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Spring 2014 ConfChem Virtual Poster Session


Justin Houseknecht, Matthew Stoltzfus & Robert E. Belford


During the course of this online conference participants were invited to contribute a virtual poster to the final discussion. Three posters were submitted, and this paper presents those posters and their discussions.

Poster 1:  A Year of Organic Chemistry Group Work with iPads, by Justin Houseknecht.
Poster2:   Implementing Peer Instruction in a Flipped General Chemistry Classroom, by Matthew Stoltzfus
Poster 3:  Can Flipping Introduce New Cognitive Artifacts to the Classroom?, by Robert E. Belford.


POSTER1: A Year of Organic Chemistry Group Work with iPads
by Justin B. Houseknecht


Collaborative group work is an established means of building active learning into classroom activities. It has been shown to improve the learning gains of students regardless of ability level. This poster describes an effort to incorporate iPads in collaborative group work in a typical year-long organic chemistry course. Audio-visual solutions were developed in groups of 3-4 students, viewed in class, and stored in a course management database for later review. Successes and challenges of this approach will be discussed.


There are a variety of established methods available to incorporate group work in the chemistry classroom – jigsaw, gallery walk, and think-pair-share being among the most common. These collaborative efforts have been shown to improve student learning, which is naturally the primary reason for their adaption. There are also significant advantages for traditional brick-and-mortar institutions seeking to retain a competitive advantage over online learning opportunities. These include their ability to act as catalysts in the formation of learning communities and their ability to improve students’ ability to work in teams.

The advent of tablet computers and their ready availability introduces a new world of possibilities including the creation of solutions that are animated rather than static. This new ability could place further emphasis upon underlying thought processes, both correct and faulty, than was previously possible. It could also provide opportunity for students to further develop their writing and speaking abilities. Finally, archiving of these animated solutions could provide students additional perspectives to review after class. This poster describes a series of attempts to achieve this ideal in a one-year organic chemistry sequence at a Midwestern liberal arts institution.


The group work was implemented in conjunction with a flipped classroom using a hybrid JiTT and video mini-lecture format described elsewhere.1 Class time was split approximately 50-50 between mini-lecture responses to the JiTT question and group work (Figure 1). The Explain Everything app2 and Moodle courseware were used throughout the academic year.


Figure 1 – Format for in-class collaborative group work. Class sections varied in size from 24-36 students. Students were allowed to choose their own groups and could rearrange after each exam. Each group of 3-4 students used a numbered iPad with an external microphone and stylus. Participation grades were assigned based upon engagement in the group activities, not the quality of solutions produced.


The first semester, Organic 1, video solutions were viewed from the Moodle database (Figure 2).


Figure 2 – Typical Moodle database entry from Organic 1. Students were encouraged to comment upon the strengths and weaknesses of the posted solutions both in class and afterward. It was initially hoped this could be done through an anonymous (to the students) rate feature, but was eventually implemented using the comment feature that is not anonymous. Click on image to view the solution Water 3.


The second semester, Organic 2, streamlined the in-class process by viewing video solutions directly from Explain Everything by physically connecting the appropriate iPad to the projector input. The groups were encouraged to post their solutions to the Moodle database for points in an extra credit tournament (Figure 3). The postings contained only the group name (e.g., The Halogens, One Proton Short of Mercury) and were thereby somewhat anonymous.

Figure 3 – Results of an extra credit tournament. Points were awarded based upon solution quality (2  = great, 1 = the right idea, 0 = wrong) and clearly indicated in the comments section of the database. Teams with the five most points prior to each exam received extra credit points on the exam (5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 depending upon place) with the four lowest-scoring groups receiving no extra credit.




Overall results were highly encouraging. The groups worked very well despite allowing students to self–assemble their own groups, not forcing rearrangement, and barely assigning group roles. Groups were consistently on-task and students consistently had “aha” moments in class. Nine of sixteen students that responded to the end-of-semester survey commented favorably about group work in the first semester and five of eight in the second semester. One typical response was, “group work time and time again helps out amazingly, especially when you get to look at them and critique it”. The only negative comments about group work (2) were that it took away from lecture time. Exam scores increased by one-half to two-thirds of a letter grade and the first-semester DFW rate fell from a previous 5-year average of 26% to 6%.1 Scores on the cumulative ACS Organic Chemistry exam were similar to previous years, though the presence of serious uncontrolled variables obviated any meaningful statistical analysis.


The solution database on Moodle, however, was less successful. Challenges included:

  • Too much time was required to convert the video into MOV files within Explain Everything
  • Too much time was required to upload the MOV files to the Moodle database
  • Campus IT and I were unable to get the rate feature in Moodle to work correctly
  • Students were unwilling to comment electronically upon one another’s work
  • Students reported having no confidence in the solutions posted to Moodle unless the instructor commented upon each (first semester)
  • Too much time was required for the instructor to comment upon each solution posted to Moodle (both semesters)
  • Students reporting having no time to review the solutions posted to Moodle (second semester)

Discussion and Conclusion


There were many advantages to the transition from a lecture pedagogy to one based upon active learning in collaborative groups. Arguably the most important and easy to measure was that student success rates increased dramatically as measured by exam scores and DFW rates. It is important to note that learning objectives and assessment methods were held constant through this transition. Use of the Explain Everything app had several advantages over traditional group activities involving paper or whiteboards:

  • Increased emphasis on the process of problem solving as the media made it easy to explain verbally and in writing how solutions were determined. The process was presented to the class for discussion, not just the solution.
  • Students did not suffer from public speaking anxieties even though that is what they were doing. I know from previous experiments that most of my students “freeze up” when asked to explain anything live, yet they quickly became comfortable with this format. The ability to pause, rewind, or completely start over while explaining a solution seemed to be the primary factor. Presumably recorded public speaking is a step toward more effective live public speaking.
  • Students effectively critiqued thought processes in class. They were immediately comfortable discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the solutions that we reviewed in class, both their own and others’. As with public speaking anxiety this seemed to be an artifact of the recorded media.


The challenges of this pedagogy could all be solved if humans had more time in each day:

  • Preparation for teaching a flipped classroom is more time consuming than preparing lecture notes. Mini-lecture must be recorded, reading guides assembled, JiTT responses incorporated, group problems developed, etc. I hope there are ways to decrease this in the second and third iterations, but it is a reality for the first time teaching a flipped course.
  • The solutions database on Moodle was under-utilized. Not even the most motivated students reviewed solutions in the database after class. Many recognized how useful it could be, but reported a lack of time to do so. This is likely a result of many other learning opportunities in the class that were more (or at least sufficiently) effective.




  1. Houseknecht, Justin B., Andrews, Douglas M. “Just-In-Time Teaching of Organic Chemistry Using the Explain Everything App.” Journal of Chemical Education, submitted.
  2. Explain Everything, version 2.31, MorrisCooke: Wroclawski, Poland, 2013.









Poster2: Unlikely Ed Fellows: How Bill Simmons, The Amish, and Edwin Porter Enhanced my Flipped Classroom.
by Matthew Stoltzfus

Abstract: Sal Khan’s TED Talk titled “Let’s use Video to Reinvent Education” encouraged many instructors, including myself, to flip their classroom. In its simplest form, the students in a  flipped classroom watch the traditional lectures for homework and what students traditionally complete as homework is now done in class, in the presence of a content expert. Due to title of Khan’s talk, much attention has been given to the lecture videos, but this poster discusses why instructors executing a flipped classroom should not devote their time to traditional lecture videos, but instead they should devote their time to creating content in which students are actively engaged.

Mark Twain when he once said “College is a place where a professors’ lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brain of either.” This statement was validated many years later in Rosalind W. Picard’s publication: “A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-Term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity.” IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, VOL. 57, NO. 5, May 2010.

Figure 1 - Results from Pickards study on student brain activity during a typical week. Notice the two instances where student brain activity goes to zero: watching television and in class.

This figure, shown from Picard’s study, revealed there are two instances where a student’s brain activity goes to zero. When students watch television and when they are in a lecture class. This was enough evidence for me that I needed to transform the way I delivered content to my students. After watching Sal Khan’s TED Talk: “Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education,” I was inspired. I went out and created over 330 lecture videos, most of them around five minutes in length, and assembled a digital library, which was essentially a carbon copy of my traditional chalk talk lectures. These videos became wildly popular as my iTunes U course has been downloaded over 200,000 times and visitors to my YouTube Channel have watched over 2.3 million minutes of chemistry lectures. But my enthusiasm in embracing Khan’s method of reinventing education I overlooked an important aspect of the student’s mind, I essentially took the two instances in a student’s day to day life where their brain activity flatlined and combined them together, hoping that video lectures would allow me to reinvent my classroom.


Another study, conducted by University of Washington Biologist Scott Freeman, on over 225 STEM courses concluded that classes that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and increased exam scores by nearly one-half a standard deviation. This data was recently published in the  “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May of 2014”  and is a reminder that the top priority of an instructor is to actively engage our students and most traditional videos do execute on this. So how can we emphasize this in a flipped classroom? This is where the unlikely ed fellows of Bill Simmons, the Amish, and Edwin Porter come into play.

Another study, conducted by University of Washington Biologist Scott Freeman, on over 225 STEM courses concluded that classes that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and increased exam scores by nearly one-half a standard deviation. This data was recently published in the  “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May of 2014”  and is a reminder that the top priority of an instructor is to actively engage our students and most traditional videos do execute on this. So how can we emphasize this in a flipped classroom? This is where the unlikely ed fellows of Bill Simmons, the Amish, and Edwin Porter come into play.


Picture yourself sitting in one of your most boring lectures…

You are really trying to concentrate on what your professor is saying, but your mind is elsewhere…

Twitter, Buzzfeed, text messages, and Candy Crush all seem so much more interesting that what your professor is saying… and all of these options are available on the smart phone in your pocket.

There are many distractions that pop up in any given day, but the distraction I couldn’t elude as a student, was Bill Simmons’ mailbag.

Every Friday afternoon Simmons, who wrote for ESPN’s Page 2 at the time, would run a column featuring e-mails from his actual readers and he had me hooked… Even on basketball, which was a sport that I didn’t have much of an interest in.

How can professors motivate and engage their students in the same way Simmons motived Bryan from Brockport, NY to submit the following e-mail to his january 17th, 2014 <a href=“That Championship Mailbag.” target=“_blank”></a>


Q: Every afternoon when I roll out of bed, there are two things I need to do: Check out Grantland (which is Bill Simmons new web-site) and poop. I always read Grantland on my phone while pooping, and my leg always ends up falling asleep. A couple of days ago, Im reading your column, I get up, and I fall down immediately because my leg is fast asleep. I limp into the living room, fall down again, and then my girlfriend says What the hell is the matter with you? I tell her I just read Bill Simmons column, and now I cant walk. She says He must be one hell of a writer.
Bryan M, Brockport, NY

When Simmons receives a great e-mail from his readers like this one, he always replies:

SG: Yup, these are my readers.

If he were assigning a grade to this e-mail it would be an A+.

How can we motivate our students the same way Simmons motivates his readers? And can we use video to do it? Innovators see things differently. They are able to take a compelling vision and put it into action. In the early 1900s Edwin Porter innovated the film industry with the “Great Train Robbery.” His innovation? Taking the camera off the tripod. This allowed multiple camera angles and it allowed the audience to see things differently. To see things Porter’s way. While this innovation seems pretty simple, it took Porter seven years before he took the camera off the tripod. In our current state our educational videos are still stuck on the tripod. MOOCs, the Khan Academy, even my general chemistry course on iTunes U, are simply lectures that are recorded with a camera that is stuck on the tripod. How can we use innovative strategies using inquiry, curiosity, and the scientific method to have my viewers or my students see chemistry in a different way. In order to do this, a variety of video demonstrations were recorded and students were assigned to watch a video just like the one embedded below:

They were then asked two essay questions:

#1. Based on the results you saw in the video, how would you differentiate between a physical and chemical change?

#2. In the video Dr. Fus indicates the burning of magnesium ribbon in the presence of oxygen is a chemical change. How would you design an experiment to verify a chemical change took place as opposed to a physical change?

In the same manner that Bill Simmons highlights the e-mails from his actual readers, I display comments in class from my actual students. Here are the students comments.

Question #1.

“The chemical change was much more apparent, shown by the magnesium burning brightly, than the physical change, shown by the ice slowly beginning to melt to water.”

“In a physical change the change doesn't mess with the composition of thing being changed. For instance, even though the ice melted it was always water to begin with. In a chemical change however the composition of the thing being messed is changed. For instance, when the magnesium burned it turned to ash and gave off a bright light.”

Communication with experts in our field is a vital skill to have. And although this student understands the concept, they need to improve on their language when communicating with other chemists, as we don’t typically use the term: “thing being messed with.”

Instead, this is a perfect time to introduce a common vocabulary term called “reactant” and “product.”

“physical change can be reversed while chemical change can not.”

This is the most common misconception students have. At this point in time I perform a demonstration showing that chemical changes can be reversed.

It is one thing to identify physical and chemical changes, but can we take it to the next level and ask the students to design an experiment to distinguish between a physical and chemical change.

Question #2.

“Design an Experiment? Do what? Ugh, this class is going to be hard!”

“You could look for the formation of a precipitate (which I am just now learning about, because before the video I had no idea what a precipitate was. So l looked it up in the textbook and found that a precipitate is pretty much any solid formed from a chemical change. The textbook referred to these solids as "insoluble", but I had no idea that there were substances that were actually impossible to dissolve. That seems crazy.)”

What seems crazy here is that this student was motivated to read into Chapter 4 of the textbook after the first day of class.

“In order to verify that a chemical change occurred, we would have to ask ourselves: does the burnt magnesium strip retain the same chemical properties as it did prior to burning? We can answer this question through experimentation. There are many experiments we could do to test whether the metal strip has the same chemical properties pre and post burning. We can test melting point for example. We could take three strips of unburned Mg and three strips of burned "Mg" and heat them until the samples melt. We could take the average melting point of the unburned Mg and compare that to the average melting point of the burned Mg. If the melting points are different then we have two chemically different substances and thus we can infer a chemical change occurred.”

“You can verify a chemical change though the law of conservation of mass. The mass can be measured using a scale/balance. The Mg strip would be measured twice- once before the chemical change and once after. If the two measurements are not the same, than a chemical reaction has occurred because the Mg strip has lost mass.”

“Testing the chemical properties of the substance before and after burning it in the presence of oxygen would allow for one to determine whether or not the Mg(s) had reacted into MgO(s). Chemical properties that could be tested would be, melting points, solubility, density and, hypothetically mass.”

“If I were designing an experiment to see if there had been a chemical change, I would first weigh out 24.3 grams of Magnesium, or one mol. Next I would burn the substance completely and, afterwards, weigh it again to see if there was a change in mass. If the resulting substance was nearer to 40.3 grams, then I would know that the resulting compound was Magnesium Oxide due to its change in mass.”

Addressing misconceptions can be challenging, but video can be effective in doing so. Similar to the Jay Leno “Word on the Street” videos, I filmed several videos inspired by Derek Muller, who highlights his approach to effective educational science videos in his Muller has a YouTube channel called Veritasium, which contains a library of engaging physics videos. The videos I put together were based based on the questions developed by Doug Mulford in his Chemical Concepts Inventory. The video embedded below asks students:

“Iron combines with oxygen and water from the air to form rust. If an iron nail were allowed to rust completely, one should find that the rust weighs more than the nail it came from, less than the nail it came from, or the exact same mass as the nail it came from.”

Most students in my class can define the law of conservation of mass if I asked them to. But as you saw from the students in the video, they cannot apply it correctly. In the classroom I can now combine these two questions together to get the students to think about the concepts involved. I show a simulation of the magnesium ribbon burring in the presence of oxygen at the atomic level and ask the students whether or not the strip of magnesium or the magnesium oxide would have a greater mass. Nearly all of them can see the magnesium oxide has a greater mass. Now I ask the students what the identity of rust is. Many of them nod when I say iron oxide and then I ask the students if they thing the magnesium oxide and iron oxide would behave similarly. These videos in combination give the students a different view of a chemical reaction.

I have suggested that interactive engagement is key in the classroom and that pre-lecture videos can be sued to pique the students interest. But how can we facilitate active engagement in the classroom. I believe the answer to this question involves technology and the solution can be found in a place you might not expect… The Amish Community.

Figure 2 - On the left my grandfather John (third from right) in the one-room school house during his early years and on the right my grandfather John with his wife Susie shortly after they were married.


Here are pictures of my grandfather John, who used to be Amish before he decided to become a member of the Mennonite church. Both Amish and Mennonites are known for being plain and simple. When I was growing up I found it odd that my grandparents did not have a TV in their home. When I questioned grandpop about not having one his response was simple: “it’s not necessary.”

“It’s not necessary,” the phrase I heard so many times from my grandfather growing up can be applied to technology use in the classroom. It should only be used when necessary… Or better yet, when it’s necessary for student learning. The tool that is necessary for student learning is a program called Learning Catalytics. Learning Catalytics is a poll response system designed by Harvard Physicist Eric Mazur based on peer instruction pedagogy. Students come to class and select the seat they are sitting in. I then deliver a question like the one shown here and as the students respond using their cell phone, tablet, or laptop. I can hit refresh on my iPad and see their responses appear in real time, allowing for more interactive discussion.

At this point, wouldn’t it be cool to group the students together based on how they answered the question? For instance, I could pair all the students who answered C with all the students who answered D and ask them to discuss their answers. Well, with Learning Catalytics I can do that with the touch of a button. An algorithm selects groups based on their response and sends a message to each students device telling them who to discuss their response with. Without revealing the correct answer my students went from 53% correct to 96% correct by simply having a discussion with their classmates. This transforms the lecture space into a more interactive environment. An environment Socrates envisioned years ago. An environment that cultivating 21st Century skills.

When Bill Simmons writes the content of his articles his curiosity is piqued by his readers, and even though I have never met him, I think I have some sort of weird relationship with him.

Learning is so much more than a transfer of information. Learning is also driven by content, curiosity, and relationships. Content is what you bring to your students. Curiosity is what your students bring to you. And relationships are what we bring to each other.

When you are innovating with technology, don’t use technology for the sake of using technology, let pedagogy drive your technology use. Use it the way Bill Simmons does in his mailbag. Use it like the Amish would do when it’s necessary. Use it to bring the content to your students to make them curious, to engage them, and to enhance your relationship with them.


Poster 3:  Can Flipping Introduce New Cognitive Artifacts to the Classroom?
by Robert E. Belford


Abstract: The participants of this conference have been pioneering various methods for flipping classrooms and this poster seeks to see if there is any evidence of students employing new cognitive artifacts.  This presentation will differentiate learning objects from cognitive artifacts, and try to elicit discussion on the second-level digital divide and evidence of intragenerational (in contrast to intergenerational) transmission of cognitive artifacts.


The Second Level Digital Divide:

I became alert to the phenomena of the second level digital divide while reading the 2013 report of Project Tomorrow titled:  From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K-12 Digital Learner. I have been following Project Tomorrow since 2009, and to date, they have interviewed more than 3 million K-12 students, teachers and parents from the U.S., Australia and Canada on their uses and expectations of digital technologies.  Here is a direct quote from the 2013 report.

“Year after year, students in our focus groups remind us that their dissatisfaction with using technology at their school is not about the quantity or quality of the equipment or resources; it is about the unsophisticated use of those tools by their teachers, which they believe is holding back their learning potential. The comparison of the students’ perspectives on obstacles to technology use at school from 2003 to 2012 reflects this new reality which some are calling the second level digital divide.”

Here is another truncated quote from the above report:

“….The school’s monopoly on information, knowledge and world experiences is long gone and yet unfortunately, some education leaders still cling to this old paradigm as it represents their ideal of education. The digital learners have different expectations for school today and quite often the heart of that expectation is centered around their use of technology tools and resources to self-direct and self-monitor their learning experiences. The disconnect between adults and students on the role of digital tools is played out every day in classrooms….”  (with emphasis on the students desire to use smartphones as learning tools).

One of the consequences of the social web is the emergence of rapid intragenerational learning, which can be contrasted to traditional intergenerational learning with clearly defined teachers and students.  Here, teacher/student roles are blurred with students interacting with each other across vast geographic regions, often in ways where they can collaboratively develop new problem solving schema associated with digital artifacts that are unfamiliar to the traditional location dependent classroom environment.

Cognitive Artifacts and Learning Objects

Before proceeding with a discussion on these issues I would like to differentiate cognitive artifacts from “learning objects,” a concept Howard Kimmel brought up in the discussion of paper 5 of this ConfChem.  A learning object could be defined as an artifact (virtual or real) with a use designed to teach a lesson, while a cognitive artifact would be something that is used in a distributed cognitive process. An often used example of a cognitive artifact would be the common shopping list.  As Norman[1] points out, a shopping list (checklist) helps you remember what you need, but it does not enhance your memory, it changes the process of how you perform the cognitive task of remembering (what you need). This is a form of distributed cognition where the list plays a role in the cognitive process of remembering, that is, you write down what you need, bring the list with you, and look at it while shopping. In effect, from a distributed cognitive perspective, cognitive artifacts enable us to represent, manipulate and communicate information germane to a problem, and I would further argue that the artifact defines the schema we use to organize the information to understand and solve the problem. Traditional learning objects are typically part of an established intergenerational pedagogic process, enabling experts to the teach novices specific predefined concepts and skills associated with known schema for organizing information and solving the problem, but they do not need to be part the cognitive process.  In the simplest of words, a cognitive artifact is a tool used in the thought process (enables schema), while a learning object is a tool to teach a concept, (through an established schema).

One of the challenges is that experts often find it harder to adopt new cognitive artifacts than novices. This is a consequence of experts having established schema-based cognitive processes utilizing long-term memory and automation of tasks that free up working memory, resulting in a lower level of cognitive load than novices would experience when they use old established cognitive artifacts.  In contrast, novices have not automated the use of old artifacts and therefor are not predisposed to behavioral patterns based on the use of those artifacts.  In essence, our prior expertise can impede our ability to acquire new skills if the new skills are not built upon that prior expertise. The youth, who lack the prior expertise, are thus not disadvantaged at the assimilation and experimentation with new cognitive artifacts.  Is this the origin of the second level digital divide?

In flipping the classroom, even traditional learning objects are placed in new environmental contexts. That is, students are operating in their home world of technology with their online friends (potentially sharing material from all over the world), and are not restricted by the student/teacher constructs of the traditional classroom environment. In essence, the flipped classroom is on the cusp of these two very different education environments, and it leads one to ask, are the kids finding new cognitive artifacts in flipped activities, and bringing back to the traditional classroom new schema for information representation and problem solving? Have any of these kids surprised their teachers with new and novel approaches to their assignments and work? Have your students surprised you in a positive way? If so, could you share these with us?
1 Norman, D. A., Cognitive Artifacts. In Designing Interaction: Psychology at the Human-Computer Interface, Carroll, J., Ed. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, England 1991.

PLEASE NOTE:  There was a site wide crash and we had to reload the comments from backup files.  They have been placed inside of the paper proper, instead of the comment fields.



June 6, 2014 - 10:10pm — muzyka

iPads and Explain Everything

Thanks for sharing your interesting project with us. How familiar are your students with the iPads? Were the students allowed to keep the iPads in between class meetings, or did they only have access to them during class meetings? What features of Explain Everything persuaded you to use that app rahther than other options?


June 7, 2014 - 10:37am — Justin Houseknecht

iPads and Explain Everything

My students had no difficulty with the iPads or Explain Everything. Uploading solutions to Moodle was initially a challenge for them, but not by week 2. Witt IT loaned me a set of 9 iPads for the academic year that students used just in class and I carried one around to make mini-lectures, etc. Being responsible for the iPads outside class time made it easy to assure they were ready to use. Advancement has raised enough $ to buy ten for me to use going forward.

I went with Explain Everything over other technology for several reasons:
Local storage of the videos - off-campus storage was a non-starter with our IT dept, perhaps due to FERPA concerns.
The ability to easily/quickly switch between colors of "ink". Red for e-flow and usually black for everything else.
Ease of use / simple editing
The ability to import images was really nice for spectroscopy



June 6, 2014 - 10:25pm — muzyka

Devices for Learning Catalytics

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us - they are both interesting and thought provoking. The flexibility of Learning Catalytics to accept input from phones, tablets, or laptops is very appealing. Do you ever have a student who does not have access to any of these students? Do you keep track of which device belongs to which student, so that you can take attendance or award participation points?


June 7, 2014 - 12:37pm — Matt

Student Devices

Hi Jennifer, thanks for the question. This tends to be the most common concern I hear from most faculty and I can talk on my experience at Ohio State. I have used Learning Catalytics with nearly 1500 students in my classes and not one of them did not have either a smart phone, laptop, or tablet.

In class I find it's easiest for students to use a smart phone or a tablet as the laptop typically takes up most of the desk space in our lecture hall.

With each new class coming in each year I have less and less concern for them not having technology.



June 7, 2014 - 1:16pm — muzyka

Cognitive artifacts

Thanks for your thought provoking poster. The concept cognitive artifact is interesting - the term is new to me but I guess the idea is not. The cognitive artifacts that I found useful as a learner are mostly not in the field of chemistry. I think of ROY G. BIV (physics) and Soh Cah Toa (trig). I suspect that my students devise cognitive artifacts to help them succeed in my courses, but I am unaware of that practice. Maybe the students mention their tools and I don't spend much time trying to understand their utility because they are not particularly useful to me. I am not sure how faculty members become aware of the cognitive artifacts being used by their students. Do you have any examples from your courses?



June 8, 2014 - 9:36am — confchem

Informatics and Cognitive Artifacts

Hi Jennifer,

I myself have not had time to flip my classes and so am not in a position to answer the questions that my poster puts forth. But yes, I have seen evidence, especially around student's use of cell phones. For example, it is now common to see students taking photo's with their cell phones of material instructor's post outside their offices. In a sense this is the student's moving their material online, even if their instructors don't. If the student takes a picture, and studies the lesson, I would call it a learning object.

BUT, one of my students got the answer to a question in 3 clicks (about 3 seconds). First click - took picture, second click- ran OCR app and converted image to text, third click-ran Google search app, which gave the answer (yes, I actually had the key posted online), and the kid did come up with my own key as the first "hit". Now I told this to my chair, who I like a lot, and his response was something along the lines of "the student thinks he is smart, but he has not learned anything".

At first glance the chair may be right, but on deeper thought, I would disagree, and the crux of my disagreement lies within the difference of a learning object and a cognitive artifact. The current [primitive] web is document-centric with the main entity being a web-page, using a linked information architecture not unlike browsing through pages of multiple books. Often times people are after information objects within those pages, and there is an emerging semantics-sensitive data-centric architecture that can use RDF triples (Subject-Predicate-Object) based schema to develop ontologies that can directly return values like the molar mass of a specific compound through a web interface (like a widget or cell phone app). I believe PubChem has 60,000,000 to 70,000,000 triples dealing with chemical compounds and their properties. Right now, if I ask my student what is the molar mass of methane, I expect them to use the periodic table and add the atomic masses of the constituent elements, and would think looking them up via an app to be cheating. But is it? And, can they calculate the BP, MP, IR/NMR/MS spectra the way they can the molar mass? Is the data-centric information architecture of the web really less valid than the periodic table? In fact, the periodic table itself is an ontology. For example, the name of an element can be represented by an RDF triple (the number of protons in an atom [subject] has a value [predicate] which identifies the element [object]. ie, the atom with 7 protons is Nitrogen. The atom with 8 is Oxygen.... the atom with 9 is...

So maybe the way to identify new cognitive artifacts is to see if they are using technology to cheat. From the learning object perspective, the molar mass lesson plan was to add up the molar mass of a compound's elements to determine the molar mass of the compound. If a student used technology to find the answer another way, they may be using a cognitive artifact that the traditional classroom in unfamiliar with. At first we call this cheating, but on deeper thought, can that new artifact do things we can't now do? Is this what is meant by the second-level digital divide and students frustration with our use of technology? In my two page poster I was trying to articulate these thoughts, and see if anyone who had flipped a classroom has come up against these issues.

June 10, 2014 - 9:04pm — Howard Kimmel

Learning Objects

Hi Bob:

I must disagree with your use of the term “learning object”. While I am not sure I understand how you are showing “the difference of a learning object and a cognitive artifact”, the action of the student cannot be considered a learning object. So, I agree with your chair that the student “has not learned anything”. Actually his action might serve as an “object lesson”, in that the student is only cheating himself. He is in the course to acquire skills and knowledge (presumably) that he will need in future courses and his career pursuits. And these skills and knowledge are defined by the learning outcomes for the topic. Just getting an answer to a question by finding your answer key on the web is not enabling to student to achieve the desired learning outcome(s).

You make the point that “So maybe the way to identify new cognitive artifacts is to see if they are using technology to cheat. From the learning object perspective, the molar mass lesson plan was to add up the molar mass of a compound's elements to determine the molar mass of the compound.” And yes, we do want students to understand that there is usually more than one way to solve a problem. But technology itself should not be the answer. And finding the answer key online is no different than looking up an answer to a textbook problem at the end of the book. That doesn’t require technology, but it is no different than what your student did. The point is that the students are not learning the content by the process you seem to be giving approval to. And yes, the student is cheating – he is cheating himself of the education he is paying tuition for.

A final point. The videos being used for flipping the classroom are learning objects. A learning object is usually defined as "a collection of content items, practice items, and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective or outcome". “It is designed to be used by itself or in combination with other media objects to facilitate or promote learning. This learning should be demonstrable and testable through assessment and observation.”

I hope you are able to correct this student’s perception of “learning”.



June 10, 2014 - 10:33pm — Bob Belford

Bob Belford's picture

Cognitive Artifacts and Learning Objects

Hi Howard,

Thank you for your comments, and I fear I may have caused some confusion, as what you describe as a learning object fits my interpretation of a learning object. I was not saying that by using a cell phone to get the answer through couple of apps makes the cell phone a learning object, and I agree, it clearly does not teach the student my lesson. And yes, I would call it cheating, and I do not let students use cell phones on exams (although 20 years from now they will probably be as common as calculators). That said, the student was using it as a cognitive artifact, in fact I would argue it would be classified as a representational cognitive artifact, in both functional and informational senses. See, Heersmink, R., A Taxonomy of Cognitive Artifacts: Function, Information, and Categories. Reviews of Philosophy and Psychology 2013, 4 (30), 465-481. (I disagree with Heersmink on one level, in that I extend the concept to virtual objects, which he does not adequately approach).

Let me put it this way, does using a checklist improve memory with respect to your grey matter? No, in fact, it probably makes it worse, because you do not have to memorize stuff, you just look it up on your checklist (what is that old adage? “If you don’t use it, you lose it?”). But, if you use the checklist in the cognitive process of remembering, you can remember more than you can without it. So my real question is, are these digital native kids coming up with new ways to use technology in cognitive processes when they are outside of the class? And are these beginning to show up in the class? It seems like instructors who are flipping may be seeing this.

What we also need to be aware is that cognitive artifacts can actually change how we practice science. There is a very interesting book put out by Microsoft Research called the Fourth Paradigm, you can download it for free here. On page xviii there is a neat image outlining 4 science paradigms, empirical (which is mostly what we teach), theoretical, computational and the fourth (which is now emerging), “data-exploration” (e-science). Our classrooms today are not prepared to handle big-data and few teachers (including myself) have a firm understanding of how these advances are going to impact the classroom. I suspect that when our students’ children go to school they will be using apps and widgets to connect to databases in the lesson plans as commonly as we use calculators to perform logarithmic calculations today. The thing is, I suspect our students and not us, will be the one’s moving science forward with these advances, and I am curious to see if anyone sees students using technology in new ways today?

Also, don't worry about my student. He was not a student of that class, he was far more advanced, and was just showing me how he could take a picture of the material I had on the wall, run 2 apps, and get the answer. He also showed me how he could bypass a dichotomous systematic botany key by taking a picture of a plant leaf on his cell phone, click a few apps, and give me pictures of that leaf to choose from, complete with information about those plants.




June 11, 2014 - 4:16pm — Howard Kimmel

Cognitive Artifacts and Learning Objects

Hi Bob:
Thanks for the clarification. I guess you now realized that your comments may have been a bit confusing.
Actually, this conference has introduced me to the concept of Cognitive Artifacts, Although I am aware with the many examples of it, this is the first time I have seen the term for them, which was probably part of the reason for the confusion in my mind.
I guess that this student was just showing off how well he knows how to use technology. I think the current (and future) development of technology is getting a bit scary for me. I guess I have been a professor for too long, so that these students can refer to me as an old codger from "prehistoric times"
This conference has been quite interesting and informative. Thanks.
Have a good one.