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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Spring 2008 post-mortem on organic chemistry courses

It has been 2 terms since I posted a post-mortem analysis of my teaching experience. In the Winter08 quarter I taught intermediate organic chemistry CHEM242 and in Spring08 I taught the introductory organic course CHEM241.

I have two major points to make:

1) I still struggled to find a good way to proctor my online tests for up to 150 students without the advantage of a dedicated testing facility. My experience with having students sign up for test sessions of their choice during a previous term was so negative that I actually considered going back to paper and running Scantron. But after working out how much trouble it would be to prepare and track different paper test versions and report back to students their grades in a confidential and timely manner I decided to avoid that route.

I still ended up using WebCT/Blackboard to deliver the tests but I only set up two back to back testing periods. By reserving all the computer rooms on Sundays I assigned students with last names starting A-L the first session and M-Z the second. That way there was no problem with students not signing up in time or repeatedly changing sessions.

For students who could demonstrate a genuine conflict I let them schedule a time with the proctor, as long as it was BEFORE the Sunday test date. Most students who reschedule want to take the test as late as possible so there were few students who requested this.

Also, instead of creating several tests in WebCT/Blackboard for different sessions, the proctor just used one version and kept changing the password. That made it convenient for everyone.

I do miss the ability to provide students the convenience of a walk-in testing policy over the course of several days. I think that a testing facility where live human beings simply check student IDs and make sure nobody is talking or using notes during certain hours would be vastly more useful than any high tech browser lock-down or screen capture tools and cameras. These could be the same rooms that are used for teaching or general student use during other times. Students from any course using a course management system could reserve a certain time or simply try their luck during one of the scheduled general proctoring times.

It is my impression that the absence of such facilities in most universities is a major obstacle for the widespread adoption of online courses, or at minimum online testing. I think the problem is that it doesn't obviously fall under the responsibilities of any single academic unit.

2) I continued to use Second Life on an optional basis both for running races, giving out molecular model kits to the winners. I also continued to accept extra credit assignments involving building 3D molecules with a poster explaining a concept related to class content.

In the image shown below, Netty showed an example of an SN1 reaction involving a ring expansion via a 1,2-alkyl shift. This is a really difficult concept to grasp on paper - I remember struggling with it as an undergrad. I think it is helpful for the student to construct both the 2D and 3D representations in Second Life. There are a few more examples on ACS island - on my skylab in the SouthEast corner.

Andrew Lang has continued to make small improvements to the orac molecule rezzer to make it even easier to use. There is nothing like having students who have never seen or even heard of Second Life use a tool like this to determine user-friendliness and make necessary improvements.

Zemanta Pixie

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