East Carolina University Chemistry Laboratory Preparation

The creation of an online Chemistry laboratory preparation Web site at East Carolina University was a collaborative project between faculty members in the Chemistry Department, the Harriot College of Arts and Sciences’ Instructional Technology Consultant, Director and staff of the University Multimedia Center, and the Coordinator of the Center for Faculty Development.

East Carolina University is one of 16 constituent campuses of The University of North Carolina. In 2003-2004 it enrolled 21,756 students and employed 1,463 faculty members. ECU offers baccalaureate, masters, specialist, and doctoral degrees in the liberal arts, sciences, and professional fields, including medicine.

The Chemistry Department offers B.A., B.S., and M.S. degrees and has 22 faculty members, seven tenured, eight tenure-track, and seven fixed term. Recently the department moved into ECU’s new Science and Technology building with innovative technology-enhanced classrooms and laboratory facilities. Goals articulated in the department’s mission statement include:

  • development of innovative instructional techniques, and
  • use of modern educational technology.
Issue Description

Enrollment in two foundation courses, General Chemistry I and II, totals around 1,000 students annually. For many years the department had used a 330-page printed manual that students studied prior to each weekly laboratory session. Its only visual elements were drawings of equipment, charts and graphs. Although a committee determined content of the laboratory experiments, multiple instructors conducted the pre-lab orientation sessions. Faculty members had several concerns with this system and expressed interest in a web-based approach to laboratory preparation. An important priority for the department was to create consistent, high-quality instruction for all students. Another goal was to free up more laboratory time for students to experience "scientific discovery" and higher-level learning.

Faculty interest in the project was broad based, including senior tenured faculty members and fixed-term instructors. They wanted to go beyond a literal translation of the printed manual to create a more effective online learning experience that incorporated multimedia and interactive components. Together with the ITC and Multimedia Center staff, they explored best practices and guidelines for creating such materials.

What We Did

Each project participant contributed his/her expertise and provided a backup check for other parts of the project.

(1) Members of the Chemistry faculty were responsible for the substantive content of the Web site, one person taking responsibility for each experiment. They developed storyboards and performed experiments for the multimedia team to film for visual reference. They viewed animations as they were being developed for clarity in presentation and instructional accuracy. They gave feedback on layout, presentation, and usability of online components, and proofed all final materials. They tested the Web site in their courses and received suggestions for improvement from students.

(2) The university Multimedia Center staff and students from the Communication Arts program in ECU’s School of Art designed the layout, created multimedia segments, and prepared text materials (a complex matter in Chemistry).

(3) The Instructional Technology Consultant served as liaison between the department and the UMC, assisted with design and preparation of materials, evaluated animations and online components, served as cheerleader, watched over the project timeline, and proofed all materials.

(4) The Coordinator of the Center for Faculty Development helped arrange the collaboration between the Chemistry Department and other team members, advised on formats and methods for transforming materials to a digital environment, provided support and encouragement throughout the process, and also proofed all materials.

Online Multimedia Lab Preparation for Chemistry 1151 and 1161

The online multimedia lab preparation Web site prepares students to perform experiments; it d'es not replace the lab experience. It combines textual information from the former printed manual with interactive animations, still photographs, or drawings illustrating equipment, procedures, and techniques for each experiment. Students complete the section for each experiment prior to attending lab.

The homepage has links to general information that applies to the entire course: Polices and Regulations, Safety, Fundamental Procedures, Equipment, Experiments, and Charts and Tables. The Experiments page has links for 21 experiments (10 for Chemistry 1151, 11 for Chemistry 1161). Navigation in the experiment pages is consistent, allowing students to locate information quickly.

Step one is Safety, followed by Objectives, Observations, Equipment, Techniques, Waste Disposal, Calculations, Grading Scale, and Pre- and Post-lab Questions. The Procedures page is a textual explanation of the steps required to complete the experiment. The Techniques page contains multimedia or visual resources that illustrate procedures for the experiment. The format used presents information most effectively. Interactive animations occur only where they are appropriate.

The earliest experiments require minimal interaction from students, who click a button to move on or to repeat the step. The level of interaction increases as the semester progresses. Students may be prompted to click and drag a piece of equipment or select an object to advance. In later experiments students must enter data or answer questions to move forward.

Conclusion

This project’s success is due to several factors:

  • Students find visual materials easier to comprehend.
  • Students experience active learning,
  • There is consistent demonstration of procedures and techniques across sections.
  • Information is accessible 24/7 and may be viewed multiple times.
  • Site design is user friendly.
  • There is more time for discovery.
  • Students are enthusiastic users.

Completion of this fruitful collaborative effort has encouraged Chemistry faculty members to undertake additional new projects using multimedia to enhance the teaching of chemistry.

Learn more about the Chemistry Online Laboratory Preparation, at the Syllabus 2004 Conference in San Francisco, California. The conference presentation will describe the project, detail important decisions and choices made during the design process, describe difficulties encountered and overcome, and demonstrate the resulting online lab preparation site.

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