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Wilmon B. Chipman
Dept. of Chemical Science, Bridgewater State College
Bridgewater, MA 02325

Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the Spring 1996 CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
          You can't see atoms or molecules. Students have to establish a mental picture of atomic and molecular structure to understand chemistry. During the last year and a half we have been experimenting with the use of Pentium and Macintosh electronic classrooms in organic chemistry and biochemistry instruction. We find that the use of visualization software is an excellent tool to help students understand molecular structure.
          Bridgewater State College has recently completed the John Joseph Moakley Center for the Application of Technology to Education. The building has two 26 seat Pentium electronic classrooms and one 24 seat Mac electronic classroom. Each classroom has two microcomputers set up for wheelchair access, and the building also houses an adaptive computing room where special software is provided. Each electronic classroom has a faculty station consisting of a cart equipped with a microcomputer with CD-ROM, a video visualizer, a VCR, a laser disc player and a network connection. All of these are connected to a Sony threegun projection TV system through an audio/video switch, and an Exxtron converter box . The individual microcomputers also have 4X CD-ROM drives and network connections.
          In organic chemistry we have used software in two ways; as a lecture aid to help students understand the geometry of molecules and orbitals (PCMODEL) and as self-contained teaching modules (IR-TUTOR). We would be very happy to have more software of the same quality as IR-TUTOR to cover other areas of organic. The ability to rotate a computer visualization of a molecule in PCMODEL really seems to help students to conceive of molecules as three dimensional.
          We have used MOBY and RASMOL in biochemistry to help students to understand protein and nucleic acid structure, and to understand how proteins can recognize large and small molecules. It is gratifying to see the improvement in student's understanding of three-dimensional structure that starts in organic chemistry make the transition to large biomolecules. The ready on-line access to biomolecular structure from the Brookhaven Protein Data Bank (FTP or FETCH) makes the display of proteins, nucleic acids, and the recognition of DNA by proteins easy .. RNAFOLD and PROTYLZE can be used to predict RNA and protein structure, and the predictions can be compared with reality. This is important as the predictions are not always that good.
          We have been using STN EXPRESS to teach students to access the chemical literature on-line. A Pentium electronic classroom is particularly well-suited to do this economically, as the instructor can demonstrate techniques useful to narrowing a search before the student goes on line. (You can also demonstrate how to narrow the search too much.) Counting "hits" shows the student the effect of operations like the logical AND. STN has run a seminar for faculty and students that was very valuable- I recommend it highly.
          A plan of one of the tiered Pentium classrooms accompanies this article. We made a few minor mistakes- Rear Screen projection is a waste of time, space and money, and the lecturer's station should probably be a fixed podium, since by the time you get it connected to the projection TV, power, and the network it is essentially fixed in position. The omission of 35mm slide projectors was also a mistake, although presentation software can make up for some of this. But the projection TV system still has poorer resolution than the microcomputer screen or a 35mm projector. Partially for this reason, we are investigating the use of screen control systems and will be trying out software from ROBOTEL next year, in one of the Pentium classrooms that has been expanded to 35 microcomputers by ripping out the projection TV area.
          Technology will never replace good teaching; but visualization techniques and high quality instructional software can certainly improve undergraduate education. An investment of time and effort in these areas is most certainly worth the effort. I feel that the people who are "bashing" technology in the classroom need to use better software.
Hardware summary:
Macintosh Classroom
Powewmac 71 OOA V (80 mhz)
700 MBHard drive
4X CD-ROM Drive
nubus AV card
System 7.5
Pentium Classroom
Compaq Pentium 90
420 MB Hard drive
sound card
Windows NT 3.51 workstation
Lecturer Station ("front end")
same microcomputer as student stations
Canon RE-650 MH liN Video visualizer
Pioneer LDV4400 Laser Disc player
Sharp two-head VCR
AudioNideo switch
Exxtron RGB 105 converter
Amplifier TCA Series 900, mono, NOT stereo
Sony Multiscan VPH 1252Qthree gun projection TV
Custom designed cart from Anthrocart
03/11/96 to 03/15/96