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2001 Fall ConfChem: On-Line Teaching Methods

10/26/01 to 11/18/01
Professor John H. Penn Department of Chemistry West Virginia University Morgantown, WV 26506-6045

Schedule and Papers

Sept. 29 - Oct. 5, 2001
Paper 1: Online Chemistry Help Service in Non-majors General Chemistry
William J.F. Hunter*, Jeffrey S. Carver^ ,Kristen M. Jeans*, Rebekah Pennekamp*, Erin Shewfelt*,Brian Marsiglio* 
*Department of Chemistry, Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790-4160 
Division of Natural Sciences, Illinois Valley Community College, Olgesby, IL 61348


Oct. 6 - Oct. 12, 2001

Paper 2: New Methods for Transmitting Information Between Teacher and Student in Organic Chemistry
Sue Barrows and Thomas Eberlein 
Penn State Schuylkill, The Capital College, 200 University Drive, Schuylkill Haven, PA 17972-2208


Oct. 13 - Oct. 19, 2001
Paper 3: JExam - A Java-based
Exam Engine
Joel A. Caughran, Jacob G. Martin, and Charles H. Atwood 
Department of Chemistry, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-2556


Oct. 20 - Oct. 26, 2001
Paper 4: Student Performance in an Online General College Chemistry Course
Ruby S. Casanova 
Cape Fear Community College, 411 N. Front St., Wilmington, NC 28401


Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2001
Paper 5: Chemistry Student Perspectives on Online Homework using WebAssign
Kay Sandberg 
North Carolina State University, Department of Chemistry, Raleigh, NC 27695-8204


Nov. 3 - Nov. 9, 2001
Paper 6: Memorization or Concept Learning in On-Line Homework
John H. Penn and John Valeri 
Department of Chemistry, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506-6045


Nov. 12 - Nov. 15, 2001
Paper 7: Uses of a Flexible Virtual Laboratory Simulation in Introductory Chemistry Courses
David Yaron, Rea Freeland, Donovan Lange, Mike Karabinos, and D. Jeff Milton, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 
Robert Belford, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

Conference Articles

Abstracts of Papers:

William J.F. Hunter*, Jeffrey S. Carver^ ,Kristen M. Jeans*, Rebekah Pennekamp*, Erin Shewfelt*,Brian Marsiglio*
*Department of Chemistry, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, 61790-4160
^Division of Natural Sciences, Illinois Valley Community College, Olgesby, IL, 61348


For the past two years, students at Illinois State University and Northern Illinois University enrolled in Fundamentals of Chemistry have been accessing online help from instructors and teaching assistants via WebCT, AOL Instant Messenger, and email. Through the support of The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation we have been able to provide help to students, to collect transcripts of interactions, and to analyze the data as we develop a preliminary understanding of the role of these interfaces in allowing students to learn chemistry. This analysis leads us to believe that meaningful interaction can occur, particularly where help at discovering answers is provided, rather than in giving answers to students. Even novice teaching assistants have been able to develop skills at helping students to learn online. Somewhat surprisingly, the Online Help Services have been used most frequently by female students. In particular, those female students have used the service to broadened their knowledge of nomenclature, stoichiometry, and atomic structure.

Sue Barrows and Thomas Eberlein
Penn State Schuylkill, The Capital College
200 University Drive, Schuylkill Haven, PA 17972-2208


Penn State Schuylkill offers a pair of companion courses to accompany the normal, two-semester organic lecture course sequence. In these companion courses students are taught-by means of guided inquiry worksheets, or similar exercises-to use the various pieces of software we have for learning organic chemistry (e.g., Beaker, ChemTV, WE_LEARN). Once they know how to use the software it is expected that they will be able to apply it in various productive ways: helping with homework problems, studying for tests, and so on. To ensure the students continue using the software, additional assignments are given that tie in with material being covered in class. Much of this software is distributed freely by the Chemistry Department to any Penn State student who wishes to download it. As such, students can access the materials with their own computers at any time or place, so no formal computer lab session is necessary, beyond the training session. Additionally, we have begun to use a wireless LAN for some of the training sessions. Thus, we are able to use our normal classroom as a computer laboratory. Using this system, we are able to broadcast a lesson from a master computer to the students' computers, and then relinquish control to the students so that they can use the software (which truly exists only on the master computer) to solve the day's problems. This system is also entirely mobile. For example, if we want to bring the computers into the lab, we just pick them up and take them to the new location. This paper will discuss the various ways in which students at Penn State Schuylkill use computer-based instructional technologies to enhance learning organic chemistry.

Joel A. Caughran, Jacob G. Martin, and Charles H. Atwood
Department of Chemistry, University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-2556


For years, multiple-choice exams have been administered at night to students enrolled in the Freshman Chemistry program at UGA. In 1996, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences decided this was interfering with night classes so all exams had to be given during the lecture period. We ended up writing 12 versions of an exam to give in the four lecture sections. We decided there had to be a better way. In 1997, we began work on a computer-based exam system that was at least as good as the existing multiple-choice exams.

In this paper we will describe JExam, the current incarnation of the exam-system. We'll describe the current capabilities and question types available as well as how we administer tests for 1500-1800 students each semester. Access will be provided to a demo exam that you can take from your office.

Ruby S. Casanova
Chemical Technology Program
Cape Fear Community College
411 N. Front St.
Wilmington, NC 28401
phone: 910-251-5915
fax: 910-251-5662


Student performance in an online general college chemistry course was compared to student performance in a traditional general college chemistry course. One course was taught at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington by an experienced professor, and the other course was taught at Cape Fear Community College by a new instructor. The university course was taught in the traditional lecture/laboratory format in the fall semester of 1998. The online community college course, delivered in both the fall semester of 2000 and in the spring semester of 2001, was a hybrid model in which the "lecture instruction" was delivered via the internet and the students met on-campus each week at the community college for the three-hour laboratory period. The same textbook was used for both the online and traditional course. Both classes were administered the same final exam and that exam was the primary instrument for the comparative analysis in this study. The questions on the final exam were grouped into four categories: (1) algorithm, (2) conceptual, (3) definition, rule, or memorization, and (4) quantitative. A statistically significant difference was noted in the performance of the online students on the final exam. The results observed in this study suggest that the hybrid model for community colleges that combines small classes, weekly contacts and internet-based lecture materials can be a highly effective method of teaching general chemistry.

Dr. Kay A. Sandberg
North Carolina State University
Department of Chemistry
Raleigh, NC 27965-8204


A post-class survey was given to students from general chemistry and organic chemistry classes seeking feedback on their perspective of several different aspects of the assigned homework delivered and assessed through WebAssign. Issues probed include effectiveness of homework for enhancing student learning and generating discussions with fellow classmates. Other issues that will be discussed include the advantages of the web-based assessment available in WebAssign.

I teach large sections of general chemistry and organic chemistry for non-majors at North Carolina State University (a Research I institution). My teaching style is not typical of the instructors who teach these large service sections for non-majors. Some of you may not consider my style novel and thus will view this paper as stating the obvious. Others who find themselves in a similar situation with no formal instruction on how to teach and assess students in large enrollment classes may find my ideas valuable. I specifically want to address the issue of homework. The philosophies of homework among instructors in my department range from suggested homework problems with no accountability to daily graded homework problems (daily in this context means every lecture). My philosophy of homework aligns with the daily graded homework end of the spectrum and is derived from personal experience and encouraged by student testimonials. My first objective in this paper is to chronicle the development of my philosophy (Section 1). My second objective is to show how I implemented my homework plan (Section 2). My third objective (from which the title of this paper comes) is probably the most interesting. I will show the students' perception of homework as an effective learning tool as gleamed from post-class surveys and anecdotal evidence (Section 3). Lastly, I will present course grade statistics comparing various aspects to see if there is a correlation between subject mastery and homework (Section 4). I begin with an analogy.

John H. Penn and John Valeri
Department of Chemistry, West Virginia University
Morgantown, WV 26506-6045


On-line homework has been distributed to students using the WE_LEARN system. The system allows for the construction of practice tests that allow the students an opportunity to create drill exercises for themselves, receive automatic feedback and grading, and tutorial information. Standard in-class examinations were constructed specifically to test whether the students learned the concepts that were tested in the databank of questions or whether they simply memorized the questions and answers. Data accumulated over four years of development show that college level students can memorize a surprising number of questions and that this seems to be a preferred method of study. These data will be presented, along with results about the number of questions required to force students into the "concept learning" mode.

David Yaron, Rea Freeland, Donovan Lange, Mike Karabinos, and D. Jeff Milton
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Robert Belford
West Virginia University
Morgantown, WV


This paper will discuss the design and uses of our virtual laboratory (, a flexible Java applet that allows students to choose from hundreds of standard reagents and manipulate them in a manner that resembles that of a real lab. The lab is intended to support a variety of approaches to chemical education, and the design choices made in pursuit of this goal will be discussed. Next, the uses of the lab in a variety of lecture and laboratory course settings will be presented. In lecture courses, the lab has been used to couple paper-and-pencil activities with chemical manipulations. In most paper and pencil problems, the designer of the question makes the interesting decision of what reagents to mix together, and the student calculates the result. We believe this leads to a narrow emphasis on calculational skills. Our goal-oriented problems invert this by giving students a goal, such as creating a buffer in which a drug will be in its medicinally active form. In pursuing this goal, students make real chemical decisions and see the consequences of these decisions. In laboratory courses, the lab has been used both as a pre-lab, to help students better prepare for their time in the physical lab, and as a post-lab, to help students more fully process their lab experience. In particular, we will discuss the use of the virtual lab to add an element of inquiry learning into the traditionally formatted laboratory program at West Virginia University. Finally, we will discuss the use of the lab to bridge between the lecture and laboratory portions of a course.