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General Chemistry Classes Held in the Computer Lab


Carolyn Sweeney Judd, M.A.,
Chemistry Faculty

Britt Taylor-Burton, Student Computer Lab Specialist
Central College Houston Community College System
1300 Holman
Houston TX 77004

As a follow-up to a paper given at the 14th Biennial Conference on Chemical Education at Clemson University on August 5, 1996 (Creative Combinations: Chemi-Skill·Builder and PowerMacs), we would like to detail a typical session in our computer lab. Our commitment is to be present with the students, making computer time an integral portion of the lecture - not simply an add·on, to be done by students on their own time. Our commitment grows out of two things: that students can do good group work, with one of the members of the group being the computer; and that very good tutorial and individualized homework programs are available for prices that make them accessible for our budget.
Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the Fall 1996 CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
Envy started C. Judd on the path now followed. It started over 5 years ago with a visit to an introductory computer science lab, watching the intensity of the students, listening to their collaborations, and observing their reluctance to leave at the end of a 3· hour class. In contrast, at the end of the 3-hour general chemistry lecture, students appeared only too glad to stumble out of the room. C. Judd wanted some of that vitality for her classroom, and became determined to find a way to include computer time during the lecture time.
At first, when going to a computer environment for part of the lecture time, we looked for facilities that would allow one student per computer for an individualized homework program shared with Houston Community College System by the University of Texas at Austin (Project SHARE was underwritten by a Summer CATALYST Grant, May, 1993.) C. Judd was given a special section that was limited to 20 students, because that was the number of computers in the available computer lab. But then we noticed that the real learning was taking place when students leaned toward each other, sharing problems, questions, and solutions. We realized that the silence was not good - that a lot of noise meant that a lot of sharing was going on. And that the sharing was the best way for learning for beginning students. Our conclusion was that one computer per student is neither necessary nor desirable.
In the fall of 1995, we acquired our new physical science computer lab, with 12 PowerMac computers, equipped with DOS cards. We chose these particular computers because over the years, we had built up a reservoir of favorite software for both PC and Mac computers. In fact, we spend much effort trying to maximize the use of the computer lab while getting the most value from our
computer budget. However, many faculty members, different classes, and various software packages all in the same lab are components for chaos. We haver] found that a well-versed student computer specialist is vital to the smooth operation of the physical science computer lab. Our computer lab has been running relatively trouble-free and virus-free.
One-third of the lecture time is now spent in the computer lab. We do not cover issues twice; the computer lab is not redundant. Computer tutorials cover concepts that are well done with available software. • e.g., nomenclature, gas laws, stoichiometry, and drawing Lewis structures. We use several programs: "Introduction to General Chemistry" by Stanley G. Smith and Ruth Chabay (Falcon Software); "Chemical Bonding" by Gordon Galloway and Paul Hunter (Falcon Software) , and "SIRs" by John Martin (JCE:Software.) At the same time as we opened our new computer lab, we began to use the individualized homework program, "Chemi·Skiii·Bild(' by Jim Spain, furnished to each student on a floppy disk. Students are responsible for their own homework, but we encourage collaboration by having students work together on one student's disk during the computer lab time. Because "Chemi-Skiii·Bild(' also includes short tutorials as well as the homework problems, we often use this program.
Both the instructor and the student computer specialist are always with the students during the computer time, re-enforcing that this is not an add-on to the course, but an integral part of the lecture. Moving from one student group to another, we are able to address questions that are pertinent to that group. The result is that we focus our time on actual student problems. When we find that several groups do not comprehend a concept, we computer specialist addresses any computer issues, and also serves as a student tutor for chemistry.
The result is that we have students who talk about chemistry, discuss and even argue about chemistry, and become active learners. For classes which include many foreign-born students, this vocalization and activity would not occur if recitations before the class were demanded. C. Judd is no longer envious of that computer science class, for her classes are now places of visible learning also.
Our method could be easily modified for other colleges. Because several students can use one computer, hardware costs need not be large. The advent of excellent tutorial programs over the Internet lowers the costs of software acquisition. Also very good software is commercially available at modest costs. For many institutions, group work with a computer as a member of the group can be an excellent way to engage students' minds in active learning.


10/01/96 to 10/04/96