Digital Chem Returns to UC Berkeley





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It's the night before a midterm exam and a young chemistry student discusses atomic structure with her Graduate Student Instructor, 30 other students in her class and her professor. Then the student shuts off her computer and goes to bed.

Digital Chem 1A, used in years past, will make this scenario possible once more in spring 2003, when it is reinstated from a one semester hiatus. The program will return with a variety of new features.

Digital Chem 1A is a course that "aims to be the most high tech method of teaching nationwide," said UC Berkeley chemistry lecturer Mark Kubinec, who will teach the course in spring 2003.

Technology will be present in every aspect of this class, from lectures to office hours and homework.

One new feature making its debut next semester will be the real time broadcasting of lectures. These streaming videos may be viewed alongside the animated PowerPoint lecture slides presented in class, Kubinec said.

After a lecture has concluded, the audio version and the text of the slides will be converted into a format searchable by internet users. The videos will be archived online, accessible to anyone at any time.

Another addition to Digital Chem 1A will be electronic voting on Chem Quizzes, lecture questions students are allowed to discuss with one another. Home viewers will be able to chat with each other online before submitting their vote, and those in the lecture hall will vote using infrared remotes.

The internet will also be used to provide online prelab work and quizzes.

Prelabs, short assignments that provide background information prior to an experiment, will become animated and interactive-allowing students to practice techniques in the virtual world before entering a laboratory setting, Kubinec said.

The course Web site will also be able to randomly generate up to three homework-based quizzes within a given time limit.

Quizzes taken at home have been known to cause discussions of chemistry among those living in residence halls, Kubinec said.

A student's highest quiz grade will be automatically entered into an online grade book, saving Graduate Student Instructors the time spent grading quizzes and entering scores manually.

A Chemistry 1A chat room will also facilitate scientific interaction among students. When used provisionally in past semesters, a large number of students interacted with intructors in this virtual setting.

Online office hours have also been popular and will be used again in spring 2003. These are scheduled at times when students would be likely to have questions, primarily evenings before lab reports are due, and were found to be efficient and convenient, Kubinec said.

"I had 30 students in one room and addressed all their questions, even with typing, in an hour. This wouldn't be possible in person," he said.

Students taking Digital Chem 1A have been appreciative of the use of technology as a teaching and learning tool.

Online quizzes were a component of an earlier version of the class that was offered during fall 2001.

"It enabled us to know our grade, improve our quiz scores, and not have to worry about taking up lab or discussion time for quizzes," said molecular and cell biology sophomore Megan Cavalier. "In addition, it forced us to read the lab and take the quiz before we got to class instead of in the five minutes before lab."

Experience using technology tools will benefit students as they enter the professional world, said University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill education professor James Morrison, who also edits The Technology Source magazine.

"Ninety-five percent of all workers use some type of information technology in their jobs," Morrison said. "By 2003, corporations will conduct 96 percent of training online."

While technology can be a useful tool, teaching methods must be modified somewhat for it to be used effectively.

"PowerPoint slides are easier to read and easier to present to students, (but) they let you present more material than if you were slowed down by having to write," Kubinec said.

Kubinec changed his lecture style to avoid proceeding through too quickly. A recent survey revelaed that 70 percent of his former students wanted him to continue using PowerPoint.

Limited funding has also hindered Digital Chem 1A and is the reason for this program's absence this semester.

While the technology used to run the system is relatively inexpensive, the salary of the full-time webmaster needed to maintain it proved costly.

Without a trained professional, the presentation would be of such marginalized quality that students would complain about it, Kubinec said.

When reinstated next semester, Digital Chem 1A may change the way class time is structured. Students can study course material online before lecture and use class time for more chem quizzes and demonstrations, Kubinec said.

Kubinec did not expect class attendance to drop significantly because of lecture broadcasting.

"Teaching may change how we use classroom time, but I don't think classroom time will go away," he added.

Experts in the field agree that classrooms will be altered significantly by the integration of technology with curriculum.

"In the next 50 years, schools and universities will change more and more drastically than they have since they assumed their present form more than 300 years ago when they organized themselves around the printed book," said Peter Drucker of the Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.

Other universities also incorporate technology into their classes. The OpenCourseWare initiative at MIT places course materials, such as syllabi and lecture notes, online, said Eric Klopfer, Director of MIT's Teacher Education Program and OCW faculty advisor.

Some students use the online lecture notes to pick future courses or to learn about subjects that do not fit their schedule, he added.

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