Development and Student Use of Web-Based Prelabs
Brian M. Tissue
Department of Chemistry
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0212
This document is an annotated summary of a talk presented by Brian Tissue at the 54th Northwest Regional ACS Meeting, Portland, OR, June 20-23, 1999. It provides an update on the Web-based prelabs used in a senior-level Instrumental Analysis course. Annotations are in green.
This talk reports on four years of student use of Web-based prelabs in senior-level Instrumental Analysis. I developed and implemented the prelabs to replace time-inefficient prelab lectures and to encourage greater student independence. Students completed the on-line prelabs before the beginning of their lab period. The prelabs consisted of text and graphical tutorials, interactive instrument tours, and multiple-choice questions. Student and instructor perceptions indicate that the prelab assignments helped prepare students for their lab work.
The overall effectiveness of the prelabs depends on students taking primary responsibility for their preparation and outcomes in lab. Incorporating these prelabs into the course has made evident the need for a curriculum that prepares students for such independence. The on-line prelabs have also highlighted the challenge of teaching students to choose and use effectively an appropriate learning tool. A large variety of learning tools; lectures, textbook, lab work, multimedia, and library resources; can create a fragmented learning environment.
The last part of this presentation discusses some of the costs of using information technology (IT) in education, focusing on the decisions educators must make to provide an effective learning environment.
- Educational uses of computer and network technologies.
- Reasons to use information technology in education.
- Interactive programming methods.
- Examples from senior-level instrumental analysis.
- Student use and perception of on-line prelabs.
Costs of developing and using IT
- Cash or credit.
- Space and time.
Educational Uses of Computer and Network Technologies
- e-mail or list-serv announcements
- electronic bulletin board - web posting of announcements, assignments, grades, etc.
- delivery of printable handouts or electronic files (spreadsheets, etc.)
Electronic communication is fast but not necessarily effective. E-mail messages take more time to compose than verbal announcements and I many users do not know how to use e-mail well. My second response to a question on an abstract topic is to come see me.
- asynchronous: e-mail, list-serv, newsgroup, or web forum discussion
- synchronous: Internet-relay chat (IRC) discussion
The effectiveness of using these tools depends on the nature and size of a class.
- virtual library - I find on-line databases such as the NIST Webbook especially useful.
- web search engines - Google and Northern Light appear to be more research oriented than others.
- latest research results - on-line access to research journals - I love it!
Quality control can be lacking, which highlights the need for educators to help students develop critical analysis skills to be able to evaluate resources they find.
Computer-assisted or on-line tutorials, tracking, and testing
- remedial and enrichment material
- practice exercises
- prelab exercises
- on-line homework, quizzes, and exams
The rapid development of on-line courses raises the question of the purpose of a bachelor's degree. Is it a certification process or an experience?
|magic lantern|| ||video cassette|
|movie projector|| ||videodisc|
|broadcast television|| ||desktop computer|
|slide projector|| ||DVD-ROM|
|overhead projector|| ||Internet|
Various technologies have been touted as being able to revolutionize education. How many broadcast television shows would you consider educational experiences? I have seen the overhead projector (developed in bowling alleys years before they were common in classrooms) used brilliantly to enhance both learning and hypnotic trances. I do think that the Internet is different from many of the other technologies listed here, which are primarily presentation tools. The Internet provides a new communication tool and a huge "virtual library," although currently a library with little quality control and rudimentary search tools.
I agree with Laurillard
that dialog between an expert and a novice learner are critical for effective learning. Technology might facilitate (or obscure) dialog, but it currently cannot replace it.
Reasons to Use Information Technology in Education
- Graduates need information technology skills to be competitive in their careers.
- Improved learning effectiveness, e. g., different approaches are available for different learning styles.
- Sharing of resources and courseware.
- Greater access to information (and distractions).
- More convenient communication.
- Increased productivity, e. g., more efficient clerical support, administration, computer grading of homework.
- Distance learning increases access to higher education and professional training.
- Can better serve non-traditional students. (open new markets, consolidate educational institutions?)
- External forces: competition for students; pressure from parents, students, and public. (implicit assumption that technology improves education)
- Funding available for technology and IT development.
- Can refresh faculty teaching style and course syllabi.
I think the first item on this list is probably the most compelling reason to use information technology in education. Graduates probably need computing skills more than any other technical skill - yes, even more than being able to record an NMR spectrum! Improved learning effectiveness is tough to measure but it can be done - requires looking at sub-groups in a class.
The last comment was made to me in jest about a course syllabus that hadn't changed in 30 years. A side benefit of widespread use of IT in education is that educators are taking a critical look at what we do to help students become independent learners. One, hopefully short-term, problem is fragmentation of the learning environment as more resources are added to a course or curriculum.
Interactive Programming Methods
- Client-side image maps.
- Java applets.
- Visualization, e.g., CHIME.
- Server-side image maps.
- Server-side scripting.
- Common-Gateway Interface (CGI).
Client-side methods are good for developing practice exercises or adding interactivity to individual web pages. Java can produce sophisticated presentations or simulations but requires some proficiency at programming. Server-side methods are needed to access a database or log student usage or answers. Commercial packages, such as Blackboard-CourseInfo or WebCT, are now developed sufficiently for the most common teaching tasks, i.e., delivering information, on-line testing, grade administration, and communication.
Senior-Level Instrumental Analysis Lab
- A four-credit course with three hours of lecture and a three-hour lab.
- Lecture and lab are integrated closely.
- Students work in lab groups of 2 or 3.
- Students take turns being the group leader. The group leader develops a detailed work plan before lab and writes an experimental summary before the group leaves lab.
The lab stresses hands-on experience with a wide variety of modern analytical methods (approx. 12 instruments
) and tries to meet the needs of students who will go on to professional school or into the chemical industry as B.S. chemists. Higher-level skills are stressed in a capstone team project that replaces the final exam in the lecture part of the course. Most final projects have been a proposal to sample and characterize a Superfund site in eastern Virginia. The final grade was based typically on 50% lab (mostly notebook), 30% exams, and 20% final project.
||Excel spreadsheet excercises
solid-phase extraction and HPLC
polarography (recently replaced with anodic stripping)
The first lab is a statistics lab to get everyone up to speed with Excel. The student groups then cycle through a set of three or four experiments in a four week sequence.
- 2/3 were done from home.
- 1/3 were done from computers in chemistry department.
- On-time completion: 80-90%.
- 1997 - half credit for late prelabs, full credit for completion.
- 1998 and 1999 - zero credit for late prelabs, half credit for wrong answers, full credit for correct answers.
Prelab Example: Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy
(from the Winter 1999 CONFCHEM paper, opens in a new window).
Student Use and Perception
Student perception of the prelabs during 1997 and 1998. - The responses suggest that the prelab exercises helped the students to understand the underlying concepts and to prepare for the laboratory experiments.
Desire for more prelabs. - The students are neutral to having more prelabs to prepare for lab. They are positive about having computer-based material to help learn the lecture material. On the surface, this response would indicate that the students value the on-line material. Unfortunately, it also highlights that the students might not be recognizing that the prelabs cover the same material as in the course lectures.
Student-reported time-on-task to do the prelabs. - The difference between 1997 and 1998 highlights the change in grading. During 1997 full credit was given for the on-time prelabs regardless of the student's answer. Approximately half of the class clicked through the prelab questions too quickly to obtain any benefit. In response to student feedback, the script was changed to give full credit for correct answers, half credit for wrong answers, and zero credit for late prelabs. During 1998 the students took the prelabs more seriously and spent more time reading and answering the questions.
Comments on the survey forms indicate that students consider the instrument tours useful. In the current implementation of the tours, there is no logging of completion to know if everyone looks at them. The students are very positive about having the flexibility to do the prelabs at their convenience (often late at night).
Costs of Developing and Using IT
- Capital cost of computers, software, network hardware, and Internet service.
- Installation cost, including classroom and laboratory renovation.
- Hardware and software upgrades.
- Support personnel for hardware and software installation, repair, and maintenance.
- Support personnel and facilities for training and support of users (instructors and students).
Installation and maintenance costs are sometimes hidden because faculty or students are doing these tasks.
- Instrumentation (including information infrastructure) takes specialized and expensive space.
- Space converted to computer labs takes the place of classroom or laboratory space.
- Classrooms or laboratories that add computers or space for computers can accommodate fewer students.
- Increased instructor time to remain knowledgeable of advances in information technology.
- Increased instructor time to provide high-tech communication or resources that are redundant with existing low-tech activities.
- Teaching technology replaces teaching science (classroom or laboratory time).
- Learning technology replaces learning science (student study time).
Development tools are getting better, but standards and file formats are continually changing.
I present these costs because many of them are not obvious and can creep into an educators to-do list. However, they are changing the teaching and learning environment rather dramatically. As educators I think that we must teach students to use the modern tools of the profession. The question is how do we do so effectively and efficiently?
- Graduates must have computer and information technology skills.
- Incorporating IT increases cost.
- Using educational technology must fit into an overall educational structure, i.e., to help students become independent learners.
- Effectiveness can be difficult to measure because students are often being asked to do something new. (There is not always a control group.)
A short-term problem is fragmentation of the learning environment by adding more resources. A side benefit of introducing IT in a curriculum is that educators are taking a critical look at what we do to help students become independent learners.
- Prof. Mark Anderson (Va Tech)
- Ching-Wan Yip (former Va Tech grad student)
- Ron Earp (former Va Tech grad student)
- Gwen Sibert (Roanoke Valley Governor's School)
- National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
- National Science Foundation Career Award (CHE-9502460)
- Research Corporation Cottrell Scholar Award
For more detailed presentations see:
Copyright © 2000 by Brian M. Tissue, all rights reserved.
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