Examples of Use in Chemistry

Some examples of how they made a difference in terms of student understanding and teaching effectiveness are given below.

  1. Refractive Index Module. This was used in the analytical, organic, and advanced synthesis laboratories, always with the same results. Student anxiety (as measured by the number of students seeking individual help from the professor in charge of the lab) was dramatically reduced, student knowledge (as measured by the ability of a student to answer questions correctly about details of the technique) was dramatically up, and faculty in charge of the laboratory report that student results were much more accurate and that faculty time was freed up to work on other issues and problems involved in the running of the laboratory in question.

  2. Magnetic Susceptibility Module. Similarly dramatic results were reported from physical and advanced synthesis laboratories, for the use of this Technique Module. This is especially significant, since the module was written with a common tutorial at the front on the phenomenon being measured and a common tutorial at the end on the interpretation of results, but with two different experimental method tutorials in the middle. (One method, the Evans method, used NMR and the other used a magnetic susceptibility balance. The physical chemistry students utilized both methods, while the advanced synthesis students used only one, the magnetic susceptibility balance.)

  3. Freezing Point Depression Module. Again, dramatic results were reported from faculty in the general chemistry laboratories after using this module. In this context, some additional points emerged, including the fact that whereas in the past virtually no students were satisfied with the preliminary instruction period in the lab, with the computer-delivered instruction all students were more satisfied. In the past the brighter students were forced to listen to a pre-lab lecture that was geared to the weakest students (and were consequently bored), whereas the weaker students felt rushed to comprehend things that they were only dimly beginning to understand; however, with the computer-delivered instruction the bright student could complete it quickly and move on, the weaker students could go over it more than once, and everyone was more satisfied. Further, faculty reported that because detailed pictures and movies were provided, most students entered the lab with a much better sense of what they were to do, leaving time for the instructor to spend with the students who really needed the help. The overall outcome was that students worked more efficiently, their work was on average of greater quality in terms of technique observed and results obtained, and students finished on average some 10 to 15% earlier than in past years with the traditional approach in place.

  4. Melting Point and Boiling Point Modules. In Fall 1996, for the first time, an accelerated general chemistry course was offered that covers a year's worth of general chemistry in one semester. Midway through the semester, the students in that lab synthesized a set of chemical products and the plan was to have them characterize the products, with melting point (mp) and boiling point (bp) among the measurements to be taken. Those who were teaching that course suddenly realized that no plans had been made to introduce the students to these techniques, though few if any of the students had ever performed either in the way they were now forced to do them. (The boiling point determination is done on a micro-scale in a melting point apparatus, requiring the students to do some very modest glass-blowing as part of the experience.) Computers were provided, and the students were told where to find these two Technique Modules; the students, with only one exception out of 18, proceeded to perform both techniques with little or no difficulty. The faculty members involved commented that it would have taken more than an hour just to get them started, time that simply was not available in the schedule as it stood.

  5. Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry Modules. These stand-alone modules are used primarily in organic and analytical chemistry classes and laboratories. These are simple units, but professors and students report greatly enhanced effectiveness of instruction in comparison to previous years when chalk sketches were used alone. Furthermore, students surveyed later, after experiencing many of these modules, almost always begin any recollections with a discussion of one or both of these modules, leading us to conclude that the images instilled have a lasting effect.

  6. Crystal Lattices Module. This interactive module was designed to introduce the important concepts for understanding structures of crystalline solid materials, such as packing arrangement (e.g. hexagonal closest packed versus face-centered closest packed), unit cell and unit cell dimensions, and interstitial spaces (e.g. tetrahedral hole versus octahedral holes). This module was one of our major accomplishments during the Spring 1997. We specifically targeted the development of this module because solid state chemistry has essentially disappeared from most undergraduate college courses nationally specifically because of the inherent difficulty in explaining a topic which is so intensively 3-dimensional in nature. In the past it was simply cost prohibitive to have sufficient numbers of quality "hand-holdable" 3-D models to teach this topic effectively for all the students in a typical General Chemistry classroom. We felt that computer projected high quality 3-D rendered animations of these concepts could allow us to re-introduce these topics effectively in the General Chemistry lecture - and it did!


Using the computer technology in a manner that provides continuity across the curriculum.

Our modules are built up of multiple "layers" containing progressively higher level information/material so that each module can be used at several levels (courses) within the chemistry curriculum. In this way, the modules help create for the student a consistency, coherence, and connectedness among the courses and ideas encountered as he/she progresses through the introductory "layers" of each module in their first chemistry courses and then through intermediate and advanced layers of each module in their upper level chemistry courses. Most of our accomplishments during the duPont grant period was in developing the introductory layer for several modules, but also included adding in the advanced layers for a couple of them. During this past year (using FIPSE funding that allowed us to continue the project) we have been able to build in more of the advanced layers and add optional text in order to incorporate the student tutorial components. For example, the refractive index, magnetic susceptibility, gas chromatograph, and mass spectroscopy modules were all used both in introductory courses and also in upper level courses this past year. Furthermore, this past Spring the latter two modules were expanded with even more advanced topic layers and also were furnished with fairly complete student tutorial components.