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Friday, December 01, 2006

Google Co-op for Organic Chemistry

Recently I posted about using Google Co-op to consolidate the searching of blogs, wikis and other webpages related to the UsefulChem project. I have been very impressed with the convenience and I wanted to do something similar for my organic chemistry classes.

I included my class blogs, wikis, transcripts in addition to other online textbooks and resources that I consider to be of the highest quality:


I put the search box at the top of the class wiki for CHEM 241, for example. Try searching for concepts like "ketone" and see almost nothing but good stuff in the results. I started using it to access content during this morning's workshop and I am convinced that this is one of the most powerful things to come along for bottom-up open courseware.

Instead of relying on third parties to validate content or generate all purpose federated searches, as teacher I can make the decision of what I want to recommend for my students to use. At any point, for any reason, I can prune or add to the search space. My students can also make their own search engines, for just the class transcript and wiki, for example.

A lot of the search results consist of or link to interactive tutorials or quizzes. I tried to create a separate search engine specifically for assessments but it turns out to be easier just to add the keywords "exercise" or "problem set" in the general orgo search.

When choosing open content, it becomes evident that not all open sources are equally "open". Sites, like the 1200 page Daley and Daley textbook, with free access but requiring registration are completely inaccessible to this type of searching. From the user's perspective this is not really a problem since there is already a healthy redundancy in most of the basic undergraduate organic chemistry materials that are freely available and indexable.

Some would predict the death of the textbook but tradition and habits die hard. Advertisement driven television has survived Tivo and I think textbooks will survive open courseware no matter how good it gets. At least for a while.


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