AN INTERNET SITE FOR FRESHMAN CHEMISTRY
. By Chung Chieh (e-mail), Department of Chemistry, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L3G1
1999 CONFCHEM

7. Constructing the Internet CACT Site

Technology is constantly changing. A computer becomes obsolete in less than five years, and new versions of software appear almost annually. Within twenty years, the disk operating system (DOS) has given way to the Windows operating systems. Students, who have grown up with the Windows operating system, do not know what DOS stands for and the DOS CACT has become outdated.

With no resources to hire programmers to write a CACT Management system for the Windows platform, I tried to learn Visual Basic (VB) hoping to use it to write a system. Before such a system took shape, my attention shifted to Java because many reports suggested it would be the language of the Internet.

At the same time, the functionality of Internet browsers has matured, and they are widely available because they are distributed free of charge. The Internet culture has taken root in the general public, and in particular among students.

7.1 The Internet Culture

The attainments and activities of any special period, place, or group of people can be called a culture. Today, the Internet is so popular that it has changed the way we learn, teach, and live. The Internet has penetrated political, language, and religion barriers, and it plays a major part in our lives. Willingly or not, our lives are influenced by the Internet culture. Future generations may call this period an Internet age, instead of Internet culture, just as we have called past periods bronze age, nuclear age, information age, etc.

In 1969, the Internet started as a project by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to connect four major computers at universities in the south western US. Within months, many universities and government agencies have become connected to it. Soon, computer experts, scientists, and engineers used the Internet to communicate with each other. The expansion of Internet was rapid, though not to the extent of undergraduate students and the general public until the 1990s.

Popularities of personal computers, browsers, and Internet servers have brought the Internet culture to the public in the 1990s, compelling us to follow a trend of building cyber-space offices for students. Like radio, television, fax, and telephone, the Internet has shrunk distances, making the world a truly global village. The constant availability of information from anywhere at any time on the Internet has made it unique, however.

Today, students know how to access information on the Internet, and making the CACT system available on the Internet is a sensible thing to do. The CACT strategy and functionality seem to have worked well over the years, so these ideas are retained in the INTERNET SITE FOR FRESHMAN CHEMISTRY, or Internet CACT.

7.2 Web Construction

The World Wide Web (known as "WWW', "Web" or "W3") is the universe of network-accessible information, the embodiment of human knowledge. Internet sites are often called web sites. The word web is short and attractive, because it reflects the resemblance in structure between the Internet and a web. Thus, making an Internet site is a web construction.

Having spent more than 20 years using computers for crystallographic computations, I am familiar with the computer technology. However, web construction is still a new venture. In order to convert the DOS CACT into the INTERNET SITE FOR FRESHMAN CHEMISTRY I began the task by collecting the links to web construction tools on my Internet site for my own convenience.

Browsers can be used to edit or construct web pages, so can MS Word, WordPerfect, and other editors and word processors. However, I find it just as convenient to use a simple text editor for preparing the Internet documents. Files so created can be organized for easy access and their content can be revised easily.

Constructing a good web site requires more than knowing the HTML tags. Writing, page design, crafting, graphic design, questioning, etc., are all parts of the web construction. Being able to excel in any one of these is a life-long learning process. Fortunately, we have learned some of these skills as teachers. However, unlike a textbook author, Internet authors work alone. Perhaps because writing is a struggle for me, I enjoy doing it. Unfortunately, proofreading my own writing is difficult. Some documents on the INTERNET SITE FOR FRESHMAN CHEMISTRY have been proofread by former students, and I do engage students to give feedback.

Since we are using a textbook, and I teach one of the 3 to 5 sections, the teaching team often decides that test topics must be in the textbook. Our team members are glad to have the CACT sites, and the CACT Quiz policy is a collective agreement.

We use the textbook notation and terms as our standard. However, computer screens and the software limit the type of symbols and notation we can use. Students seldom complain about the differences in notation and symbols of CACT and those of the textbook.

Lately, I have increased the number of links to other sites. Searching for the appropriate documents requires time. However, many sites have animated illustrations and simulations, which are prepared by experts. These sites may not be permanent, and changes to them will result in broken links.

Working in cyber space is fun, but spending too much time and effort, means neglected gardens, cluttered garages, messy kitchens, and untidy desktops.

E-mail: cchieh@uwaterloo.ca