhanced effectiveness of TAs
    5. Expanded role of postdoctoral associates in the IT aspects of education

  3. Merging of undergraduate instruction, graduate instruction and research through IT
    1. Modules for majors = modules for beginning graduate students
    2. Development of modules which integrate all spectroscopies

  4. Integration of science courses driven by IT

  5. Development of systems to assess impact of IT on instruction and learning
    "Information technologies as tools that allow us to keep up to our imaginations and to teach us new ways to dream!!!."
    1. Student skills
    2. Student performance on exams
    3. Student satisfaction through usual evaluations
    4. Student attendance in class
    5. Student majors and concentrators
    6. Long term (5-10 years) evaluations
    7. Other metrics

X. Warnings

  1. Connect use of IT with learning
  2. Beware of excessive hype
  3. Develop measures of effectiveness
  4. Use of IT to hide deficiencies in education