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1996 Summer ChemConf: On-Line Chemistry Education Conference

06/03/96 to 07/19/96

Sponsored by the Division of Chemical Education of the American Chemical Society. Organized by Donald Rosenthal, Department of Chemistry , Clarkson University, and by Tom O'Haver, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Maryland at College Park. Technical support from the Computer Science Center, University of Maryland at College Park, Jennifer Fajman, Acting Director.

Conference Articles

Abstracts of Papers:

Jerry A. Bell
Andrew Ahlgren
Education and Human Resources Directorate and Project 2061
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington DC 20005


Over twenty years of research on what students and adults know about chemistry shows a lack of understanding and retention that demands a critical examination of the way we use our teaching resources. When new ideas (e.g., everything is made of invisibly tiny and restless pieces) are not consistent with what students already believe about the world or demand a sophistication they have not yet attained (e.g., proportional thinking), much more time is required for students to wrestle with those ideas than has been acknowledged in traditional curricula. If we really want graduates to understand some important ideas in chemistry, we are going to have to cut down on the bulk of ideas that we try to teach, so that students have time to learn important ideas meaningfully -- and retainably. This less-is-more proposition does not require merely selection of "topics." It requires reflection on just what it is about any selected topic that is important to know. "Photosynthesis," for example, is an inadequate topic specification if what we are after is the stoichiometric idea that most of earth's dry biomass is derived from a single atmospheric greenhouse gas. Such highly-focused goals are necessary to shape instruction and to prevent every conceivable idea related to light and dark reactions or balancing redox equations from being stuffed in under the justification of "photosynthesis" or "stoichiometry." The implications of the less-is-more principle for collegiate level instruction are the focus of this discussion.

George M. Bodner
Daniel S. Domin
Department of Chemistry, Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907


For ten years, we have been studying the differences between successful and unsuccessful problem solvers. It doesn't seem to matter whether the study examines students' ability to solve multiple-choice stoichiometry questions during a general chemistry course, students' ability to solve complex synthesis questions in an advanced-level course on organic synthesis, or any course between these extremes. In each case, students who use symbolic representations are more likely to be successful than those who don't, and students who construct more than one representation during their search for the solution to the problem are more likely to be successful than those who don't.

Loretta L. Jones
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Northern Colorado
Greeley, CO 80639


Do introductory chemistry students believe in atoms and molecules or are they just humoring us? The three dimensional structure and dynamic interactions of molecules are difficult for many students to understand. Hand-held models help, but do not allow students to explore electronic structures or molecular energetics or to compare molecular skeletons with other representations. Can introductory chemistry students learn to use sophisticated molecular modeling tools? What guidance and training would be required? Can we develop a computer-supported learning environment for introductory chemistry students using molecular visualization software? Will students accept a technology- supported curriculum centered on molecular structure?

This paper will present preliminary findings of an exploration of the feasibility of using molecular modeling software in general chemistry and discuss the implications of an emphasis on molecular visualization for the general chemistry curriculum.

Brian M. Tissue
Department of Chemistry, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0212


This paper describes the design and use of World-Wide-Web-based educational hypermedia in a senior-level Instrumental Analysis course during Fall 1995 ( On-time completion of hypermedia prelab assignments was 75%; but use of other on-line resources, such as a question-and-answer page, was minimal. The prelab assignments contained text and graphics tutorials and multiple-choice questions to familiarize the students with the experiments and instrumentation before their laboratory sessions. Student responses to an in-class survey indicated that the multiple-choice questions were better at increasing conceptual understanding, rather than preparing the students for the actual lab work. Based on this assessment, the prelab assignments for the final set of experiments contained clickable-map graphics to better convey the experiential aspects of lab work. The disadvantage of using graphics-intensive material is the slow internet file-transfer times for users without ethernet connections. These pilot-project results provide direction for developing chemical-education hypermedia for both university and distant-learning settings.

Henry S. Rzepa*
Omer Casher
Christopher Leach
Department of Chemistry, Imperial College, London, SW7 2AY

Peter Murray-Rust
Virtual School of Molecular Sciences


We describe our model of a virtual chemistry information environment of inter-linked techniques, experimental and instrumental data, and information sources held at Imperial College and elsewhere. We have made use of a number of recent World-Wide Web technologies for incorporating active chemical information into documents, including chemical MIME standards, chemical structure markup language (CSML), Virtual Reality Modelling language (VRML), Java applets and Chemical Markup Language (CML).

The overall objective is that the user will be able to follow a chemical "thread" to acquire an integrated portfolio of "hyperactive" molecular information, replacing the more traditional outcome of handwritten notes and photocopies of primary information found in more traditional libraries.

Stanley Smith
Iris Stovall
Department of Chemistry
University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801


Computer software is used to replace some traditional laboratory experiments, collect and analyze on-line experimental data, enhance lectures and discussion sections with multimedia presentations, administer on-line quizzes, function as a prelab for beginning non-major organic lab, provide electronic homework for organic chemistry students, and give graduate students access to real NMR data for analysis. We have integrated computers into all components of chemistry courses. The software which performs these tasks has been developed by various individuals and organizations. Integration of a diverse collection of software into major components of courses is one of the most important aspects of using computers to teach chemistry. Integration is possible because of a computer network which makes all the software available to everyone taking chemistry, and because of management software which allows instructors to easily assign lessons by clicking on a lessons title presented as a list of lessons. This helps students and instructors view computers as a natural part of the course. A networked system with software management allows computers to be used for the things they do well, such as tracking homework completion and grading quizzes and allows instructors more time to interact with students.



Beginning in the Fall semester 1994, a series of chemical information courses was taught at Indiana University via the Internet. The initial attempt utilized LISTSERV as the delivery mechanism, followed by gopher in the Spring 1995 semester, and the Web in the Fall of 1995. Experiences with each of the Internet tools are presented in this paper, and an assessment of the success of the endeavor is made. The advantages of such an approach are summarized, and the rich sources available on the Internet for teaching chemical information are surveyed.