.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Drexel CoAS E-Learning Subscribe with Bloglines Drexel CoAS E-Learning Podcast

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fall 2007 Post Mortem - the Closed Book Problem

Another quarter done at Drexel and it is time for a brief post-mortem analysis of my teaching this term.

I taught CHEM 241, introductory organic chemistry.

In order to standardize testing conditions with other instructors of the course, my tests were run under closed book rules. Many years ago I opted for an open book policy after comparing performance under open and closed conditions. There was no significant difference, which I would expect for subject matter that has more to do with understanding rather than memorization. Open book tests are much easier to monitor and I was able to run a walk-in testing policy lasting several days using only video surveillance.

Moving to closed book conditions required a proctor. This would not be a big problem for a small class. But my class had 175 students and our computer rooms only have about 25 machines and are usually in demand. Based on previous student behavior with a walk-in policy in effect, not more than half the class typically showed up before the last day. So I booked a room with more time (at least 6 hours) on the last day and shorter sessions on previous days.

This worked fine for the 90 minute tests but we ran into a crunch on the last day of the final exam with a 3 hour duration. Luckily, I had an extremely competent and flexible proctor who handled the situation by finding additional rooms and extending the time. In fact the proctor was there for a total of 13 hours on the last day.

In terms of security, I made use of the "proctor password" tool in Blackboard/WebCT and changed it at least once per day. Although there is some IP filtering possible with BB/WebCT, the restriction is not specific enough to isolate specific classrooms.

Next term, we can solve a lot of these problems by allocating specific students to designated classrooms and using a printed class list where the students will show ID to the proctor and check off their name immediately before taking the test.

Unfortunately, this removes the convenience of multi-day walk-in testing, which many students appreciated.

There are probably many instructors out there with large online classes and I would like to get some feedback on how they handle testing under closed book conditions.

From what I gather most online programs rely on the honor system.

The other major news this term is that one of my students executed his extra credit assignment building molecules in Second Life.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Virtual Biomed Workshop on Second Life

On Friday November 30, 2007 I was part of a panel for a Virtual Biomed Workshop at Drexel. I gave a little tour of Drexel Island. My account froze for a few minutes. Luckily Sean Brown took the reins and showcased the Biomed Floor that he built in the main building. The projection screen was huge and the video recorder did a great job of capturing the tour.

Watch my presentation here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chemistry Assignments in Second Life

This term, the students in my organic chemistry class were presented with an opportunity to do an extra credit assignment using Second Life to represent concepts they learned in the course.

When I was an undergraduate, finding molecules in articles was mainly done using the Chemical Abstracts books. A convenient way to find a specific molecule would be to look up the molecular formula and find the corresponding IUPAC name. Theoretically, one could figure out the IUPAC name from scratch but this can be very tricky for complex molecules and prone to error. With the correct name, I could look for analogues of a molecule of interest in alphabetical catalogues by understanding how the chemical name works.

But when computer databases started to be used in chemistry, using the name of a compound became far less important. Searching for molecules now comes down to drawing them on computer screens and using computer generated text representations like SMILES and InChI. Knowing how to use these tools on free software and services is key to being fluent and flexible on the chemical web. And I think that is the most important benefit that students get from doing these assignments.

As an example, take a look at the project created by my student Charles Sineri (Chaz Balbozar in SL). In the image below he is standing between two molecules of camphor that are mirror images of each other, demonstrating the concept of chirality that we covered in class. This is a particularly difficult example to demonstrate on paper.

Using molecular models that are bigger than my body is not something that I have ever done in real life and it provides an interesting perspective to what the molecule really looks like. Another advantage is that you can fly the molecule like an airplane by wearing it. Here is Chaz flying up to a buckyball on his camphor ship:

In order to get his project done Chaz had to learn about and use SMILES, InChIs, ChemSpider and ChemSketch. These are free tools that he will use again in future chemistry applications.

The main challenge in getting this implemented in Second Life is providing tools that are easy to use. We used Andy Lang's (Hiro Sheridan in SL) molecule rezzer to do this because it now has the capability of understanding InChIs and SMILES. Hiro was kind enough to make some further modifications to make it even easier to use. It was gratifying to see that it understood chiral SMILES code.

Visit Chaz's project on Second Nature island - see SLURL.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Nature's Role in e-Science Talks

Berci Mesko will be moderating a session on Nature's Role in e-Science on SciFoo Lives On (in Second Life) tomorrow Monday December 10, 2007 at 12:00 ET/17:00 GMT.

There will be 4 talks:

Matt Brown: Nature Network
Ian Mulvany: Connotea
Hillary Spencer: Nature Precedings
Helen King: Dissect Medicine

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Run for Malaria in Philly

For anyone in the Philadelphia area who cares about malaria:

Drexel University Crossings Stair Run

Beta Beta Beta and the Office of Residential Living will sponsor a stair run Saturday, December 8, 2007, from 9 a.m. to noon in University Crossings (101 N. 32nd Street).

Registration is $3 per person, $5 if two people sign up together. Sign-up in the lobby of University Crossings.

All the proceeds generated from the event will purchase mosquito netting to be placed over beds for an African village. Each net costs $10, and can potentially save three people, as children in the villages typically share beds.

More information about this initiative is available at http://malarianomore.org/.

Locations of visitors to this page Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 License