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21st Century Chemical Education


Harry E. Pence, Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry, SUNY Oneonta. Oneonta, NY


Chemical education is facing a number of significant challenges in the 21st Century. There are demands to include more online learning, new learning techniques, such as flipped classrooms and POGIL, to implement personal and institutional learning analytics, and, of course, to respond to problems with enrollment and funding. This paper focuses only one of those challenges, how technology is changing industrial chemistry and chemical education.


Chemical education is facing a number of significant challenges in the 21st Century.  There are demands to include more online learning, new learning techniques, such as flipped classrooms and POGIL, to implement personal and institutional learning analytics, and, of course, to respond to problems with enrollment and funding.  George Whitesides even argues that in order to remain relevant chemical research must focus more on the crucial issues that currently face our society.1  Presumably Whitesides’ proposal would also affect chemical education.  This paper will focus on only one of those challenges, how technology is changing industrial chemistry and chemical education. 


How Technology is Affecting Industrial Chemistry and Research

After 50 years, Gordon E. Moore’s prediction is still roughly accurate, that every two years the computer chip makers produce twice as much computing power for only slightly more money.2  Similar trends are affecting digital communications and storage.  The World Wide Web (WWW) is changing the way that chemists access information as well as creating new potential for their communication and collaboration.  New types of digital tools continue to proliferate, especially mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets.   The Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D printing seem poised to revolutionize the traditional methods of chemical research and production.    The Internet is even changing the chemical literature and how people apply for scientific jobs. 

Technology is significantly affecting the practice of chemistry in research and industry.  Globalization of research and rapid communications by means of the Internet makes it possible scientists across the world to cooperate with each other.  A job in biotechnology research may require a organic chemist in this country to plan the synthesis of a potential new drug which will be performed by a team of synthetic chemists in China who will actually do the synthesis.  The work may be funded by a pharmaceutical company in Europe.  Each of these participants must constantly share information by means of electronic laboratory notebooks or Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMs) rather than the traditional hardcopy notebook.   


Mobile devices are having a significant effect on the chemical industry.  Nayak writes that, “Mobility solutions have changed the working environment of the chemical companies. It has improved the working style of the entire supply chain, procurement, and sales department.3” .Mobile devices are allowing organizations to stay connected in real time and become more productive.  If this is the environment that young people will experience when they transition from the classroom to the workplace, they should experience s similar environment when they are trained in colleges and universities.

Whereas in the past, scientists could keep up with their research field by reading a few key journals, the proliferation of specialized scientific journals has changed the behavior necessary for current awareness.  This deluge of data has affected the way scientists read journals.4   It has become an essential skill to quickly browse an article to extract the crucial information as rapidly as possible.  Another way that researchers also try to follow the latest news about a topic is  by setting up some type of automated current awareness, like a RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed.5  This problem seems likely to become worse in the future as the amount of information available continues to expand.  There is even software available, Quill, that claims it will summarize a set of scientific results and , “. . . create perfectly written narratives to convey meaning for any intended audience.6“   If it becomes feasible for computers to create scientific articles with little or no human intervention, this will only increase the flood of information and make it more difficult to keep up.  

When chemistry journals and databases first went online, many of them were subscription-only services that did not connect with each other.  More recently, there has been a rapid development of online, open-access resources.  The Directory of Open Access journals lists over 361 journals related to Chemistry,7 and Apodaca has provided a listing of 64 large, open-access databases of chemical information.8 These sources contain a wealth of information about hundreds of thousands of compounds.  Many of these resources can be connected with each other by Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to create a new way to work on the Internet.9  Connecting multiple sources can give users a broader range of information about chemicals and their reactivity than is possible with any single source.10 


Advances in digital technology have created small, inexpensive sensors that can be combined with data collection and communications software to create a new type of integration between the physical world and the computer.  These systems are called the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Internet of Everything.  As these types of systems are deployed, everyday objects ranging from cars to scientific instruments can constantly provide status updates to their owners.  This information can be accessed through a smartphone or a similar device.  The chemical industry is already looking to integrate the Internet of Things into their processes, and Guertzgen lists some examples of how IoT is being used.11   Andrew Chatha, a consultant to the industry, recently said, “Our consumer smartphones represent the ultimate connected devices and now is the time to bring this type of technology to the industrial world.12” The same should be true for the world of education.

Another potential game changer for research and industry is 3D printing (sometimes called additive manufacturing).  Rick Smith predicts that soon customers will be able to create custom products on their personal 3D printers.  These products might be  medical devices made of human cells or micro and nano-sized objects, including batteries no bigger than a grain of sand.13  Smith even predicts that the combination of 3D printing’s unlimited shape and material customization with powerful computing will lead to the solution of design problems that are currently beyond human capabilities.   According to a recent report on 2015 Chemical Trends, 3D printing is one of the digital transformations that will not only enable chemical manufacturers to make customized parts to better meet changing customer requirements but also require chemists to develope new materials with special properties designed for the printing process.14

Many chemical companies are at an early stage of implementing these new technologies, but that is no reason for complacency among chemical educators.   Industrial firms can move relatively rapidly when confronted by the need to remain competitive; education moves much more slowly.   It will be a long-term challenge to redesign the chemistry classroom environment to align with the changes that graduates will encounter when they enter the workplace of the 21st Century. 

The job market is in flux in most fields, and Chemistry is no exception.  It seems unlikely that computer automation and robotics will drastically affect the job market for chemists during the coming decade15 , but the combination of off-shoring and consolidation of research laboratories due to mergers and acquisitions will probably mean that few chemists can assume their jobs are secure. Churning of the job market will change life-long learning from a platitude to a necessity.  Students graduating today will face the challenge of continually retooling to maintain the up-to-date skills required to adapt to a rapidly changing work environment.   Once in the workplace these students will find that the best way to maintain their skill levels while remaining on the job will be through online classes, MOOCs, and new forms of social networking.  Today’s graduates should have had some experience with these online training sites and be able to evaluate which are the best. 


How Technology is Affecting Chemical Education


Today’s chemical educator is faced with a plethora of new educational technologies.  The challenge will be to identify and implement those technologies that will create the greatest improvement in learning.  Humans tend to accept the devices they grew up with and not really think of them as technology.  Thus, the classroom becomes a conflicted arena where the expectations of each new generation of students are disputed  by older faculty who feel uncomfortable with the technology that the students routinely accept.  Even younger teachers who have grown up since the computer revolution may find they sometimes have difficulty adjusting to a constantly changing technology environment. 

For many teachers the most obvious concern about technology in their classrooms is the fear that their smartphone-using students will become wrapped up in a digital cocoon that pulls them away from the present reality towards relationships with a multitude of digital stimuli that can be more appealing than even the best lecture or activity.  The worry is that a class may become just a collection of isolated and distracted individuals rather than a group focused on the lesson of the day.  This concern has led some instructors to attempt to ban digital devices from the classroom.

Students today are becoming accustomed to a multiscreen world.16  Three years ago a study by the Pew Research Center found that 52% of those who had smartphones used multiple screens when they watched television.17   It seems inevitable that these practices will transfer to education.  The arguments against multitasking are well known, but there is also some research suggesting that, “. . . those who frequently use different types of media at the same time appear to be better at integrating information from multiple senses when asked to perform a specific task.18”   Kay summarizes his discussion of whether or not to multitask by saying, “Multitask where you can, task switch when you have to, and focus on the job at hand as much as possible for the best results.”  It would appear that a new type of educational environment is evolving, dictated more by student practices than by any traditional educational theory.  

Student behavior in the classroom is being affected by both multitasking and multitooling.  Some students attempt (or at least pretend) to listen to the lecture while checking social networks, playing online games, or listening to music.  This form of multitasking does not work well.  On the other hand, a few students are using note taking programs, like Evernote or Notability, to take pictures of the screens and/or blackboards, annotate the result with comments by the professor or their classmates, look up unfamiliar concepts or words on the World Wide Web, and even use Twitter to engage in backchat that is related to the material.  This is a multitool approach to a single task.   Thus far, multitooling has been limited by classroom policies intended to discourage multitasking, but more students are beginning to explore these possibilities in their everyday lives. 

The smartphone is not just a source of distraction but also a versatile educational device.  A smartphone user holds the equivalent of a major research library in the palm of her hand; teachers integrate this capability into classroom work.  For many students the smartphone has partially or totally replaced their use of the library.  The smartphone camera has become an important educational device, which students use to store classroom notes, capture interesting demonstrations, record experimental results, or obtain notes from a class that they missed. It is possible to convert a smartphone into a 375 power microscope,19 or a useful colorimeter.20 

The first generation of smartphone personal assistants, like Siri, Google Now, and Amazon Echo, is already widely accepted, and it seems probable that future iterations will become even more powerful.  The next step may well be based on the combination of the smartphone with the semantic web21 to create intelligent software agents that will serve as personal learning content mediators.  These software agents will analyze the learning goals and abilities of the individual phone user and suggest content from the Web that is specifically designed to support his or her needs and interests.   Sparrow et. al. have found that individuals already use a smartphone as an external memory that complements and expands the person’s working memory.22  Using a smartphone as a learning support is the next step beyond using a smartphone as an auxiliary memory. 


There is little likelihood that smartphones are going away; teachers must either integrate them or endure them.  Attempts to play King Canute and push back against the rising tide of digital devices may become even more problematic if wearable technologies become popular.  Several professors have already reported on interesting ways to make smartphones an integral part of the learning environment rather than a distraction.  Rheingold has chosen to focus on ways to help students recognize and resist the temptation for continual partial attention.23  Wijtmans et. al. have discussed using electronic devices to improve student’s interest in lectures.24  Libman and Huang have cataloged the various apps that can be useful in Chemistry classes.25  A web site called Socrative allows students who have any web-enabled device to use their own device as a response system in lecture.


Personalization is often hyped as a benefit of digital technologies, but it also represents a potential problem.  Technology now makes possible the personalization of everything from cars to dress shirts to handbags, and many companies are allowing consumers to design their own unique products.26  For some time now, Google has been providing personalized search results that are based on the past behavior of an individual.27  Individuals can personalize their information management tools to create Personal Learning Environments.28  A quote from a recent advertisement summarizes the industrial response, “Businesses must now cater to a  market of one, and each individual customer now needs to be understood and appreciated for their unique needs.29


In education, the move towards personalization is reflected by proposals to use badges, certificates, or “nanodegrees” to recognize the mastery of specialized, narrow skills.  Blumenstyk argues that these types of credentials may well be more useful to potential employers than traditional college degrees.30  Nonprofits, corporate groups, and businesses are beginning to certify specialized student skills with badges or similar recognition, and some colleges are beginning to follow suit.  The modern economy requires technical employees to constantly master new skills in order to remain employed.  Alternative forms of certification are a potential way to represent these special talent s.  So far, this development has been limited by the lack of a coordinated system to evaluate these providers, but this is changing rapidly. 


It will be a challenge to introduce more personalization into college programs that were designed for the age of mass production.  Educators like to view education in a holistic way, as consisting of a combination of courses in a major, augmented by a general education core to create breadth of knowledge.  Even narrowly focused programs, like engineering or pharmacy, prefer to think of their programs as representing a set of courses that are designed to complement each other and create an integrated experience. 

Some would argue that it is inappropriate for a liberal education to also provide specialized skills useful in the workplace.  It would be better if higher education develops these specialized skill measures in combination with traditional liberal learning rather than leaving the field to organization s that are purely vocational.  Even so, it will require a major shift in thinking for colleges to move from a funding model based on credit hours and seat time to giving credit for what were previously single courses or even partial components of courses.  If higher educational is unable to meet these requests it is likely that less conventional educational groups will fill the void by becoming alternative forms of accreditation. 

Digitization has given new life to an old instructional medium, video.  Videos have always promised to add a visual component to teaching that allows students to see rather than just imagine the real world using demonstrations, simulations, and animations.  Until recently, creation of effective videos required a well-staffed studio; the set-up in the classroom often consumed more time than the actual presentation; and students normally saw the presentation only once.  Now, students can use their smartphones to access free, online sites, like the Kahn Academy and YouTube, which provide access to a multitude of instructional videos on almost every topic imaginable.  In the past, videos often were reduced to somewhat boring talking heads.  Now videos have become the central enabling tool for online classes, MOOCs, and flipped classes.  Scientific journals have been somewhat slower to embrace video, but there is an entire science journal dedicated to video articles.31 

It is probably still too early to predict the eventual impact of 3D printers on the classroom, but the price of these units is already low enough to allow them to be purchased by high schools and grade schools.32   One obvious application is the creation of custom designed molecular models.  Model kits are now commonly required in organic classes, but 3D printers allow students to inexpensively create accurate physical representations of not only molecular models but any three dimensional objects.   Using recycled plastic from PET bottles and designs from sites like Thingiverse it is possible to make models ranging from laboratory equipment to complex crystal structure.33   The National Institute of Health is developing a 3D print exchange, which will provide 3D printing files for free.34  Since traditional chemical models commonly sell for hundreds of dollars each, it will only require making a few of these to justify the cost of a 3D printer.  Rossi et. al. (and references therein) have described some uses of 3D printers in chemical education.35  Once each student can make personal structures, it may also create news ways for them to visualize chemical reactions. 


Digitization is also affecting traditional journals and books.  Digital information is not fixed by a physical medium and may change at any time.  The classic example is, of course, Wikipedia, the encyclopedic information source that seems to be in a continuing state of transition.  Traditional educators are unaccustomed to the idea that information may change while one is looking at it.  The activity of creating and sharing new knowledge is no longer limited to those with specialized training.  Increasingly, faculty, students, and even non-professionals are contributing to blogs and online databases, like PubMed and Chemspider, that depend upon the crowdsourcing of information to keep the site current.36  New knowledge is being disseminated at a pace that is breathtaking compared to the tempo of traditional publishing.  The resulting democratization of knowledge creates new opportunities for students to be not just consumers but also creators of knowledge.  Young people are not only willing to apply their talents to create educational sources but often seem enthusiastic to be asked.37 


One educational medium that is still in the early stages of development is virtual space.    For example, some chemists have created  laboratory teaching spaces in the virtual world called Second Life.38  Despite this, truly virtual worlds do not seem to have become popular with most educators.  The use of augmented reality seems more successful, perhaps because the user remains grounded in the real world, and this makes it seem more familiar.  For example, QR codes and augmented reality can be combined to create smart instruments that will provide video instructions to a potential user without the need for a physical instructor.37  Instruction in a virtual space can be both inexpensive and convenient, especially for adult learning, and so it will not be surprising if these initial exploratory efforts are expanded, perhaps in combination with the badge and certification programs mentioned earlier.


As the above discussion indicates, a profusion of new technologies is becoming available for chemical education.  Some offer valuable educational benefits; some should be implemented to align academic chemistry with industrial practice; and all of them require a re-examination of the way that chemistry is taught.  Normally, education changes very slowly.  It is a significant challenge to respond to all of these changes arriving at the same time, especially since there are also many non-technological developments that are also demanding attention.  It would be difficult for chemical educators to adequately respond to any single one of the changes described above, but everything seems to be happening simultaneously.  The future is arriving faster than expected and often faster than teachers can adapt. 


Future Shock


It has been over three decades since Alvin Toffler coined the term Future Shock to describe the stress and disorientation that people encounter when technological change occurs too fast for humans to adjust.39  In his book, Toffler discusses how education should respond during a time of rapid technological change (pgs. 398-427).  He argues that as long as the future is going to be similar to the present, the structure of education can be more oriented to the past and present, but in order to prepare for a world that will be much different than the present, education must focus more on the future.  He suggested that teams of men and women (including students and advisors currently in the workplace) should develop “assumed futures” that can serve as a basis for identifying possible new directions for education.   Even if these predictions are not totally accurate, Toffler suggests that teaching students to “think in the future tense” will make graduates better prepared to adjust to whatever the future may actually bring.


Today’s young people are probably better prepared to think in the future tense than the youth of Toffler’s time.  Today’s youth culture requires them to constantly master new technologies.  They must learn to be continuous learners.  Not all young people are facile with all technologies, but when a group of them encounter a new device or software there are always pathfinders who lead the way and then show the rest how to catch up.   Many of today’s students would probably welcome an opportunity to explore what the world of the future might bring.  


Officials from State and National governments often argue that colleges and universities should prepare students for the jobs of the future.  Unfortunately, they provide few suggestions (or governmental examples) about how institutions can accurately predict the future.  Toffler would argue that the prime objective of education should be to ‘increase the individual’s ‘cope-ability’ - the speed and economy with which he or she can adapt to continual change.  A more recent article by Slaughter agrees that Toffler’s ideas had some impact at the time but that this response has now been largely dissipated.40  Slaughter concludes that, “To read Future Shock 30 years on is to be struck by the disjuncture between the power of the vision and the poverty of means.  Perhaps this disconnect is inevitable.  Few people like to really think deeply about the future, and the current system is too deeply entrenched to happily accept change.”  The most important skill to teach students is the ability to adapt to an environment that is constantly changing.  Living in the 21st Century will require one to not only continuously learn new ideas but also to unlearn those that previously been generally accepted.


A Modest Proposal


Suppose that each professor took five minutes during a semester to talk in class about some very recent development might be important in the coming decade.  This discussion might focus on some specific topic in one of the chemical sub-disciplines, organic, biochemistry, etc. or it might deal with the disruption caused by one of the new technologies that have been discussed previously.  Perhaps the teacher could hand out copies of an article from C&E News or some similar general science journal for students to think about.  The goal would not be to accurately predict the future; few of us have the time or inclination to become Futurists.   Rather the purpose would be to shift the students’ horizons beyond the next test or even graduation day to help them think about what adjustments they are going to have to make as their careers progress. 




Technology is by no means the only challenge that chemical education will face in the 21st Century.  There may be so much political pressure connected to areas like employment training and online learning that the temptation will be to set technology aside for later consideration.  That would be a mistake.  It would be a disservice to our students and also a missed opportunity.  The chemical industry will need the next generation of graduates to be prepared for a new and changing technological workplace.  The real world is changing; education must also change.  The purpose of this paper is to focus on only one of the challenges that is ahead and to initiate a discussion of how chemical educators might best respond to new situations. 




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21.       Pence, H. E., Williams, A.J., Belford, R.E., New Tools and Challenges for Chemical Education: Mobile Learning, Augmented Reality, and Distributed Cognition in the Dawn of the Social and Semantic Web. In Chemical Education:  Best Practices, Innovative Strategies, and New Technologies, Garcia- Martinez, J., Serrano-Torregrosa, E., Eds. Wiley: New York, NY, 2015; pp 669-711.

22.       Sparrow, B., Liu, J., Wegner, D.M., Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Science 2011, 333 (3604), 776-778.

23.       Rheingold, H., Attention literacy. City Brights April 20, 2009,

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27.       Horling, B., Kulick, M., Personalized Search for Everyone. Official Google Blog, Dec.  04, 2009, ,

28.       Pence, L. E., Pence, H.E., Creating and Using a Personalized Information Management System. In Enhancing Learning with Online Resources, Social Networking, and Digital Libraries, Robert E. Belford, J. W. M., and Harry E. Pence, Ed. American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2010; Vol. 1060, pp 115–127.

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10/28/15 to 10/30/15


Tom O'Haver's picture

Wow. As usual, Harry Pence leads us on a thought-provoking (and slightly scary) trip into the present and possible future of technological development.

The news recently had been full of reports on such recent developments asWatsonQuill, natural language (Siri et al.), driverless cars, nuclear fusion, 3D robotic vision (Kinect Fusion, Kontinuous), additive manufacturing, crowd sourcing, etc. If you take into consideration the exponential nature of technology growth, and consider that these developments will likely contine to expand and combine in unexpected ways, the future is indeed scary, hard to predict, but also exciting.

Recently I've been reading a couple of books on the subject:

In The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee wrote:

“...there’s never been a better time to be a worker with special skills or the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. However, there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.”

In Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford wrote: “Two sectors in particular—higher education and health care—have, so far, been highly resistant to the kind of disruption that is already becoming evident in the broader economy. The irony is that the failure of technology to transform these sectors could amplify its negative consequences elsewhere, as the costs of health care and education become ever more burdensome....The benefits of information technology have not yet scaled across the higher-education sector. This, at least in part, explains the extraordinary increase in the cost of college in recent decades. ….The return on investment for a college education may be falling, but it still nearly always beats the alternative.”

I think that what will ultimately save us (if we are to be saved) is that the older generation will gradually retire, ride off into the sunset, or die off, to be replaced by a younger generation who have been raised and educated in the age of ubiquitous technology. The old ways of thinking (read: my way of thinking) will be replaced by the new.

I hope to live to see it all, from the sidelines, grasping my buggy whip and my 8-track tape player.

Tom O'Haver, Naples, FL

I think the secret of predicting the future is to look carefully at what is already happening that most people don't seem to have noticed, then predict that it will happen in the future. At least, that has always worked for me.

I'm not sure about Tom's prediction that, "...the older generation will gradually retire, ride off into the sunset, or die off, to be replaced by a younger generation..." can solve the problem. It seems to me that the change is coming too fast. I recently told a group of students that they had ten years to get established in the new high-tech world, and by that time their jobs would be threatened by the generation that has grown up with these new gadgets. Almost every student in the class put up his or her hand to question me. I thought I was going to get a debate, but instead they all agreed with me and wanted to share stories about how young children they knew were using technology. I concluded by quoting the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who said you have to run as fast as you can to stay where you are, and even faster if you wish to move ahead."

There is an old saw that says that the best way to predict the weather is to say that tomorrow will be just like today. On the average, this works pretty well, but it fails badly when a hurricane comes. I think the same rule of prediction also works for higher education, but with the same warning about hurricanes.

Thanks for the comment, Tom.


P.S. The Second Machine Age is on my reading list when I can get around to it.

Bob Belford's picture

Hi Harry,

Thank you ever so much for such an informative, thought provoking, article. I have to say I completely forgot about “Future Shock”, although it was required reading when I was in high school.

It seems to me that your paper starts with an overview of technological and information artifacts, and then it sort of comes to the conclusion that these are evolving so fast that a liberal arts education almost requires teaching students how to adopt and adapt to the evolving information and technological landscape. You then bring forth a modest proposal that instructors include something current in their curriculum.

My questions deals with the analysis of the first part of your paper with respect to a classification scheme of the types of artifacts, or distributed cognitive processes enabled through artifacts, to see if there are patterns or trends that could help educators implement these into their practice and avoid “future shock”. (I may be saying the last bit wrong, and I am going to go pick up a copy of Future Shock). That is, you do not teach a specific technology, but a class of technologies, with examples within the class being specific technologies.

Have you thought of analyzing this stuff for a classification schema?


I think the main problem I see is how do we educate current students for a world that will be significantly different from the one that currently exists. Some have long claimed that a liberal arts education does exactly this. Based on my own liberal arts education, I think that this claim is half true. A good liberal arts education will teach students the values that remain constant regardless of what technology is in vogue. The second part is more difficult. Can we teach students to be comfortable with change and to constantly strive to understand not only what is happening now but also what is likely to happen in the future. This stance of one foot firmly rooted in the past and one foot constantly edging into the future is hard to achieve. It is an uncomfortable way to stand because the ground under both feet is usually not very solid.

I think a lot of people have forgotten Future Shock, and that is unfortunate because it is more true today that it was when Toffler wrote it. My best suggestion is that any liberal arts education should include a healthy dose of science fiction. It is true that some science fiction is not very good as literature or prediction, but the best writers provide a basis for thinking about what the future will be like. I believe that an undergraduate education should encourage students to think about as many different futures as possible and try to understand what would be necessary to adapt to those conditions. The goal is not accurate prediction but the development of a flexibility that is ready for whatever actually happens.

My best guess is that the artifact that you are thinking of is the smartphone or whatever wearable form it develops in the near future. Learning assistants, like Siri, are just the first primitive step in a process that eventually lead us to a point where the mobile device will become an essential auxiliary to our physical minds. I think we are headed towards a third great transition in human thinking. The first was from orality to writing; the second was from hand writing to printing; and the third one will be to a symbiosis between humans and machines where part of our thinking literally occurs outside the box. I leave it to those smarter than me to suggest what education will look like in that environment.

I leave it to you, Bob, to fit this all into a classification schema.


Harry, thanks for your interesting article. I enjoy learning from your insights. Future Shock is on my list of books to read.
You mention liberal arts education and the enduring values that students learn by reading the classics. At the liberal arts institution where I teach, I point out to my students that one of my major goals for them is that they learn how to learn. If all they gain from college is the information we teach in courses, then in the future it's possible that computers will be able to replace them in their places of employment. Learning how to learn is in the same spirit as learning how to adapt to changes in our society. You serve as a good example of how continually learning new things facilitates adapting to changes in society.

I hope my little article helps to make your juices flow a little faster. For what it is worth, I think you are on the right track.

Tom O'Haver's picture

Harry's comment about the symbiosis between humans and machines is right on point. IBM has been training their Watson supercomputer to "sit on top of all of the world’s high-quality published medical information; match it against patients’ symptoms, medical histories, and test results; and formulate both a diagnosis and a treatment plan. The huge amounts of information involved in modern medicine make this type of advance critically important. IBM estimates that it would take a human doctor 160 hours of reading each and every week just to keep up with relevant new literature". They are careful to stress that the AI technologies will be used to augment physicians’ clinical expertise and judgment, not replace them.

Just substitute chemistry/chemical/chemist for medicine/medical/doctor in that paragraph to see what could be in store for us in the future.

Vernor Vinge argues that we are approaching a "technological singularity," that is, a time when the world changes so dramatically that it is impossible for us living now to understand what the future will be like, and once we have passed the singularity it will be equally impossible for the eople of that time to visualize what the past was really like. As I remember, he suggests that there are three paths to the singularity. 1) computers become sentient beings, 2) genetic manipulation creates a new race of humans with capabilities beyond our comprehension, and 3) the power of the computer is combined with the human mind in such a way as to create a new type of cognition. (I'm writing this from memory, so I apologize to Vinge if I am not getting it quite right.) My money is on door three, and I think that change is approaching faster than we guess.

>Have you thought of analyzing this stuff for a classification schema?

I've been thinking about the difference between Daniel Kahneman's System 1 and System 2 thinking (,_Fast_and_Slow#Two_systems) and how that impacts the chemistry lab thinking. Kahneman identifies fast, instinctive thinking and slower, literacy-based thinking within human reasoning process. The idea of multi-tooling suggests to me that people are using these tools to switch between those two systems, assuming that certain tools are better adapted to one type of thinking than the other.

One example from my work is personal safety vs. community safety. Personal safety in the lab is a gut-level value, so it's more likely to be a System 1 process, while community safety in the lab requires consideration of more complicated factors, so it's more likely to be a System 2 process. This presents a challenge for those of us trying to teach lab safety as a complicated process, since that approach doesn't correspond to safety's emotional valence.

The idea of multi-tooling is very interesting in this light. My personal experience is that trying to do a System 2 process on a smartphone or other small device is very frustrating, because they are built to handle System 1 needs. If I need to think through a problem (such as developing this response), I have to do it on a desktop machine, where I can easily go find a Wikipedia entry to assure that I use the terminology appropriate to my thoughts. So I think we have to match the tool to type of task we're asking people to do. Asking a chemist for the molecular weight of CO2 shouldn't require more than a smartphone since they're likely to have the atomic weights of carbon and oxygen in their heads, but asking them to verify the atomic weight of 2-Acetylaminofluorene might require a desktop.

I think that mapping different electronic devices to the System 1 / System 2 functions they serve might be a useful start in this classification process that Bob suggests.

I was not familiar with Kahneman's work, but it makes sense to me. Your comments about the smartphone not being very good for Type 2 thinking also rings a bell with me. I will leave you with two questions. First, which type of thinking prevails in most of our lectures? Second, if our devices are best for Type 1 thinking, how can we redesign lecture to allow students to use their devices for the Type 1 work, but encourage them to be more Type 2 in responding to what we are doing?

I used to use a lot of demonstrations in my lectures, and when I finished a demo my first question was always, "What did you see and hear?" I think one of the most important skills we can develop in our students is the ability to not just look but to see what is happening. For example, I would explode a hydrogen balloon and then a helium balloon without telling them that they were two different gases. My first question was, "What color was each balloon?" The helium balloon was always red. When I asked them if the second (helium) balloon burst into flame, often they would reply yes because of the red color of the balloon. In addition, if you have a long string on the helium balloon, the weight of the string prevents it from rising as far as the hydrogen balloon. I would usually try to repeat the demo, so they had a second chance to observe and confirm what they had missed. I felt that challenging them to really look closely made the whole demo more useful. Of course, I'm sure that some of my students just liked it for the explosion. Sigh!
By the way, as smartphones became more common, students would often make a video of my demos so they would study what happened in slow motion later. I would ask them to work in small groups right after the demo and combine their thoughts on what they had seen, and I would make sure at least one person in each group had a smartphone. Then the technology became a learning tool instead of a distraction.

Lisa Lewis's picture

This discussion brings to mind Howard Gardner's and Katie Davis' book, The App Generation and some references within (e.g., Kim, K. H. "The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking", 2011). In short, since the introduction of new media technologies, Americans are less able to engage in creative thought, elaboration or detailed and reflective thinking. Is it fair to make this connection to System 1 processing vs System 2 processing?

If so, I think it can be argued that if mobile devices tend to facilitate System 1 processing it is because apps are largely designed to handle System 1 needs. They provide answers instead of stimulating creativity and thoughtfulness. However, educational apps can and should be designed by educators to do the later.

Also, as Harry notes, educators have the responsibility to design classroom experiences -- including our encouraging appropriate student use of mobile devices and apps -- that prompt students to use System 2 processing.

---Wonderful read, Harry. Thank you for another thought provoking conversation!---

Tony Mitchell's picture

I am wondiering if the loss of creativity can be directly attributed to the introduction of new media. When I look at how we are teaching students at the K - 12 grades, with the emphasis on testing, I think that has more of an impact than anything else.

But I will agree with Lisa's conclusion that the classroom experience is very critical in the development of critical thinking.

One of the basic rules of teaching is that what you test is what you teach. Regardless of what you may think is happening, students will figure out what you are testing on and focus their efforts of mastering the skills necessary to do well on your tests. If your tests are multiple guess and short answer, your students will adjust to the environment and focus on sound bites instead of deep thinking. It takes a lot of thought to make smart devices create smart students, and if you have to spend all you time preparing your students for dumb tests, you can't expect a miracle.

Someone once said, "There is not substitute for a good educational system - - - but that hasn't stopped the American people from looking for one." That certainly is true of politicians.

osrothen's picture


This has been a very thoughtful discussion. Thanks to all for contributions. I live in Florida, a state that was one of the early breeding locations for the testing phenomenon. This too shall pass. Of this I am certain.

Teaching and learning are not the same thing, yet we are often guilty of conflating them. Who among us has not said or heard the expression, “I can’t understand how all the students missed this on the test! I told them in class.” Students pick up on this, and it’s like a royal path to learning for them - write down and memorize every word the teacher says. In some cases, a flipped lecture video might even feed this idea of a royal path. For what it’s worth, here is my teaching catechism after about 40,000 Illinois State University students in a very large lecture environment:

Catechism for Teaching and Learning

What is learning?

The extremely difficult process of developing a mental data set and related techniques to solve complex problems.

How difficult is learning?

Learning is so difficult that young humans cannot do it expeditiously without a catalyst.

What is the learning catalyst?


What is the best method of teaching?

Many things work.

Does flipping a class work?

Yes, many things work.

Does technology work?

Yes, many things work.

What is the ultimate objective of teaching?

Learning auto catalysis.

What the heck does that mean?

Think about it.

Best, Otis

All I can say , "Amen."


>First, which type of thinking prevails in most of our lectures? Second, if our devices are best for Type 1 thinking, how can we redesign lecture to allow students to use their devices for the Type 1 work, but encourage them to be more Type 2 in responding to what we are doing?

That's a question I've been thinking about a lot. My memory of large lectures from the 70 and 80s were that they were aimed at Type 2 thinking, where each individual audits what is said and the interprets it for themselves; this is a literacy process. However, chemists understand that Type 1 experience is necessary and well and that's where class labs come in. I suspect that sorting technologies into Type 1 and Type 2 tools will take more experience than we have now.

>By the way, as smartphones became more common, students would often make a video of my demos so they would study what happened in slow motion later.

Cool; of course this raises the stakes in terms of safe demonstration practices, as any video could be globally available within minutes of a surprise event...

Bob Belford's picture

Hi All,

There is a bit of humor in this, but I am also very serious. Can analyzing Harry’s posts to this Newsletter over the past 31 years demonstrate Moore’s Law?

If one goes to the incomplete archives of this Newsletter, we find Harry providing book reviews in the oldest edition we can find (1984). (The CCCE Newsletter was a printed publication utilizing Gutenberg era technologies)

I started reading this in 1998 and remember for years reading your articles on the latest in internet search engines. I just did a “search” of “search” on the above site, and found 13 articles you contributed on the use of internet search engines dating 1999-2013, (actually the last two are on a second CCCE site, , which we still need to move to this site).

Then your contributions changes, and sort of moved beyond search engines.

But what I think is common to all of these, is that you were sharing with other chemist’s what was new, in the World of Computers in Chemical Education.

I really want to thank you for this, and I think an analysis or your 31 years of writings, from the early days of computers to the present, would be a most interesting undertaking. And this year’s contribution has me wondering if such an analysis will demonstrate Moore’s law.
I mean we have gone from book-reviews, to search engine reviews, to well, the Internet of Everything and more.

We really thank you.

Dear Bob,
Thank you for your kind words.

I remember when I first started in computing you could tell the real computer nerds because they had blisters on their fingers. In those days the pathfinders built their own hardware and when it didn't work they would feel the various components with their fingers. The hot one was overloading and needed to be replaced or rewired. The result was a lot of burned fingers.
I also remember some of my colleagues confidently predicting that no one could be successful in computing unless they could code in assembler language. (Did I just hear some young sprout in the audience say, "My Heavens! He's really old!)

I hope I will continue to be able to talk about what is new and interesting to chemists for a least a while longer.


P.S. I'll leave the job of analyzing my past contributions to someone else; I still want to keep looking ahead.

Emily Moore's picture

Hello Harry,

Thanks for the interesting and entertaining read.

Regarding the 3D printing technologies you have mentioned, there's a really wonderful community that has grown up around open-source designs for 3D printable prosthetic devices for children, called e-NABLE ( This community (and ones like it) could serve as a model for those interested in 3D printed chemical models (or perhaps there is already a strong community...). Regardless, it's a cool project to check out.

One question regarding your paper - do you think that students have a role in deciding on and bringing technology into chemical education? Do you think it's possible that instead of having to predetermine where technology is going and how to incorporate this into the classroom (where the instructor decides what technology is included/allowed and how to implement it within the curriculum) that perhaps students can contribute their ideas and resources into the process?

Thanks again,
~ Emily

I think you hit the nail on the head. I have found that when I come up with a new use of technology, I don't have to teach students how to do it; I just explain what I would like to happen. There is always a student who will say, "I can see how to do that!" I think the role of teachers is no longer to be the person who has all the answers, but to become the person who has the questions. It is the best way to prepare out students for the real world - - - and is also a lot more fun for the instructor.


P.S. And thank you for the information about 3D printing. If there isn't already a group like this in chemistry, there should be.

Layne Morsch's picture

I love the idea of having students as partners in deciding when and where to use different technologies. I also believe that we can be a catalyst for this type of thinking when we introduce specific technologies into our courses. For many of my students, my organic chemistry course is the first one that has forced/encouraged them to think about how mobile devices may be able to be used as a learning tool. Even though I am teaching them to use a few specific apps on an iPad, I am hoping that this will "open their eyes" to see how technology may impact on the rest of their learning.

We are digital emigrants trying to make our way through the world where some of our students are more comfortable than we are. If you are in a strange country and refuse so ask the natives for directions, you are being silly. On the other hand, it is up to you to decide where you want to go. I have been amazed over and over at the speed with which some students grasp what I am trying to do and then often find a better way to do it than I had in mind. Usually once one of them is on board he or she will bring the others up to speed. This is the kind of learning that prepares them for what they will encounter after they graduate.

Hi Harry,

Your paper is a good discussion of the technical challenges we face as faculty, students and citizens.

Multitasking it Is an interesting area for more research. I recently read a book that indicated Richard Feynman could keep a very accurate count in his head by hearing the numbers and he could read at the same time, but not have a conversation. A colleague could also keep count mentally but he saw the numbers and he could converse at the same time but he could not read at the same time. Intriguing. An additional problem is the way of checking many other things using smartphones, etc., while in lecture that have nothing to do with the subject at hand.
What new methods of using smart phones, etc., in lecture look most promising?

There is research out there that show that multitasking ability varies between people and between genders. (for example: I have not seen reports of how younger people like our students, who have perhaps learned better how to multitask based on their own experiences might be better at multitasking than we are.

I am not surprised. Using multiple tools is a skill like any other and so some people are innately better at it and some people have taught themselves to do it better.

Have you found any articles where the goal is to teach students how to multitask? Too often, multitasking turns into distraction or continuous partial attention. I have seen people who try to avoid the distraction, but thus far I have not found anyone who consciously tried to help students understand how to effectively use multiple tools simultaneously to solve a problem.

I am continually in awe of how the human mind works. Some time ago I gave a guest lecture in the class of one of my colleagues. When it was over he complimented me on how good the lecture was. I gently pointed out that it was almost the same lecture I had given to a different class of his just a few weeks prior to the current situation. He expressed surprise and pulled out his notes from the previous lecture. Now I was surprised, because his notes didn't correspond at all to what I had talked about. As I looked more closely, I realized that my comments had sent his mind racing in totally different directions than what I was actually saying. His notes described what thoughts I had inspired in his mind rather than what I actually said. Some would probably say that my lecture was a failure, since I did such a bad job of communicating with him. I felt that it was a great success because it had stimulated his mind.

I don't think that active learning is limited to what happens on a piece of paper, a computer screen, in even in a group discussion. True active learning occurs only in the human mind. This can be stimulated on paper, on a screen, in discussion, or even listening to a lecture. I think the problem with lecture is that too often it is just thought of as a way to communicate factual information. A really good lecture stimulates the little gray cells. It is much easier to spout facts, and so often lecture is reduced to that pedestrian task. The best lectures challenge and stimulate the listeners. There will always be a place for that kind of teaching, regardless of whatever new technologies we implement.

In the same way, I think there is a time and place for multitasking. Primitive humans managed to follow the trail of the beast that was going to be dinner while at the same time being aware of any threats from nearby carnivores who were also looking for their dinner. They could quickly switch back and forth between these two tasks as necessary. If they hadn't been able to do this, humans would never have flourished. The trick is to know when to shift attention and focus on a single job.

As far as smartphones are concerned, I think we are still at the stage where we have trouble deciding whether to focus on our dinner or the beast that wants to eat us. Too often students get locked into the wrong focus in class, and end up being eaten (at least figuratively). When we have all the factual information we can want at our fingertips on our phones, the nature of teaching has to change. It is no no longer our job to communicate facts; we should be trying to stimulate our students to new ideas that have not been spoon fed to them. Warning, this will be chaos!

When I first began to use cooperative learning in my classes, the hardest thing for me to live with was the fact that I stopped being the center of attention. I stopped being in command and became a coordinator, monitoring the progress, asking questions to get the groups to share their ideas, and holding them accountable for staying on task. It is more like being the ringmaster in a three ring circus than being the captain of the ship. But it was so much fun!


I'm not sure I'd consider hunting as multitasking and even if it is the possibility of being eaten tends to keep ones attention. The competition is a bit different between learning in a typical classroom and what is available online. How about group research projects with a presentation to the class where students can use any sources and tools as long as it is documented? This could give the students a chance to share technical knowledge and maybe teach us at the same time.

My "lectures" usually consisted of about 10-15 minutes of straight lecture, followed by a demonstration related to the topic, then a set of questions related to the demo and lecture which the students in small groups were asked to answer. Often the students would take videos of the demos to help them answer the questions, making the smartphone part of the learning process instead of a distraction. After time for them to discuss the questions, I would ask random students to answer the questions. I may not be as scary as a stalking tiger, but it did keep their attention. When a student gave a good answer, I would always turn to a student in a different part of the classroom (over 100 students) and ask him or her to repeat the answer in his or her own words. I'm sure that students texted in my class, but they quickly caught on that if they wanted to be called on to answer a question, all they had to do was become deeply involved with their phone.

I think it is futile to ask young people today to focus on lecture for more than about 15 minutes maximum. Constantly changing the type of activity keeps them awake and involved.


P.S. I'm not really sure that even most adults today can focus their complete attention for an hour lecture. I know I can't.

SDWoodgate's picture

Students have certainly played a critical role in guiding us in the directions that BestChoice has taken. Right from the beginning, users could enter comments on our activities, directly after finishing them. We have been amazed at the quality of the feedback and have discovered that some things that we thought were student-friendly indeed were not. Up until the advent of the web, we as teachers we mostly reliant on gut feelings and exam performance as to whether we were connecting with our customers. The use of database-backed web sites delivering applications which care about what the students think has changed all of that, and I cannot but help think that it is for the good of education. The philosophy is NOT dumbing content down but making it more accessible with lots of insights thrown in to make the knowledge transferrable.

Many years ago I heard an interview with a consultant who was paid big bucks to come into companies and solve problems. The interviewer asked him how he did it. The consultant answered that he first made sure he understood the problem, then went out into the plant and talked to the workers. He said that he always found that the workers dealing with the problem not only understood it better than the management but usually could suggest a way to solve the difficulty. The consultant would then write up a very elegant report, submit it to the management, and collect his whopping big fee. The interviewer was amazed that the consultant would give away his secret over the radio and suggested this surely was the end of the consultant's career. The consultant laughed and replied that he wasn't worried. Even if prospective clients were listening they would never be willing to listen to the workers. The consultant's job was safe.

I think there is a lesson her that we could all profit from.



First Hi to all. Second a warning, don't meet Bob Belford at a conference because he will talk you into joining confchem and rope you into presenting a paper (well at least he let me go last in this round).

Third, and to the point of this comment, neither computers nor people really multitask. There is considerable work to show that task switching is what we do, that is we do one thing, maybe with a flag set for interrupt conditions. So a student sitting in a lecture doing stuff on his or her phone, will task switch upon hearing the magic words "this will be on the test". What Harry describes as multi-tooling is really task switching between relevant tasks. What he is calling multitasking is task switching between irrelevant tasks.

The problem with human task switching is that there is considerable time overhead and loss of information

and, of course, much of the preliminary material has passed them by. Thus I am considerably less sanguine than Harry about how multi-tooling affects instruction. How, of course, to deal with this is an entirely other story.

To the extent that a flipped classroom works, it is, in my opinion, simply that by putting the lecture material on line where it can be paused, it allows time for multi-tooling without damaging switching overhead. In lecturing, we often do the same by pausing after a key point and asking for questions. Insertion of links into powerpoint slides used in the lecture can serve the same purpose if the slides are made available to the students.

Josh Halpern

Dear Josh,
When I took general chemistry many, many years ago, I had an instructor who taught us how to take notes. He would repeat every important sentence three times. His idea was that you listened to the sentence and copied as much of it into your notes as possible the first time. On the second pass, you were supposed to listen to the balance of the sentence and copy that into your notes. Hopefully, by the third repetition you had the whole sentence in your notes and could check what you had written. That meant that much of the time you were writing one thing while you listened to a slightly different thing and kept it in short term memory to feed into your writing. I think that corresponds pretty closely to your definition of what multitasking is all about. Once I learned to do it, it has stuck with me. The only problem is that there aren't very many lecturers who will oblige me by repeating everything three times (see below for probable explanation). The only addition I would make is that once you have been trained to work like this you can shift tasks very rapidly. I'm not sure I was really holding two slightly different thoughts in my mind at the same time, but it certainly felt like it.

I also think that your explanation of why the flipped classroom works sounds very logical.

Thank you for that clarification.


P.S. When I became a lecturer I tried to emulate my professor by repeating every sentence three times. I soon realized that I was slowly going out of my mind. Perhaps that explains a lot.

SDWoodgate's picture

I do not think that we should discount for one minute the potential to deliver activities that encourage analytical thinking on any of the devices that Harry has mentioned in his article. The classroom experience is of course VERY important, but unless there is a smaller student-teacher ratio than is common today, the opportunity for individual support in limited. Furthermore, as has been described before at length in papers in this conference, we all have problems with trying to get through the content. This means that the detailed experience of the educator is not necessarily made available in the classroom. None of this is bad because there is nothing wrong with a introductions to content using a broad brush approach, but the type of deep learning that fosters analytical skills only occurs when the student engages with the content, no longer listening or reading, but answering questions.

Well-constructed on-line activities which probe understanding can introduce students to strategies, can make them analyse the problem before solving it and can make sure that their prior knowledge is sufficient to attack the task at hand - all of the stuff that we do not have time to do as extensively as we would like in the classroom. The answer to a question (particularly where numerical problems are concerned) is sooooo much less important than the thinking that goes into getting the answer. AND the technology to support doing this has been available for years, easily doable on a smart phone. We are more limited by our imagination than we are by the devices that we have available.

I think someone should sell needlepoint pillows with the statement, "We are more limited by our imagination than we are by the devices that we have available." written on them. New devices require new approaches and new ways of thinking. The hardest thing to do is to discard what you know is true when the situation changes and the old truths fail. Our systems make it even harder by penalizing attempts that fail instead of learning from them.

I remember one of my students who had just graduated and was teaching high school. She came back to campus and told me that she was using cooperative learning in her class. The principal had given her a room as far away from everyone else as possible because her class was "too noisy." I encouraged her to continue despite the lack of support, but as I have grown older and, I hope, a little wiser, i wonder if i did her a disservice. My impression is that today the rewards are more likely to go to teachers who can program their charges to function well on multiple choice tests rather than those who attempt to instill deep thinking adn collaboration.

SDWoodgate's picture

That is the whole point. The web enables us to move beyond simply asking the question and expecting an answer, and we should take advantage of those capabilities instead of asking the questions in the same old way that can be found at the back of the chapter in myriad text books.

With regard to learning from attempts that fail, the web also makes that easier than ever because student responses can be collected automatically and mined for analysis automatically. In my experience, within a day of posting an activity, response data tells you if you have hit the mark. Is the development of content appropriate so that users complete the activity? Is non-completion due to a problem page that is too difficult? Which parts of that page are too difficult? What clues can be gained from the wrong answers entered? In my experience, collection and analysis of response data is like opening my eyes after years of working blind. What is at least as significant is that, in many cases, fixes can be applied immediately.

Furthermore the faculty around you may be skeptical and the powers that be may be skeptical, but, in my experience, hard evidence of student satisfaction (which again can be gained by data collection) brings the skeptics around.

I have enjoyed Harry Pence's paper and the discussions it has engendered.
I am entering my 37th year as a college chemistry faculty instructor. At the start of my career mastery of a chalkboard and projecting my voice without electronic amplification were the necessary skills to reach a class of 100-500 students.

As the years passed I have been blessed with advances in technology to aid my my school I was one of the first faculty to embrace web browsers, learn html code writing and create web tutorials, etc. I continue to embrace technology and am glad of the resources that are available. But more and more I notice that the amount of time required to develop new materials and incorporate new technologies has grown almost in parallel with Moore' s law, and perhaps more rapidly yet. Other demands on a faculty person' s time have not decreased.....rather they have grown.

At the same time, the range of new technologies has grown, and not all persist for long periods. Changing from one platform to another adds to time as formats become obsolete or paradigms shift. Thus, to a large extent the new technologies available to educators have also become disruptive simply because the ordering of a typical faculty person's duties has not changed; seldom do faculty receive credit in their workload for the time needed to incorporate new technology. Hence, our educational system itself is an obstacle at times to the advancement of re-creating education to a model that prepares students for the emerging future. As I mentor colleagues, it is often younger newer faculty who are more disrupted by demands to move from just lecturing. They are still judged by a tenure system that too often favors research paper production and discounts time spent on teaching innovation.

So as Pogo said, "we have met the enemy and they are us!" Revitalizing higher Ed to better prepare students by incorporating more technology is going to necessitate, IMHO, more systemic change in our educational system.

Nancy Levinger's picture

Thanks for the thought provoking piece!

As I read, I kept coming back to the observation that even though our current students are constantly connected through their electronic devices, they are woefully inept at actually using them for learning material comprising chemistry courses. I rarely if ever have a student tell me about a cool new chemistry/science app but instead tolerate their complaints posted on a bevy of social media sites. I wonder what effective ways exist to get the students interested, excited in chemistry through their devices, using them for purposes other than entertainment?

A second observation regards some younger faculty who - because they were taught by sage-on-the-stage professors lecturing to them - avoid using wonderful technological tools that enhance learning. I do not expect colleagues who are close to retirement to change much about the tools they use in their teaching. However, I do expect my junior colleagues to try new things in teaching, including technology. How do we break down the barrier to technology avoidance? For a receptive colleague, it is simply a matter of showing them how to use the technology, but if colleagues are not receptive, I don't known how to get them to try something new.

Any ideas?

Dear Nancy,
In response to your first comment, I would totally agree that students don't see their technocandy as relating to academic studies. During your lectures do you use apps to demonstrate what you are talking about, or, even more useful, do you ask the students to answer questions that require them to use their apps? I suspect that the more we model the behavior we want the more likely students are to copy it. My guess is that most students see their technology as being completely different from their academics. We have to break down that wall, which is not easy.

I share you concern about young faculty. I learned long ago that the way we teach is largely determined by either what was done to us as students that we liked or by what was done to us that we didn't like. It is very difficult to break that pattern. I think that the more we talk about how we are using technology and encourage young faculty to listen, the more likely they are to give new things a try. In the long run, I think the students are our best ally. They are already beginning to look upon faculty who don't use new technology as fossils. That attitude will only become stronger in the future.

I know this isn't the end of the time when my paper is open for comments, but i wanted to be sure to thank all of you who have participated for making this a delightful discussion. When I wrote this piece, I hoped for something like this, but you have exceeded my greatest expectations.

Working on the idea of leaving no virtue unpunished, let me ask you to think about two topics I carefully avoided in this paper. As I said, I only make predictions when I can see they are already coming true. In this case, the topics are still new enough that I can't get a read on them. Thus, i dump the hot potato into your laps.

First, what impact will the Internet of Things have on teaching and higher education? If you lump wearable computing in this category, I can see a large effect, but otherwise i am coming up empty. Any suggestions.

I think the second topic is likely to have a greater impact but also to be more contentious, learning analytics. By learning analytics I mean the collection of aggregate data about student performance then using it to predict how likely a given student is to succeed in a given course or major. I think it is inescapable because some very large corporations are going to collect data from our students then sell it back to us and make a lot of money. As I'm sure you realize, money drives education more than teaching or learning. If you disagree, ask your local football coach. Used correctly, I think that learning analytics can help our students to perform better in college and also to plan better for their future lives. I seriously doubt that this will be the main outcome. Used badly it can block students from taking challenging courses and penalize teachers because their students aren't doing well. These kind of metrics are already being used in K-12, and what is happening there gives me little room for optimism. I think human motivation is one of the most complicated forces at work in higher education, and it often is more important than academic ability. I don't believe we have a good measure of motivation, and until we do, I think learning analytics will be flawed. What do you think?


1)use of technology portion can be more chemistry oriented.
2)use of smartphones in chemistry education missing
3)how can virtual space be used to improve chemical education.
4)how can we prepare the future generation for jobs and education related to science and chemistry.

Waree Belford is subscribed to this paper and ConfChem is commenting. It is Sunday morning, Dec. 6

OK, The trigger worked this morning when my wife was subscribed, I am now trying it with a list. YOu do not need to reply to this, as I should get the email if you do.,
Hopefully, you get this email.

OK, is subscribed to the CCCE list, and so the site should be able to post to this list like it does to the ConfChem. If this works, we are in business.
You do not need to reply, just realize I need a real list to test why the ConfChem list has stopped working with the ConfChem site.

Hi CCCE members, and Tom,

I think you are the only people subscribed to this paper, and I am testing things again. But the Newsletter discussions are dead in the water. UALR thinks it is our problem, and maybe the tackled it, that is why I am using the CCCE list. If this goes out (and I will get the email), I will then test the ConfChem list, and be sure to remember to include the do-not-reply to tests.


Tom, You, me and the CCCE list are the only people subscribed to this page. Both the CCCE list and the account I used are google accounts.

Please forward this to me if you get it.
There is a mega issue here.

Hi All,

May have the problem sort of fixed. Can explain later.

We are still having problems.

Please do not reply


Bob Belford's picture

Hi CCCE committee members,

It now appears the list has sent all the backed up letters. I need to figure if this was done automagically, or manually (our IT people new I was coming back to town today).


Bob Belford's picture

CCCE members,

Please realize I am using this list to trouble shoot things, and there is no need to reply, unless I request a reply.
[read this is another test]

Hi All,

FYI, someone at UALR labeled as SPAM, and we can't figure who (they did not unsubscribe). I went and changed the name of the site, and am using this list to see if UALR will not block it. But we have been down for almost 2 weeks. If this gets sent quickly, we are good to go, but if it is delayed and is manually sent (by UALR IT staff), we have a problem.

You should not need to reply, as I should get an email. But I need to test this on a list.


Bob Belford's picture

Hi All,

I am using the CCCE list to see if the list is now accepting emails from confchem, or not. I will be in touch soon, as I think we should have an online committee meeting in February,


Hi CCCE members,
I still have not figured out if these are bypassing SPAM and manually being released. So I am going to send two emails around 10 minutes apart, and see if they return lumped, or together, as I assume if they are manually being released, they would return at the same time.

It is 2:07 CDT

OK, that was fast! Maybe things are working.