CONFCHEM Discussion

CONFCHEM Discussion

Question from Denis Bussieres

Q1- As more and more didactic help is available on the net, the reliability of the access to the net becomes _very important_ for one to be able to keep up. What about the non-access to these resources for some students ?

Do your students have _all_ access to the net, _all the time_ (home, dorm, class, lab, library....) ?

Response from

Since we have about 1200 students taking freshman chemistry currently, we have 4 to 5 instructors. During the first week, I showed students in all sections how to use the Course Internet Site, and pointed out some of the features such as simulation, animation, and quizzes. Ideally, all students have access to these. Students have access all the time anywhere, from home, dorm, library, campus computer rooms etc.

Question from Denis Bussieres

Q2- What kind of security do you have to have on your server so that outsiders will not threaten your activities and your programs ?

Response from

Any one can access to our material, except writing quizzes. There have been e-mails from high school students and others writing me e-mails with questions. I do my best to answer them. Access has never been a problem, except once when I had two quizzes deadlines on the same day. The number of students writing quizzes was so high that the server had difficulty handling all the requests. For every question and every submission, it invoked my Perl Script (pgm) to process all the data. I do not see any problem for using simulations, because the server only sends Applets. Execution is done at the remote site.

Question from Denis Bussieres

Q3- Your simulation for the properties of gases gives only numbers for output. The effect is much less _visual_ which is the force of the computer simulations. To change to a visual output, do you need to rewrite a large portion of the program or this is a matter of few minutes or few hours?

Response from

We choose to give numerical output for this one to illustrate its ability. I guess a few hours will be involved in converting to graphic output. The design is more time consuming, because to design something attractive and effective needs time. Time requirement for coding depends on the proficiency of the programmer. Often, it took days for a simulation to be released, because I change my design after having seen the results.

With numerical output, students may be asked to plot graphs. See response to Professor Rosenthal's SQ's.

Question from Brian1

You calculate information about electrons to show in a simulation. What are the advantages of doing this calculation versus including a table of calculated results and using these instead? It would seem to be much faster using the table.

Response from

If you are referring to the electron density map that is plotted in real time, I do not see how a table will serve the same purpose. Loading a table is faster than transmitting a diagram, but transmitting a Java applet takes less time than a figure, I guess.

Question (Q1) from Donald Rosenthal

Q1 - You stated:
"Experiments using real systems are the best way to explore science, and simulations offer students alternative ways to discover when real systems are not available or impossible to setup."

It seems to me that simulations may save time and simplify complex phenomena that students might have difficulty in understanding. I believe that experiments using real systems may not always be the best way to promote learning, particularly at the introductory level. Do you agree?

Response from

When I made the statement, I am thinking about the debate over simulation versus real experiment. Many argue that computer simulations shall never replace real experiments, and I agree. This is a general statement, and I have not thought of specific cases.

If we observe students' performance in the laboratories closely, we do notice students simply follow instructions as we follow recipes in cooking. They often missed the purpose of performing the experiment. In this regard, I do agree with Professor Rosenthal's viewpoint that "experiments using real systems may not always be the best way to promote learning, particularly at the introductory level."

Q2 from Donald Rosenthal

Q2 - Chemical Reaction Simulations
You stated: " . . we suggest some questions for the students to answer as they explore the simulation."

What specific questions would you suggest be asked for the simulation which you provide in the paper?

Response from

For example, the following questions are asked in the properties of gas simulation.

Keep temperature and the amount of any gas constant, provide data from the simulation to and answer the following questions. How does the volume change as a function of pressure? How does pressure change as a function of volume? The results agree with what theory? Provide a statement of the theory and provide a graph to show the evidence.

Similar questions are used to direct students to understand Avogadro's law, Charles law, Dalton's law etc. This simulation cannot simulate Dalton's law of partial pressures, and modification is required to simulate the partial pressures law.

Comment from Don Mencer

At many institutions, "what happens in courses today", includes high rates of absences.

Comment from

High rates of absences is also a problem in the University of Waterloo, and I think motivation is a major factor, not the availability of simulations and material over the Internet.

Because the technology is changing so fast, students interests are very diversified, especially for freshman chemistry courses for non-chemistry majors. The prospect is not getting better.

Question from "Barbara A. Gaddis"

Almost all of the simulations have covered general chemistry concepts, rather than organic, analytical, or physical chemistry. Do you think students in general chemistry benefit more from simulations that other students? Or are there other reasons?

Response from

Simulations certainly have been used for physical, analytical, and organic chemistries. I remember seeing educators demonstration their work when Apple computers were popular before the PC comes to market. Furthermore, simulations are used in physics and other disciplines.

Question (Q1) from Walt Volland

Did students work with the simulations and also do hands on experiments related to the same concepts?

I believe that simulations coupled with "hands on" bench work can be more effective than either of the two used separately. I've tried a combination of simulations and wet labs. The simulations were done one week and the wet labs were done the following week.

Response from

Your suggestion is excellent. Unfortunately, I have not combined simulations with laboratory experiments. The lab is conducted by a senior demonstrator, and he has an army of TA to look after many students. He runs the lab with little supervision from any faculty member.

Occasionally, a faculty member is appointed to work with the senior demonstrator to revise the experments, and I was never asked to do so. I made up the animations and simulations around various topics. I am aware of some institutions that combine computer control with wet lab instructions. Students have to pass a pre-lab test before the experiment can begin. In these cases, the balances were linked to computers, and how much reagent a student uses and how much product he or she gets are automatically recorded. In between steps are also monitored. If something went wrong, the students were notified with no explanation. To implement the same thing, more support from the Department or faculty is required, because the interface between various instruments with computer must be implemented.

Q2 from Walt Volland

How much time is typically needed to work through a simulation? Were the simulations done individually or by groups of students?

Response from

I was research oriented when I started at UoW, and I still think that bringing in research grant is seen more important than teaching in the eyes of administrators. When my ideas in teaching were poorly received, I gave up imposing my idea on others, and I seldom requested support from the Department. The freshman course is usually taught by a group of 5 professors. Other instructors seldom have time to look at what I have produced. Thus, the simulations were (are) simply fun for students to try.

The Quick BASIC simulations were made up when I wrote my own browser, which interfaced with these simulations. This were discussed in an earlier CONFCHEM paper, and my copy is kept in the following URL:

Therefore, the simulations are left for students to work individually. When students worked on these in a local network under my control, I usually spent time in the room discuss various things with students in an informal way. We are now in the Internet era, and we have lost most of the face to face interaction.

Comment from Gary L. Bergrand

This (first paragraph in this response) coment is all-too-familiar, and you will hear it echoed in the closing paragraph of my paper next week. I would like to hear from other presenters/participants regarding the use of Simulations in particular, and Electronic Materials in General, by persons other than the Developer.

Part of the problem deals with knowing what's available, and this Conference should help somewhat with that. The HyperChem tutorial modules were developed at USD about 10 years ago, and some of my students still find them very helpful, but I've rarely heard any references to them. They were fantastic presentations for their time, and not at all shabby by today's standards, even in black-and-white. Certainly the fact that they are Macintosh-only is a factor in this case, but I'm not sure that the result would have been too different if they were cross-platform.

What are the barriers to the implementation of these materials by instructors other than developers, and what can be done to lower them?

Comment from Denis Bussieres

As stated in some emails, the availability _and_ the diffusion of these materials is the crucial point here (IMHO).

There may be dozens, hundreds of different demos and simulations done by so many conceptors/professors but to use them one has to know they exist first.

Second, one has to find them (in running or executable form).

Third, one has to "appropriate" them in the sense know exactly the content of the demo/simulation and then choose how to use it in his/her course.

Fourth, one has to use it in course (after ironing out different glitches and tech bugs and practical bugs).

Fifth, one will probably go and try to find other materials and, if not, will try to make some (ah!).

Really the initial step of all this stays with the professor and the basic acknowledgement to identify the need of such material. After that, this is the usual process of search and so on...

Comment from Don Mencer

I don't think that the primary reason is not "knowing what's available" . . . there are many venues to learn what is out there (www searches, J Chem Ed, CONFChem, BCCE, etc). Rather I think the problem is the perception that research, not pedagogical but "real research", is valued more than developing innovative teaching methods. This attitude certainly does not prevail at all institutions, however, it is still entrenched at many. In order for these attitudes to change there must be a change in the reward system . . . ie the work has to be valued in the P&T process (AND must be perceived as being valued equally with "real research" or many faculty will make the reasonable choice to pursue what they perceive is more valued.)

At some smaller institutions (I worked at one a number of years ago), the focus may be more on teaching than research. However, there are other issues that create barriers to developing or trying to adopt innovative methods. At some schools, the teaching loads can be quite high (to put it mildly). If one is busy with 17 - 22 contact hours (I once taught 21.5 at my last job), there is little time to do anything other than keep up with standard prep and grading.

E-mail from C. Chieh

Professor Bergrand wrote:
I would like to hear from other presenters/participants regarding the use of Simulations in particular, and Electronic Materials in General, by persons other than the Developer. in particular to lower the barrier for using simulations and animations.

Professor Bussieres mentioned "techno burden" as a barrier.

From the non-developer point of view, the time for preparation is also as a barrier. I have requested installations in lecture room for movie projection, computer hookups, Internet access, VCR etc. The class room is equiped for all these now. However, it still requires a lot of effort to put up a good show, especially using unfamilier materials.

In lecture preparation, it's easier to talk and show students in person than using someone else's material.

Response from Richard Pendarvis

Don has hit the nail on the head. I teach at a "teaching only" 2 year college. Teaching innovation IS "valued" here but no one gives you time to do it. (I am either in class or lab most of the time. This summer 32 hours a week.) None of the things which might help me do these things are provided either.

For example, my class pages are on freenets because my school will not even give me server space for 2 pathetic class web pages.

It appears that not enough schools really value innovation or excellence in teaching enough to spend money on it.

Comment from Tom Eberlein

Hello, everybody --

First, let me congratulate all the authors of papers given during this online conference. The materials you have produced are really quite impressive. They will be valuable to me and to my colleagues in the coming year (and beyond) as the chemistry faculty at our campus strive to incorporate more and better computer-based learning methods into an increasingly student-centered teaching environment. The online materials you have devised will be useful because, importantly, they have been designed to take advantage of things that computers CAN do that other, more conventional methods cannot do. Clearly, "getting the students to see what we see" -- to paraphrase Jimmy Reeves -- is an important goal in the classroom, and it is obvious from the materials presented in this conference that the computer can be a powerful tool in our attempts to achieve this goal.

For the past several years I have been working (like you, "in my spare time") on developing online tutorials for organic chemistry. My efforts along these lines have been supported, fairly generously I think, by the university, my department, and by our local administration. And so I was somewhat dismayed to read about troubles people have had in gaining support for their work. Equally troubling are the problems people have had in disseminating their materials. Four relevant comments from conference participants along these lines are as follows:

There are three concerns -- problems, really -- that emerge from the comments above (and other comments that I didn't apologies to anyone I left out) regarding the issues of "Why it's hard to produce these kinds of materials in the first place," and "How can we get other instructors to use our materials?" These problems are: 1) Other instructors may not have the time to learn how to use your materials; 2) Equipment must be in place for hassle-free use of these materials, either by the developer or by other instructors; and 3) Why bother? No one is going to be tenured or promoted on the basis of either producing OR using these types of teaching methods.

I think the very fact that we are having this conference implies that these problems are not insurmountable, and I offer the following suggestions for solutions to each:

1) Use the power of the internet to link developers with prospective adopters of computer-based learning materials. For example, Prof. Dan Libby of Moravian College has recently proposed the creation of a national consortium, "ALICE" (Active Learning in Chemical Education). One of the stated purposes of this consortium is to provide a vehicle for faculty to develop and to share online "a variety of new materials for teaching the entire range of chemistry courses routinely taught at colleges and universities." One of the beauties of this proposal is that "developers will be linked with one or more evaluating/adopting faculty members, who would first review the materials to provide feedback to the developer on the perceived strengths and potential problems in the use of the mateterials at additional institutions, and then adopt the materials for their classes." A central ALICE web site would "facilitate collaboration among consortium members", and would be "used for general dissemination of tested materials."

In other words, by working cooperatively we could ensure that the materials we develop will actually be used in a classroom setting by an instructor other than the developer. Such use is a crucial test if we are to figure out which items are effective and easy to use, and which ideas need to go back to the drawing board for retooling. Perhaps a fair arrangement, at least at the outset, would be that anyone who submits an item for testing by someone else must also agree to test someone else's materials in their own classes. People who are participating in this conference could make arrangements to share and exchange their materials, on whatever scale seems appropriate. (All that remains is the organizational problem of linking up the people with a shared interest in reviewing each others' materials!)

2) In part, this problem gets solved by involvement in the kinds of activities suggested in (1), above. If you were responsible for reviewing and using someone else's computer-based materials in your own class, I bet you'd make arrangements to have the appropriate hardware in place beforehand. This shouldn't be all that difficult to do: as Walt Volland said, "many colleges are willing to buy computers and software regardless of whether or not chemistry faculty incorporate them into their classes. Much of the expense of computers will be incurred by the institution no matter what chemistry faculty do." As such, we should take advantage of the current atmosphere of administrative largesse vis-a-vis equipment purchases, and get while the getting is good.

3) Maybe I'm naive, but I get the sense that high-quality instruction of undergraduates is becoming increasingly valued by administrators and quasi-administrative bodies such as P&T committees. I think P&T committees *should* view favorably publications in science education journals (or online conferences!) from faculty whose primary responsibilities are in the area of teaching, as opposed to basic research. Part of high-quality instruction -- or, dare I say, pedagogical "research" -- is the development of new, useful, effective methods for teaching, including computer-based materials. If you feel the same way, and if you are tenured, then by all means, do whatever you can to get yourself onto the local P&T committee and, when the appropriate time comes, speak out in favor of a colleague who has dedicated himself or herself to developing and incorporating novel and effective methods for teaching into his or her own classroom. I realize promotion and tenure are committee decisions, but a committee is composed of individuals. If you are one of those individuals, then you will have the opportunity to influence the opinion of the body as a whole, and perhaps to push us, however slightly, toward an environment where innovative teaching is truly appreciated and rewarded.

-- Tom

Q3 from Walt Volland

When students work with the simulations how much time do they have to complete their reports ( a few days, a week )? How comprehensive are the student reports?

Response from

There is no specific work assigned to them associated with the simulations as yours is done. I think yours is a good way. I am now working in other courses taught by me. I will adopt your excellent strategy and give specific tasks for students to perform using simulations. Last week, I visited your websites, and have exchanged some ideas in the CONFCHEM discussion.

Q4. from Walt Volland

How much of the course grade does the simulation work equal?

Response from

No specific grade is associated with the simulations at the present time, because someone else is given the task as the freshman chemistry courses co-ordinator. He has his own idea of examinations.

However, 75% of all students choose to write quizzes over the Internet, and they are expose to the material. When they do well in quizzes, they usually, but not always, do well in examinations.

A few years back, the quizzes (15% of the final grade) are associated with simulations and material available on the web. However, when students have learned the concepts well, they would do well in the exams.

Q5 from Walt Volland

Do students object to using the simulations instead of the "real thing". I'm a firm believer in simulations and want to complement you on your work. It seems that our education community has been slow to accept the idea. I think simulations shouldn't replace wet labs for a long time. When serious VR experiments are available there will be another revolution in simulations and what we can do.

Thanks for sharing your work and ideas.

Response from

Because there were real laboratory experiments, no objection was ever raised. I have mentioned my view on real experiments vs. simulation in the response to Q1) from Donald Rosenthal.

Thank your for your thoughtful question and comments.

General Comment and Question from Denis Bussieres

The two papers presented this week show us so much that it would really take quite long to simply go through all. This mean a lot of time programming and adjusting many parameters to have them running properly.

Questions addressed to everyone involved as developper

- How much time is necessary to develop one demo/simulation and have a beta version running properly ?

- Then, how much more time is needed to bring it in a "final" version ready for everyday/everybody ?


Response from

Well, the time required to develop a simulation varies. In general, it goes through the following process:

Find a suitable project to simulate. Better yet is to simulate some concept we think students have difficulty grasping. This is the most time consuming part. Years ago when I taught a course in computer programming, I want students to suggest a subject matter for which to write a program. This was the most difficult part of the project.

Design what and how to present the simulation or animation.

Write computer code to according to design.

Change the design and change the code accordingly.

Thus, days, weeks, or months might be needed to produce an animation or simulation. Using a language that I have gained proficiency, the coding takes a few hours. We can also let others to help in coding, but any changes in design requires an understanding of the helper.

Response from Bill Vining

I would agree with Professor Chieh. The bulk of the time is spent thinking about what topics to cover and how to cover them, and making artwork. The coding is generally pretty easy.

Response from Dr Robert Lancashire

I recently spent 6 weeks trying to put together a demo on spinels. The first month or so was getting my own head around the space group and unit cell and to be able to conceptualise a cubic close packed array of oxygens. At one point I was seeing different coloured spheres in my sleep!

The CHIME coding took less than a day.

Once this was done, I was then able to produce examples of NaCl, CdCl2, CdI2, BiI3, CrCl3, rutile etc in a week, reusing code from the spinel demo.

Response from

I haven't done much coding , but I agree with Bill and Peter. The planning and revision takes most of the time.

The most time intensive part of the work depends on the nature of the animation or simulation. From my experience the narrower the focus the simpler the project. Creation of artwork and graphics can be very time consuming.

The major part of my time is spent revising web materials to deal with "new" student misconceptions.

I have found the level of expertise in my students to be extremely diverse. I have had to revise materials to keep the quicker ones engaged and still not "lose" the folks who are struggling. I find that my assumptions have to be very basic that I need to be careful not to over-estimate the sophistication of my audience.

Walt Volland

Response from "Gary L. Bertrand"

Professor Chieh has addressed this well, and I am echoing some of his comments. I like to think that we represent the "old school" and that there will be changes in the future. I am both encouraged and impressed by paper C-1 which appears to represent a collaborative effort - I will be asking them about that collaboration later, but I am still having some problems getting configured to access their materials.

I had the idea of developing simulations very early in my academic career, but it had to take a back seat to research not only in regard to academic success, but also with regard to my own interests. Research is rewarding in many ways, most importantly in my development as a scientist and my desire to share my excitement with others, and that experience now contributes a lot to my teaching and to my development of educational materials. I think that it is still questionable whether a faculty member could get tenured in this department on the basis of educational developments alone. It would certainly require a lot of external funding. Obviously, there are different climates at other institutions, but I really don't think that we are too far from the norm for PhD-granting departments.

As Professor Chieh points out, you need to have an idea of WHAT you want to address, then HOW it might be presented, then HOW you're going to program it. Then you've got to re-cycle through those considerations until it works for you. Then sometimes (too often) it all falls apart when you show it to someone else. My first consideration after refining the concept is, "Will the computer application substantially improve the presentation of this material to my targeted audience over existing materials." The second consideration is "Is the gain really worth the effort?" These assessments are relatively easy in a one-man operation where there is no need to communicate and coordinate concepts, designs, and processes between several people - of course, the one-man operation is also more prone to error in this respect than a group would be. And this one-man operation is very prone to the error of, "I just want to see if I can make it work."

The future has to be in group work, combining the talents of the best teachers, the best designers, and the best programmers - and I think you're going to need specially talented persons to coordinate their work. I regard myself as a good teacher, a fair designer, and an untrained programmer - but we all work pretty good together!

Regarding the time involved, the VSEPR mini-lesson was pretty much done in an afternoon when I got the idea of writing a program to generate the graphics for the animated GIF. My latest simulation on The Thermodynamics of Batteries (check out the animated GIF of the title page at or if you have the SCWeb plugin you can see the operational unit at ). I have put in over 100 hours on this idea, and I can see that the design is too "busy", and I'm going to have to write an awful lot to explain to people what it does. As often happens, I wrote it for freshmen, but my colleagues tell me that it's a bit over their heads. Oh well, I like it, and I'll use it in the classroom next Fall.

Response from Dave Yaron

Unfortunately, our development times have been quite a bit longer than those quoted so far. The older applets, everything but the virtual lab, took between 2 weeks and 2 months each to program. I'm not sure we can measure the time for coming up with the ideas. We talk about what to do all the time, often over dinner, so we don't really count that time as work.

Although we expected the virtual lab to be a big project, it is probably even more involved than we expected. The graphical user interface has taken the longest time, probably over a thousand hours. The algorithm took a few iterations and probably about 200 hours. Data handling, including chemical data for the simulation and user cabinets etc, has taken a few hundred hours, especially since we decided to support both a networked database and a local file system. The virtual lab is now at 30,000 lines of code (our development history is at

In order to allow the lab to be used to create homework assignments that make connections to real-world phenomena, we've also begun developing an authoring system so that we and others can easily create such assignments. The rocket launcher in the Mars project is the first use of this system. I hope we'll have some homework assignments using this ready by mid-summer, and have the system ready for others to use by the fall (anyone interested?). This authoring environment is also taking a lot of programming time, and is approaching the complexity of the virtual lab code.

Gary is right that it is a collaborative effort, until recently, working primarily on donated time. Rea helps with instructional design and assessment. Most of the development work has been done by undergraduates, from 1 to 7 at a time. This semester, we've also had some technical writing majors involved. Since last September, we have had sufficient funding to hire programmers full time (co-authors Jeff and Donovan). For us, having full time people seems necessary to go beyond the beta stage and onto something that can be widely distributed. I think we are probably still 6 months away from a complete and stable version of the virtual lab.

This project started as a small scale experiment (Jeff, while an undergrad, got some summer funding to do a few applets). It turned out to be a lot of fun and hopefully we'll be able to keep it going for a while.

Response from Gloria A Cruz - Claude A Ewert

I would disagree somewhat about the programming time. I've been translating Chemland to Spanish and my experience is that if you want a code that is easily maintained or improved, a good knowledge of the programming language is required. Usually a short time spent in the coding, although momentarily useful, means an eternity when six months later you have to go back to change some things, or someone different has to do the job. On the same token, the implementation of routines to make the program as friendly as possible, capable of handling most wrong inputs, increases significantly the complexity of the code.

On the other hand, Professor Chieh remark about a thorough understanding on the part of a helper is a very important factor. I have been trying to have chemistry students learn programming, but the few who seemed to gain enough proficiency did not consider it worth an undergraduate research project (I think it was perceived as not chemical enough....). I'm starting to consider that perhaps it may be easier to teach some chemistry to computer engineering students. I still have to try this approach.

Response from Gloria A Cruz - Claude A Ewert

I would disagree somewhat about the programming time. I've been translating Chemland to Spanish and my experience is that if you want a code that is easily maintained or improved, a good knowledge of the programming language is required. Usually a short time spent in the coding, although momentarily useful, means an eternity when six months later you have to go back to change some things, or someone different has to do the job. On the same token, the implementation of routines to make the program as friendly as possible, capable of handling most wrong inputs, increases significantly the complexity of the code.

On the other hand, Professor Chieh remark about a thorough understanding on the part of a helper is a very important factor. I have been trying to have chemistry students learn programming, but the few who seemed to gain enough proficiency did not consider it worth an undergraduate research project (I think it was perceived as not chemical enough....). I'm starting to consider that perhaps it may be easier to teach some chemistry to computer engineering students. I still have to try this approach.

Claude ____________________________________________________________________ Claude A Ewert Chemistry School - Universidad Industrial de Santander Bucaramanga - Colombia

Response from

Thank you Professor Ewert,

for your disagreement. I agree with you, and let me elaborate a little more.

When I mentioned that coding does not take much time, I meant to compare with the planning and design phases. Of course, good programming is vital.

The co-author of paper B2 is a post doctorial in this Department, working on other research project. He coded the Java applets. Newman is a very competent scientist and computer person ready to accept challenging projects or a rewarding career.

I also had the help of Mr. W. C. Li, who graduated from Chemistry, and then did a degree in computer science. He converted a Perl script to do the things I wanted to do. Mr. Li is now working in Toronto for a software firm, but I requested the Science Faculty to retain an account for him. He check mails from this account, and he is still able to help me in case of need. We are very good friends, and his help is now voluntary. He wroked part-time in Chemistry while doing his CS degree.

Another former student Mr. J. Eckert of my nuclear technology class still drops in to let me know the latest development of computers and software. He is now an instructor for a professional school teaching IT technology.

More than ten years ago, I have had senior students learning programming from me, and we almost live in the computer room having fun. These students too developed their career along the information and computer path.

Good programming is an important part in case modifications are required.

Just some anecdotal refreshments for a Thursday morning following a good cup of coffee from Columbia.

Response from Don Mencer

I would like to echo some of what others have already said:

(a) time spent thinking about what projects to build simulations for and planning the general design, flow, and layout is hard to quantify . . . for example I spend time while driving, eating, etc thinking about both teaching and research. The bottom line is that we probably spend much more time on this step than we realize.

(b) time spent developing the materials is largely a function of complexity of the simulation, level of programming language proficiency, and sophistication of the graphics. For me, the hardest thing to make myself spend time on is graphics . . . this probably has to do with the disparity between what I want to develop (my grand vision) and what my (presently) meager skills can produce. However, the presentation of simulation materials on a web page is simplified compared to developing in other languages (and web based materials should be universally accessibility . . . the operative word is should).

(c) working collaboratively is important. I have had the good fortune of having a professional help me with the coding for my simulations. We have one Instructional Design Specialist (IDS) on our campus that I was able to work with (when they were not busy helping other faculty on other projects). The early cgi scripts were done in Perl. I did not learn to write Perl code from scratch . . . the code was written for me based on the mathematics I provided. I can now look at the Perl and even modify it (for example, I altered some of the rounding routines to produce outputs with the number of sig figs desired and I added a check routine to a script that originally did not have one). However, I still cannot write a Perl program off the top of my head. I can create one if I can model it on my existing scripts. The same is true for my one JavaScript simulation.

I don't think the instructor has to be an expert at all aspects of design. I do think that getting experts involved will help us take the simulations to the next level (more polished graphics, better user interfaces, etc). However, these experts can be undergrad students . . . I am planning on trying to use a student with expertise in web design this summer and fall. I hope this will be more efficient than trying to create web design experts out of undergrad chem majors.

(d) Making the coding work well (including routines to handle bad inputs and outputs) is critical. Some of the problems with inputs can be avoided if drop down menu selections are used instead of input boxes (you can exclude any negative numbers if they are invalid, limit the range of inputs to large or small values, etc). However, this does limit the users ability to vary parameters (ie they might learn more if they tried a negative number and then received a message telling them why it was a bad idea).

I have been inspired by the quality and quantity of materials presented at this conference. I can see now that my summer will be a busy one, but I am excited by the prospect of what can be accomplished.

Response from "Gary L. Bertrand"

Hi Brian

As Chung Chieh points out in his comment regarding the bug I found, plugins are an impediment to delivery. Many university computers are under a central control, and installing a plugin can be a major problem. Many individuals that I'm trying to reach are not comfortable downloading (a modem and a cheap ISP can make this a very long operation) and installing plugins. While plugins are inherently a problem, a broadly applicable plugin is much more likely to be installed than one with a narrow focus. Director-Shockwave is already pretty broadly-based and I feel that it is spreading rapidly. SCWeb is sort of lost in a shallow-pockets operation, and is growing very slowly. Additionally, Director is more stable cross-platform than anything else available at present, but I'm also keeping my eye on MetaCard.

I started with the X-talk environments and am most comfortable there. Usually, I can develop a project for Macs in a relatively short time with SuperCard. Tweaking it for the Windows plugin (and sometimes for the Mac plugin) often increases the time by 25-50% and the frustration by 100-200%. There have been instances where I had to re-build major elements. For a project that runs in a standalone or a player environment, SuperCard is very robust. It is compromised somewhat by the Mac plugin, in addition to the expected problems of playing out of the cache, and the Windows plugin is stifling.

Director-Shockwave has many features that really simplify animation for showing something, but I have not found simple ways to apply this to complex interactive animations. Part of this is "teaching an old dog new tricks", but a large part has to do with my penchant for using differential equations to control visual elements AND time in a stationary window, rather than time being controlled by the window (if that makes sense to anyone). I think it's a left brain/right brain issue, and my next signature-quote will probably be, "There's nothing right on the left side of my brain, and there's nothing left on the right side."

Response from Richard Pendarvis

I have had some experience in writing simulations, back when I was in industry and some since I began teaching 12 years ago.

One of the simulations I wrote was for group I and II of the gen. chem. qualitative analysis scheme. It turned out to be over 3000 lines of C just for the animation code. (I gave a talk on this at the ACS National in Orlando in 1996.) The reasons for the time required actually have some roots in computer science.

(Regarding number of peoples involved), The number of people involved actually increases the complexity and time requirements. This is well known in software engineering. To a reasonable approximation the complexity (overhead is a way of thinking of it) is exponential with the number of people involved.

Yes, higher resolution graphics require more memory manipulation and so the amount of time required function is somewhat greater than a linear relation to graphics resolution. The advantage of a lower level language such as C is that you get more exact control of the hardware and the project is defacto more modular. This takes more skill and more time. Most chemistry folks have only been trained in languages like basic or fortran which are poor for this type of work.

Again, basic software engineering says somewhat the opposite. This makes some assumptions that may not be valid. It depends upon the roles of the people. If everyone is contributing to the conceptual pre-design phase, the project will get larger (longer). If roles are better defined and some of the people write narrowly defined portions of the code, it could shorten the development time. The usual reallity is that everyone tries to be involved in everything.

Actually, this kind of thing (Regarding making programs robust, be able to handle various input/output) is basic computer science. Inputs are best handled through simplified lexical analyzers. It is best to start with low level routines which interpret the scan codes or mouse input at the lowest possible level. This again takes time but you get what you pay for. Unfortunately there is not as much reusable code around for chemistry specific problems.

Response from

Professor Richard Pendarvis has given a lengthy discussion on the software engineering aspect of programming. Actually, it's even more than that. In a software firm, the job titles range from chairman of the board, CEO, architecture, system analyst, system design engineering, programmer, testing, public relation, etc. Fortunate for us, we have to handle all these jobs with, sometimes, no other resources. However, this is part of the fun, because we are still learning in an ever-changing environment or climate.

Response from Denis Bussieres

Yes you are quite right. Makes me remember a citation from a senior chemist in drug R&D (legal) who had the opportunity to follow his "baby", his own molecule up to the marketing and almost on the sale shelves. He said that as a chemist he learned quite a lot but was able to follow and keep interest all the way through as other scientists simply quitted the proccess somewhere (by lack of interest... or something else).

Chemistry is really a fundamental science AND full of reward both personnally and scientifically.

Keep the good work,

Response from Leon Combs

This development of web-based material is all very time-consuming. I have been teaching on-line for over two years and have developed a good bit of material and simulations. Now I am beginning to wonder if we are wasting some time.

Harcourt Publishers has teamed with Archipelago to offer a combination of CD-ROM and Web-Based material. Other publishers are making similar developments. The professionals can develop simulations and animations and movies much quicker and better than we can as we work 80 hour weeks and do the other on the side.

What will happen to the "mom and pop" chemistry animation/simulation/web teaching shops? I think that this is a good question for us to consider. Hope that I haven't depressed anyone!

I think that if everyone who developed simulations/animations or other teaching tools specifically for chemistry could have a central location where they could easily be used by any chemistry professor, then we would have an advantage over the one-size-fits-all professional developers/publishers.

In an analogous manner to the build-your-own lab manual by choosing from available experiments; we could then develop our own web sites specific for the needs of our particular students, in our particular courses, in our particular university/college by choosing the needed materials from the common site.

Then many people could benefit from the good work done by many of you all. What do you think?

Response from Jimmy Reeves

I think it is a mistake to rely exclusively on publishers to fill our needs when it comes to Web based teaching materials. At present they seem concentrated on creating materials that accompany a text or Web-based course, not activities designed to stand on their own. If I need a movie of potassium reacting with water or a animation of an electrochemical cell, I must hope that the publisher of the text I'm using saw fit to create it. UNCW has received the NSF funded digital library grant to which I alluded in my paper (A2) of this session. I am coordinator of the chemistry content of this library, and will be soliciting contributions from everyone who wishes to share his or her materials. The library will be designed so that very precise searches can be done, and the materials will be tagged (using specially designed metatags embedded in the HTML code) to indicate author, copyright holder, fee for use and other copyright restrictions (if any) as well as subject and type of content. All submitted materials will be reviewed independently, and contributions accepted for publication in the library will be acknowledged by letter to the appropriate dean and department chair. If we are able to effectively share what we create, I think we stand a much better chance of creating the course we envision.

Response from "Gary L. Bertrand"

I think Leon Combs and Jimmie Reeves are both right. The materials presented at this conference should convince anyone that no one has a monopoly on producing good materials. Coverage of the same subject by two different authors is likely to be quite different, and the products will "work" better/worse for different instructors and different students. I happen to like my stuff best, but I'm a little biased, and after all - it's tailored primarily for the way I want to use it. Still, some of my students find other materials more effective for them.

A publisher wants to deal with the fewest people possible to get a CD to supplement the text, and they want everything to have a sameness and familiarity about it. Buying their CD is like buying a CookBook - if I find one recipe/application that I will "make my own", I consider it a winner - now I get all my recipes off the Web.

"Mom and Pop" web pages are not going to draw a great audience, and it takes a lot of time and energy to produce these materials. A great deal of this work goes unrewarded. Sharing (those of us who work the Web know that this is can be a euphemism for stealing) materials is obviously the way to go, and it looks like Jimmie is setting up a mechanism for this -***Applause, Applause****- which I think is sorely needed. I consider it a courtesy to let someone know when you link to their site or use some of their materials and most are very happy to hear of it. I've modified some of my materials so that someone else could use them in a slightly different way than I'd intended. About a year ago, a Canadian professor and I collaborated to translate blocks of my Bomb Calorimeter simulation into French so that it would be more usable to his students.

This conference is showing how much good stuff is out there. Thank you, Denis. I hope it is also showing people how they can access and use these materials. If others can add new materials, that's wonderful, but I think it's more important that many more people learn to use the materials that are available. Eventually, that will bring more recognition to we gnomes with our slightly weird tans from spending too many hours talking to a monitor.

Response from "William F. Polik"

The key to preventing our time invested in software development to becoming wasted time is DISTRIBUTION.

At the recent ACS Chemistry Symposium on "Development and Assessment of Technology-Based Teaching Tools" organized by Gabriela Weaver and Jimmy Reeves (see for a summary), many excellent uses of Technology were presented. However, only one presentation emphasized the free distribution of the work presented: "Interactive uses of the WWW for chemical education" (see ).

There are a variety of issues concerned with improved distribution of our work. First is choosing a platform that is widely supported. Second is ease of installation, e.g., must the work be installed on each CPU or on a single CPU that is network accessible. Third is ease of access, i.e., can students easily access the installed software. Finally, the issue of usability is paramount, i.e., is the software intuitive to use without much instruction. While there are a variety of solutions to these issues, my approach has been to write for a web browser (avoiding plug-ins that must be installed on the user's CPU wherever possible).

Response from Richard Pendarvis

I have used the Archipelago materials to teach General Chemistry online at my school. A number of the other community colleges in Florida have as well. They are very comprehensive and well executed. They use an interesting system which minimizes download time by putting the bulky multimedia stuff on disks which are distributed to the students. They also provide truly excellent technical support by both telephone and email.

The Archipelago materials took many thousands of man hours to develop and a lot of capitol to develop. The are the best thing going in online gen. chem.

The reality is that small groups working 80 hours a week cannot and in point of fact have not come up with anything even in the same league. It is simply not practical to develop comprehensive content rich materials like this in a the "mom and pop" way. I have seen some very heroic efforts by various schools but they simply do not measure up.

We should not be depressed by this but should concentrate on smaller projects that we can handle. If you try to do everything, you end up finishing nothing.

Individual efforts are best spent in tiny niche areas that are not adequately addressed by existing materials. I like to call this "educational debottle-necking". Concept areas which apply to areas which do not respond to conventional methods are the best targets if you want to make the most efficient use of available time and resources.

Response from "L. Peter Gold"

Leon Combs raises a very good question. I have looked at a lot of animations and simulations that have been developed by general chemistry textbook publishers. There is no question that that the recent ones are technically very well done and undoubtedly are the products of enormous investments by the publishers. Very few of them, however, are of significant pedagogical value. They try to find something to animate or simulate for every major topic whether or not the result will be of any more value to the student than the pictures in the textbook. Instead of asking "What part of this topic can be animated?" they should ask "What animations will enable the student to understand a topic better than static illustrations?"

So far I am convinced that the answer to the last question is "Very few," at least for general chemistry. Surprisingly, some of the ones that could benefit have not been done as far as I have seen.

A second problem with some of these animations and simulations is that the actual productions often seem to have been done by artists and programmers who were not in close and continuous touch with the textbook authors with the result that some of their animations are clear and attractive but misleading or incorrect. A related problem is that the final products often try to show too many details or effects at once with the result that the student is more confused than enlightened.

It is really a shame that the large amounts of money being spent on these products are not being used in a more pedagogically effective manner.

Response from Tom Eberlein

Peter's comment is right on the money. Whenever we do anything with computers in the classroom, we should think in terms like: "What can I do with a computer that I *can't* do by other, more conventional means?" I'm quite interested in reading Peter's comments concerning general chemistry topics that could be presented advantageously using animations.

As far as Brian's comment regarding the beneficial use of animations in "more advanced courses" is concerned, one area where animations are quite useful in organic chemistry is depicting reaction mechanisms. Students are literally stunned when -- after struggling with static, curved-arrow representations of reaction mechanisms -- they are shown on-screen animations of those same processes. I ask "When I draw this... (I point to the blackboard, upon which a curved arrow mechanism is shown) you see this?", and I launch the animation. Their mouths drop open. They say they had no idea that the curved arrows and static images were supposed to represent the dynamic process shown on the screen.

An animation suggested by "L. Peter Gold"

Let me give an example of what would be a very effective simulation/animation that I have not seen.

Years ago we had a molecular motion demonstrator that we used in lectures on the kinetic theory of gases. It consisted of a glass plate mounted on transducers that caused it to shake at adjustable amplitudes. The plate was placed on an overhead projector. One put some small metal spheres on the plate and started the vibration. One then say a remarkably clear simulation of a gas: The spheres moved randomly and collided with each other and the container walls. By varying the amplitude of the shaking one could increase the "temperature" and immediately see clearly that although some spheres were still moving slowly and others rapidly the average spped was greater at higher temperature. One could then introduce some larger spheres onto the plate. They also clearly moved randomly and at a variety of sppeds but their average speed was clearly lower than that of the smaller spheres. One could do a number of other things: One could use magnetized spheres and see the effect of intermolecular forces and condensation. Less effectively, one could put a barrier with an opening

Gemeral Discussion

General discussion on converence begins June 2, and ends June 6. Questions sent by Professor Oversby earlier is used as the starting point of general discussion by Professor Bussieres.

Question from John Oversby

To Denis, I would like to send my congratulations on getting together an interesting set of papers about simulations. To the authors of the papers, you have all raised some very interesting points. In particular, you have addressed issues such as increased motivation, achievement (ie better and deeper understanding) and dealing with the practicalities of large classes. I have been fascinated with the issue of dealing with the hardware and technophobia.

I would like to ask each of you, and ask others to consider for the general discussions next week, the following questions:

  1. How does the use of simulations in the situations you describe change the ways in which chemistry is taught?
  2. How do the simulations encourage to teach different sorts of chemistry from that we taught previously?
  3. How do we deal with colleagues and students who are fearful of or hostile to using the technology?
I am sure you all have many valuable experiences to share on some of these issues.

Response from C. Chieh

Professor Oversby's first question prompted me to think the value of simulations and animations. Aside from the major purpose of convey pictures in our mind to the students so that they learn the concept, the following points were probably in the back of our minds.

Regarding the second question:
Some papers suggest using simulations and animations for homework, assignments, or tests leading to active learning. In doing so, students learn scientific method and reasoning in addition to science.

Addition from Rea Freeland

I'd like to add another rationale (to Peter Chieh's) that I think may drive some of us:

To promote greater student interest in learning and doing chemistry

Even though my own background and training often lead me to focus more on the active learning dimension of courses, the longer I have taught, the more I've become interested in how we deal with motivating students too. There has always been talk in educational circles about the value of practice and hands-on activities for ensuring learning. I think simulations can provide this in a way very different from but probably equally valuable to labs, but I'm also interested in why we think they work. To what degree do you feel your simulations are working well because of their motivational benefits like more interesting or varied course content or because of cognitive benefits like better visualization?

Regarding Denis Bussieres Comment, Rea wrote:

When I first got involved in Dave Yaron's software development project about a year ago, I was Associate Director of Carnegie Mellon's Teaching Center so I may look at this question from a slightly different angle from those who are more in the thick of both teaching chemistry and software development. In effect, my primary job at that time was as a consultant (or tutor) to help faculty interested in enhancing their courses, usually in response either to student feedback or a creative idea the faculty member had. I had the opportunity to talk with many faculty about why and how they try new things in courses in consultations and seminars. It seemed that many were reluctant to make changes in their courses, especially intro courses because: (1) they assumed they'd need to redesign the course in a significant way, which would take too much time, or (2) they would want materials tailored to their goals and only a very few were in a position to take on writing software themselves. In part because of those conversations, I have been excited about Dave Yaron's strategy of focusing on homework more than lecture to reach out fairly widely. Changes in students' out-of-class activities seem to be among the most comfortable for faculty to make and may have a lot of potential to increase learning when students spend a significant time on them.

I'd be interested in hearing from any of you who may have worked with Teaching Center colleagues or others outside of chemistry (psychologists? computer scientists?). So far, my primary role in working with Dave's project has been as a consultant and we're just getting to the point of thinking about what we can present or publish, but in general Teaching Center colleagues may be good resources to spread the word at conferences about the effectiveness of the simulations and animations being created. I also like the benefit of getting discussions going both with more chemists and across disciplines at places like AERA.

Response to Rea's Comment from Gary L. Bertrand

I feel that one of my most effective uses of simulations is in enhancing the laboratory experience. To me, an ideal laboratory course would have in-depth experiments covering a wide range of principles, each experiment being performed in sufficient detail that the student becomes comfortable with both measurements/observations and principles/interpretations. Limited time, resources, and academic credit usually force the instructor to choose either a few experiments with this level of detail or a larger number of experiments in lesser detail. I have tried to develop simulated experiments to bridge these choices. A simulation can eliminate many of the time-consuming (and materials-consuming) elements of experiments, allowing the user to "observe" the results of many additional experiments in a relatively short period of time. This compression of time and effort between the choice of the experimental parameters and the result of the "experiment" may allow the student to devote more time and effort to choosing experimental parameters and to interpreting the reults than would otherwise be possible. Virtual Reality simulations (I consider mine as a "poor-man's virtual reality") can also be used in a pre-lab capacity to better prepare students for what they will encounter in the lab, either under the control of the instructor or as an assignment to be completed before the lab.

I have more experience in using simulations in the Physical Chemistry Lab than in the General Chemistry Lab. I am convinced that use as Pre-Lab assignments in General Chemistry Lab would be a disaster with our large numbers of Basic Engineering Students who arrive here with a strong dislike/disdain for Chemistry, and absolutely no concept of learning anything from a Lab course. Therefore, the use of simulations in General Chemistry Lab has been in the context of pre-lab lectures, and in lab exercises that are half-simulated, half-real. I cannot say that they have resulted in increased learning. I can say that comments on Student Evaluation Sheets run about 10 favorable to 1 unfavorable (only a small percentage bother to comment, however). There is a general feeling among the General Chemistry TA's and instructors that students now have a less unfavorable attitude toward lab since we've been using the simulations, but that could be due to other factors.

In the Physical Chemistry Lab I hear more complaints about the simulated experiments than those which do not involve simulations, especially those that must be performed to determine an unknown quantity in order to gain admission to the lab. **** I believe that a large part of this is due to the fact that few of them feel the need to do any reading (or thinking) preliminary to performing a simulated experiment.**** I have to admit that I have the same attitude when I try out someone else's simulation - perhaps this is a bit of human nature that we will have to address. However, it is rare to encounter an unfavorable comment regarding simulations on the evaluation sheets at the end of the semester, and there are always a number of comments suggesting greater use of them.

I really don't feel that I teach any more and probably not any better by using the simulations. I believe what I accomplish is to give students more confidence in what they have learned, and as a result they are better prepared to proceed with their education.

Comment from John Martin

You might be interested in the history of my "SIRs" (see C3). Originally I simply wanted to create illustrative slides for use with a projection monitor - basically Power Point images. Then it occurred to me that I had some facility with a programming language, so why not let them wiggle a bit - reactions run, gases expand & compress, etc. But the intent (then and now) was to keep them as animated slides, which you can pop onto the screen as the occasion arises, rather than have them act as the pivot around which the presentation revolves. So whatever slides do, accessible animations should do better.

Comment from Stephen Lower

For some years I have maintained a page of links to non-commercial software relating to instruction at , and I would be happy to add anything that others might wish to contribute. Another page,, contains links to programming tools that might be of interest. Both of these can be accessed through the Teacher's Resources page noted at the end of this message.

The single most useful device, in my view, would be to provide adequate documentation, including a student "user guide" that places the simulation in context and suggests exercises through which it might actually lead to increased understanding of the relevant concepts. Aside from its obvious value to students, such information would provide a concrete example of how the material could be incorporated into a course, and would seem to be an important first step in stimulating the interest of teachers, many of whom are not prepared to undertake the development of student instructions or lesson plans on their own.

In addition, detailed instructions on how to install and use the software are essential.

Comment from John Martin

I've followed most of the discussion initiated by Denis Bussieres' and Peter Chieh's notes on the time required to produce animations and simulations. I agree with Peter's four-step recipe, especially with the last one (change as required); once the program is written and running, I think you are not more than half way there! I notice that most of the work reported seems to have been written on menu-driven systems, though a few brave souls have used various forms of Visual Basic. I prefer a real programming language (though I have not the stamina to try C++), since menu-driven systems such as Authorware pretty well restrict one to the functions that its authors thought of. For the last 15 years I have been using "TenCORE" a product of the Computer Teaching Corp., 1713 South State Street, Champaign IL 61820 USA. It's pricey (about US $2000 plus $500 annual updates) but cheap compared to hiring a programmer. The SIRs (C3) are written in this language. It was originally a PC realization of the PLATO language, but has grown with DOS and Windows so that it will do just about anything you can imagine. It has windows, hypertext, links to graphics systems, useful macro-type facilities to keep track of a student's wandering progress, and it will even let you set bits and do DMA (if you're fool enough to want to). I am in command of only a tiny portion of the TenCORE repertoire. The nice thing is that you can learn a bit of it at a time, starting with text and pictures, and expand as you learn. They even have a menu-driven authoring system that generates TenCORE code, as a starting point (though that costs a lot more).

Comment from John Oversby

Rea Freeland and Peter Chieh wrote about some contributions made by the use of simulations. in a european projcet, my colleagues in Poland and Germany and I have been looking at teaching 12 year old students the characteristics of simulating a chemiscal process, that is the action of simulating, not the outcome of a sumulation. We have been teaching them about how to create a simulation, to test it against chemical evidence by running it, to modify it so that it is a better simulation. then we have asked them to evaluate a simulation created by another student, from the standpoint of knowing how to simulate in general. We believe we have been moderately successful - we have just finished a project meeting here in Reading with our project parteners from Poland and Germany. Here we have been teaching them to simulate, not using simulations to improve understanding of concepts. We do the latter too but the simulations have ahad a deeper purpose. Has anyone else used simuloations in this explicit way?

Comment from Michael Chejlava

The valuing of better teaching may be a stated goal of administrators, but my experience at several schools and discussions from other people has shown this to be very limited. Many, if not most administrators seem to think that student evaluations are the most important tool in evaluating teaching. They often do this because using numerical results appears to be more "objective".

In my experience, these evaluations measure the level of student comfort, not the level of education. There was a study done at U of Arizona which was published in J Chem Ed in 1991, which asked students which of a list of factors were the most important. The conclusion of the paper stated that students valued instructor practices which make it easy to memorize factual imformation "cram" for tests. Instructor actions which lead to learning to solve problems and to do critical thinking were the lowest rated.

I have personally found that when an instructor expects students to do more than memorize and regurgitate that a significant number of students give the instructor lower ratings, and since most evaluation tools have very small standard variances that such an instructor winds up below the average. In one case that I calculated if only 4 students out of 40 rated the instructor 1 point out of 5 lower that this could mean the difference between being at the 50th %tile and 30th percentile.

One questions to the authors and others who have used simulations, particularly where the students must perform extra work, is how did the addition of simulations affect your student evaluations?

The CUR which was discussed in the last Confchem session has convinced even faculty at small "teaching" universities and liberal arts colleges that undergraduate research was very important. However, when they evaluate faculty research, they most often used number of papers and grants, particulary those with overhead funds. In one undergaduate teaching university, a faculty member was awarded the Distiguished Professor award mainly on the basis of having published 10 papers and given 14 talks during the past year. Few colleages of students felt that this faculty member was any good at teaching, and the student "authors" on these papers were really technicians with little understanding of the research being performed or idea of the planning involved. One example was that in Quantitative Analysis a large portion of one test is to perform a manual least squares calculation and show all of the work. In this age of programmable calculators and computers this is not a very valuable skill. This faculty member used canned "cookbook" lab experiments which were graded solely upon the numerical results. The students handed in a 3X5 card with the results.

In most adds for faculty positions you will see the following phrase, or a similar phrase: "The succesful candidate will be expected to develop a vigorous, externally-funded research program." This is even true in small schools where the listed work load includes 18-22 contact hours per week of teaching, advising, committee work and a variety of other activities including waste disposal, stcokroom and instrumentation maintenance.

In more and more liberal arts colleges research (i.e. # of papers and grants) is beginning to count for more than 50% of the decision so that faculty who a mediocre teachers and utilize undergraduate researchers as mere technicians.

I would like to hear the experience of other faculty about this.

Sorry that I went on so long, but I have come to the conclusion that few college graduates in the U.S. have really learned much of anything during their carreers. Responses from graduate schools and idustry seem to bear this out.

The important thing seems to be to keep students (as consumers) happy, which means letting them "cram" for trivial tests and then forget.

(P.S.) Note: I am no longer a faculty member and after 17 years of teaching I am no beginning to accept the fact that I will never get another permanent college teaching position and this was mainly due to my attempts to get students to learn, rather than memmorize. My reccomendation to tenure-track faculty. Do the research and let students get by with "cramming" until you get tenure. After you get tenure, then you can worry about educating your students.

Comment from Jimmy Reeves

The general discussion might start on the problematic of the distribution of the demos/simulations now available at so many places.

Posting on the web is one step, maybe some more steps need to be done.

A second point to discuss might be :

How to convince colleagues to try to use some of these demos/simulations not only as a "break" into their regular course but more like a "real tool" to help student get a concept. Is acting as a tutor to some colleague the best way to go ?

If in the same institution, this might be OK but how about if at distance ?

Other ideas ?

Comment from John Martin

Here's a curious anecdote, relavant to Michael Chejlava's comments re. student evaluations: Some years ago I gave exactly the same lecture to two sections of introductory chemistry, a couple of hours apart on the same days. At the end of term, when the student ratings came out...of eight lecturers, I was the best, and I was also the worst. An education type offered to explain this on the basis of time of day or something; I told him I wanted the theory BEFORE I told him which section was which, and his enthusiasm evaporated.

Anyway, as a consequence of this I have little respect for beauty-contest style student evaluations.

Comment from Richard Pendarvis

This (coment regarding students' evaluation) is even true in a "teaching" institution such as mine. There are three things important for a new faculty member in a two year college.

(1) keep everyone happy, students, other faculty, administrators etc.
(2) do things that look good and/or generate good PR
(3) spend nothing

After getting past that, you can begin to worry about ACS exam percentiles and other objective measures of results.

Comment from Stephen Lower

When I narrowly won tenure many years ago, those who voted "no" gave as their reason that these activities were not "appropriate" for a faculty member at a major research institution. And their worst fears turned out to be justified; I never attracted as much as one dollar to the Department since that time!

Comment by "Hawkes, Stephen"

When I was approached to take the "chemical educator" position in our department, I tried to find out what my colleagues thought about my efforts. I used Oregon's sunshine law to examine my promotion and tenure file. The people I had named as being qualified to evaluate my teaching innovations had not been consulted. Following the rules, two members of the Committee had visited my Keller Plan class and had no idea what was happening. My educational work was not otherwise mentioned. I had been promoted to full professor anyway on the basis of my research, which surprised me because the research was quite mediocre. The verbal response from colleagues on my educational work was that it was nonsense. My chairman instructed me to stop trying to get students to really understand.

I concur that faculty should be advised to put the minimum effort into teaching and devoted their energies to fundable research.

Comment on Stephen's e-mail from Daniel P. Tompkins

This is a really depressing letter because it comes from a person whose work is widely known nationally and has impressed me, a classicist. I hope the pendulum will swing one day, and that folks will keep hammering away at the need to work on student learning.

Some of the proof should be in the pudding: what methodologies lead to student success? At enrollment- and tuition-conscious state institutions (Oregon's budget has been hammered in the past decade) they sure should be concerned about this.

Stephen's letter also points to the need for cross-unit affiliations of "good guys."

Comment from George M. Bodner

Before too many young chemical educators get the wrong idea from the experiences of the two "Stephen's" (Hawkes and Lower), I think it is important to cite a counterexample. I was hired as an assistant professor in chemical education, promoted to the rank of associate professor, then to the rank of professor, and, last week, to the rank of distinguished professor on the basis of one thing, my contribution to the teaching of chemistry at Purdue and other institutions. Some institutions still have no idea what it means to work in the area of chemical education, but others do. The key is recognizing which is which, and then going to the right institution.

Question to George Bodner from Paul Kelter

Bottom-line question:

Part I: Would your institution (Purdue or otherwise) tenure a chemical education-based assistant professor who, after 6 years, got no money, had no publications, but was recognized (by whatever criteria your institution uses) as an excellent teacher?

Part II: Would **you** vote to tenure such a faculty member?

Response from George Bodner

My institution would not tenure someone who no publications and no money. If you look at the letter head for my institution, you will see a Griffen on top of a shield divided into three aras that represent teaching, research and service. It is assumed that ALL faculty will contribute in at least two of these areas. I have served on the university promotions committee for three years, watched over 250 people come through for promotion across the campus over this time, and concluded that ALL faculty are indeed expected to contribute in two of these areas. I mean ALL. No one, in that time, has been promoted solely on the basis of research.

Comment on G. Bodner's reply by Michael Chejlava

Would a faculty member who expected little of the students and thus received high student evaluations (I have seen several cases of this.) be considered to have "contributed" in the area of teaching?

Bodner's reply

No because our promotion system includes peer evaluation.

Comment from Michael Chejlava

Unfortunately in smaller schools and even large schools where there are no positions for "chemical educators" publishing in J Chem Ed or other similar publications is often not counted as a "real" publication. Also, if the administration is unable (or unwilling) to come up with matching funds and have not funded the science departments' instrumentation needs it is nearly impossible to get money from the NSF. If you read the lists of grants for instrumentation, you will see at least 75% of the money going to the "haves" year-in-and-year-out.

Comment on Kelter's e-mail from Daniel P. Tompkins

If there were a sound demonstration of his or her effect on retention, learning, etc. I sure would.

North Carolina is a case in point. One of my colleagues in the state tells me the state passed its law requiring peer review of faculty (in '94, right?) after a very popular teacher was denied tenure at one of the state schools and legislators got incensed. That may or may not be true, but in many state legislatures, state universities are under the gun for ignoring undergraduates. Even if they don't care about student success in and for itself, a smart administration and a smart department chair might notice that the folks who fund them often do.

Comment from Michael Chejlava That is if the funders have a clue as to what student success is? The one big problem here is the difficulty in being able to quantify educational success. There are far too many factors involved and administrators and legislators usually rely very heavily on the first easy number (student evaluations and mandated testing) that they can find. However, these only measure a small portion of the equation of success in education.

Comment from Michael Berg

After watching the responses today, I have figured out that there is a lot of angst boiling down to research verses teaching. I do not think that the two are mutually exclusive. Some of the best teachers I have had are world famous researchers and some of the worst teachers I've had have done no research!

Maybe we should be asking what makes a good teacher, not what technique is best to use.

Comment from Paul Kelter

Our task as chem edders is different from any other discipline in chemistry for many reasons, one being that while many of our colleagues welcome our work, others are inclined to pre-emptively reject what we do for a variety of reasons.

So when the data reveal new fundamental models of behavior in organic, P-chem, etc., they are adopted with excitement by the academic community. Educational models, however, are viewed with much less acceptance. Changing the way teaching is done is, in our field, much more difficult, yet it is vital to fight for.

As such, the issue of tenure and promotion for chem edders takes on some urgency. And the points that have been made about the nature of administration, the variability among departments in their view of "worth", and such, are important. There are very few Full Professors of chemical education nationwide.

It is in that spirit that I present an abridged version of a Spring 1992 memo from the Division of Chem Educ. at ACS, entitled "RESEARCH AND SCHOLARLY WORK IN CHEMICAL EDUCATION". It deals with recommended criteria for tenure and promotion of chem edders. Here are the headlines. If there is enough interest, I'll scan a complete copy on to a Web page.

  1. Development of new courses/curricula
  2. Leadership at professional meetings
  3. Published articles in peer-reviewed journals
  4. Submission and funding of grant proposals
  5. Contributions towad instructional improvement
  6. other activities (textbooks, reviews, outreach,

Response from KRF

Be of bad cheer! This happens at "teaching institutionstoo, which even have a committment to student learning". I'm the only person in my discipline who actually studies to become a better professor, in the sense that I attempt to learn to ask my students to change thorhg prolbem solving. I have colleagues who demand little more than memorizationa dn regurgitation. Their influence on the major is so profound I find myself in the position of desiring to retire because I get so few students in my class.

Comment from Dave Yaron

That (teaching students to do simulation by Oversby) sounds like a great project. Do you have any further info (web site etc.)?

Ruth Chabay and Bruce Sherwood have developed a calculus-based physics course in which students write their own simulations. The following is from their web site (

"Matter & Interactions emphasizes the modeling of physical systems, and engages students in making approximations and simplifying assumptions. It emphasizes qualitative reasoning to provide a foundation and a context for quantitative reasoning. Students engage in computer modeling of physical systems, so they can deal with more complex and more realistic models and so they can see the predictive power as well as the limitations of the Newtonian synthesis. Modern concepts such as the atomic nature of matter, energy quantization, and relativistic dynamics are interwoven throughout the course. The emphasis on atomic-level analysis unifies mechanics and thermal physics."

They are really excited about this approach and plan to develop it further. They have been using the cT programming language, which students have been able to learn in just two class sessions. However, they are now phasing out cT and switching to the Python language with a 3-D graphics library (

Response by John Oversby

We are expecting the project to be completely written up by the beginning of September (the European Commision will expect that!). After that, there will be an open web site with copies of the software and some of the materials we have used, and CDROM at low cost for colleagues to use. Next year we propose to carry out a second set of trials in schools and will be basing this in the schools involved in the project. We are intending to invite any who wish to join in to use the materials in the same way (pre and post test, etc) and send analysed results to get a massive database of ways of teaching children how to model. We would then disseminate the findings on our School of Education web-site here. At this stage, if you are interested, please send a brief email with deatils such as school, age of students you would work with, and snail mail address. I will send you in September further details of the next phase.

The software permits students to create particle models with up to 100 particles, with varying masses, colours, different initial velocities, and a set of walls and boxes of varying sizes. The trials have involved model construction for ether diffusion, bromine diffusion into air, brownian motion, potassium permanganate diffusion into water, and diffusion of bromine and air from two large flasks connected by a narrow tube. The students 'think aloud' as they construct, and as they discuss the models made by others in their own school and others. International discussions between Germany, Poland and the UK are taking place this week! There is a model concept pre and post test and the 'think aloud' comments are also recorded and evaluated. So far, students have made significant and remarkable progress in moving from macro to micro explanations using the software.

Comment on Bodner's view from Rea Freeland

The discussion of rewards for educational research is difficult in a couple of respects. Unless hired into a place such as Purdue with a clear expectation that you would do research in chemical education, I'd say that it's a rather substantial risk to take on this type of work in a research university. My experience as a faculty member at Harvey Mudd College (a place that valued teaching and research about equally) was that science education research was clearly "counted" as long as it was published or well funded. However, no one there based their tenure case primarily on educational research and, if they had, I'm fairly sure they would have been denied tenure since a small college counts on people to represent and stay vested in the research area for which they were hired.

The standard advice we gave in the teaching center at Carnegie Mellon is to wait until after getting tenure to launch any major educational research. My opinion has shifted after a few years of observing the successful careers of people who didn't take that advice because of their passion for education. I think what matters is keeping the evaluation of your work at the same level as the amount of time you put into it. If someone is going after grants and/or publishing, then there should be an external reviewer who can assess the work when needed. If they are working on a shoestring to benefit primarily students in their own courses and aren't putting a huge amount of time into it, then students should carefully evaluate how much it helps. Asking about the level of evaluation expected probably tells us a good bit about whether or not we have the time, resources or inclination to meet the requirements.

While I agree that students should not be the only assessors of teaching effectiveness, there is a substantial research literature suggesting that students are able to fairly assess a large number of the key dimensions (e.g. organization and enthusiasm but not expertise in the field). There are a number of new models of assessing teaching (e.g. AAHE's course portfolios, in addition to peer review). I think we could be using more of these modes of assessment, especially to defend and showcase innovative teaching methods. I see a lot of hope in these assessment methods for improving the evaluation of teaching overall as well as inspiring more faculty to care about deeper student learning. While an occasional faculty member may get good ratings by pleasing students with easy standards,the majority of students want to be held to meaningful standards and know that what they learned is valuable. Since I spent several years helping faculty respond to student evaluation of courses, I tend to have faith in the great majority of students. Still, it would be very nice if more schools (or even departments) could supplement student evaluations with other forms of data. It could be a big help in making the faculty review process more friendly toward teaching innovations and more accepting of the scholarship of teaching as a valuable contribution.

Comment on Paul Kelter's question from Mike Epstein

I've been lurking on this conversation but let me put in my two cents. I'm not qualified to comment on Part I but I will vote NO on Part II because I would find unacceptable that such an individual "got no money" and "had no publications" for 6 years. Communications skills for an academic should be both oral and written and a "good" (i.e., innovative) teacher should have devised a number of unique educational methods over those 6 years that were worth sharing with colleagues through media such as JChemEd. There are also a number of funding sources for innovative education and even just for instrumentation needs for education, so there is no excuse for "no money."

Also not mentioned in the criteria below are contributions to academic life (participation in committees, advising student organizations, etc.). These go hand-in-hand with the "good" teacher who is immersed in the lives of the students, particularly at a small liberal-arts college.

Remarks from Brian


Thanks for a very interesting conference. You gave us the opportunity to actually experience a sampling of our colleague^Os work, and at our own convenience.

Our Using Computers in Chemical Education Newsletter will be going online this Fall. For those interested in the general use of this and other technology for enhancing teaching Chemistry take a look at our online draft

You can subscribe (for FREE) to be notified when our first issue will be up. Anyone willing to write up some of his or her ideas please email me. This might be an opportunity to follow through on some of the questions and ideas expressed during the conference.

Remarks from Denis Bussieres

his is the last day of general discussion on "Summer 2000 ConfChem"
"The use of computer simulations in General Chemistry"

Several issues were brought up these last days like

  • the large amount of time involved to develop simulations,
  • the limited distribution,
  • the general wish of wider diffusion,
  • the suggestion of a systematic repertory of software/simulation,
not to mention the stimulation to use these new tools and teach in a different way trying to reach more and more students.

Keep your comments coming.... this is the last day!

Comment from Gary L. Bertrand"

... I find that developers usually get some small amount of credit from their institutions, and the developer also has the possibility of receiving funding both externally and internally for the effort. However, innovators who adapt these materials to their classes rarely get any credit at all. In order to break this barrier we are going to have to find a way to convince both university administrators and funding agencies that teachers' efforts to improve their skills in educational technology is not only worthy of credit after the fact, it is worthy of investment before the fact.

One selling point: The technology is obviously going to be a major factor in Distance Learning, and teaching institutions are going to have to at least match that technology in the classroom and laboratory if they have any hope of competing in the next decade or two. If you think "fluff" pays off now, hang on to your hat. Smaller schools are not only going to be competing with similar institutions, but with national-level consortiums presenting STAR instructors and the full power of Web Television. Traditional schools will have the advantage of personal contact, warm fuzzies, and the college-community atmosphere but that won't be enough if they can't match the technology.

We have gotten to this point by working from the bottom up, and I see a limit to how far we can go by following this path. Try to get some of your campus administrators to look at the materials that have been presented here. A site such as Jimmy Reeves has proposed can be a showplace where innovators can show their bosses what they will be able to bring into their classroom if the institution invests a little in Summer support, or a reduced teaching load during the academic year.

From Brian

I agree with (Gary) the stiffer competition to come from online stars. If I show one of my administrators your work or others, and they are impressed, why wouldn't they just get your material. It is already available, and I'm dubious about release time to learn how to use the simulations.

Still I think one of the major incentives to better student learning is showing them that their learning is important to us. If we have enough new interesting material, students are engaged for longer, and usually learn more. So having a lot of material available will be beneficial. Some information on how the material is used with various groups would also be interesting.

Comment from Hawkes, Stephen" In my observation, "world famous researchers" who are among the "best teachers" use (with some exceptions) only traditional teaching techniques and cannot take the time to interest themselves in more successful techniques. They are good teachers because they are intelligent and sensitive. They are often able to use their social skills to help special cases, but cannot take the major steps that will make quantum jumps in student performance. Moreover, outside their own specialty, their knowledge is dated.

From Michael Chejlava

I vigorously support the use of research in undergraduate education. What I do not support is the narrow interpretation of research (as # of publications and # of grants) and the use of these evaluations by administrators, i.e. to bolster the reputation of their institutions at the expense of student learning.

Also, as Professor Hawkes stated, the narrow research focus needed to get grants tends to produce faculty with little knowledge outside of what is needed for their research projects. This narrowness and the tendency to treat students as technicians, in my view, severely limits real student learning.

I have mentored students in projects which could never be publishable in peer-reviewed journals, but that helped the students to learn more than they did in the rest of their college courses.

Value of simulations from Gary L. Bertrand

confidence whatsoever in the ability of these materials for "standalone" teaching. I developed my materials as tools for teachers, not as something to replace teachers. Most of them can be used in a variety of ways, but all of them need to be placed in the context of a particular course being taught by a particular teacher. They may be available, but I really don't think they are accessible to students without a teacher spending some time with them, and providing the students with the necessary background information before they are assigned or used in class.

Thanks from Steve Stepenuck

Thank you Dennis, Don, Brian, and all contributors for a most stimulating conference! Would that I could have made or found the 52 hr/day to have kept up with it properly!

I have lost count of how many times I have bitten my [Confchem] tongue after having read someone's comment[s], but it has been great fun.

As one who is about to embark on a sabbatical during which I shall be attempting to come up to speed in this area of computer-assisted learning, I have found the discussion on "time requirements" to have been both realistic and depressing. Relative to writing really good stuff that genuinely and effectively helps a wide range of students, as someone said a long time ago: "The only problem with infinite branching is that it requires infinite time." :-|

However, sessions like this do provide hope.

The final words from Denis Bussieres

Hi everyone,

This is it, the discussion is ended.

So many opinions, so many views and thoughts, so many successes.

Thanks to all participants for sharing their opinions and their experience.

I wish you a fruitful summer and please be back to the next ConfChem.