UniServe Science News Volume 12 March 1999


WWW-based resources for first year chemistry students who do not like chemistry

Deidre Tronson
Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury

At the University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury (UWSH), I co-ordinate first year subjects covering general, organic and biochemistry ("Introductory Chemistry" and "Biological Chemistry"). These courses are taken by non-chemistry majors: students from biology, food technology, horticulture, environmental health, environmental management and agriculture. These subjects are also offered in "external" mode supported by extensive printed material, audiotapes and a 3-day residential workshop each semester.

I am developing WWW resources in order to cater for the wide range of learning styles and previous experiences of the students. Over the last two years, I have obtained funding competitively within UWSH in the form of Academic Development Funds, which have enabled me to employ assistants to help set up the WWW site. As a part-time academic who is doing some research, I have great trouble doing the development work on my own.

In parallel to this project, a consortium within UWSH is developing a "WebShell" (now called HawkesburyWise) infrastructure system using WebCT. I have chosen to collaborate with this consortium, which will be able to support me with technical help and pedagogical advice.

At the start of the first semester in 1999, my students (both internal and external) will find:

  • background material and summaries of topics of the first few weeks' lecture content (initially developed in 1998);
  • on-line self-assessment questions and feedback (extended from that available in 1998);
  • simple animations and other imaginative devices we feel may be useful;
  • links to a limited number of sites that will provide either more detailed chemical information, some general background or practical applications of the topics being studied;
  • access to discussion groups (which will be monitored weekly);
  • access to a bulletin board (where, among other things, students will be encouraged to list sites they would recommend and sites they would drop);
  • email links to the lecturer and/or tutor; and
  • evaluation forms for feedback to us.
  • As the semester progresses, we will extend the range and variety of material available. Before the mid-semester test, practice examinations will be available - "practice" for the students as well as for me. I want to get experience in manipulating the statistics and feedback on the types of questions the students find difficult.

    My aim is to provide a "tailor made" and easily navigated site. Many of the chemistry sites available are simply too detailed for these "special" students. They need to be encouraged to (a) explore some of the basic chemical concepts and (b) see the usefulness of chemistry to their chosen profession. For some, chemistry is their least favourite subject; they do not need to be "put off" any further by being confronted with a seemingly complex set of things to learn. I do not ask my students to simply read chapters A to X of any textbook; I do not intend to use the available WWW-resources this way either.

    We are exploring ways in which the WWW is most useful - we do not want to reproduce a large amount of text or a set of lecture notes. I will encourage the students to use the site in the ways that best suit their own learning needs: revision; a more detailed explanation of chemical theory; an overview of the usefulness of chemistry; and/or communication with other chemistry students and staff through the discussion group, etc. I hope that the students will give me oodles of feedback about their experiences so that I can keep designing more effective resources for them.

    Recently, UWS has been successful in gaining a large grant from the DETYA Capital Development Pool in order to develop a Greater Western Sydney Learning Network. This will be a high reliability communications network linking the seven UWS campuses with more than 100 TAFE colleges and secondary schools in the area. I am confident that my WWW site will be one of the first available through this Network. My material is suitable for Bridging Courses and HSC revision tutorials as well as "introductory" or "taster" chemistry courses at tertiary level. I am hopeful that through collaborative initiatives such as this, we will be able to muster sufficient resources for continual development and maintenance of our sites.

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    UniServe Science News Volume 12 March 1999

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