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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Teaching Usefully with Open Source Science

The assimilation of technology into the educational process offers new opportunities to intertwine teaching and research.

As I have previously described, the archiving of lectures in my organic chemistry course enables the use of class time in workshop format. The students already have an extensive set of problems with screencast solutions that cover every reaction and concept needed to understand all of the course material. For students who have mastered all of the assigned material, the workshops offer an opportunity to challenge them with problems that require the integration of everything they have learned and more.

Wouldn't it be more motivating to work on problems that could have practical applications?

A convenient way of offering such problems is to pool them in a blog, as I have done in creating UsefulChem. For example, during the last workshop I asked them to come up with a synthesis of one of the 90 potential anti-HIV compounds listed here using reactions we covered in class. These compounds were calculated to have a good probability of inhibiting HIV protease, an enzyme required in the replication of the AIDS virus.

Analytical chemistry students may want to tackle the arsenic in drinking water problem brought up by David Bradley (no relation), who runs several of the best science blogging sites I have seen. (and thanks for the post on UsefulChem Dave!)

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