CONFCHEM Discussion

This section includes discussions only related to this paper and the exchange I participated.

From: Denis Bussieres
SQ- A3 BP : Upgrading animations

You refer to different generations of your first animation on the reaction of a matal atom with a non-metal one. Each generation is a kind of "upgrading" of the previous one by addition of some more details. This is great and show how good is the technology to serve our purpose of illustrating our concepts.

Question : With those upgrading and additionnal details added, is there a way not to restrict the access _and_ the comprehension of the simulations ? With to many details and infos, can one loose the overall image or concept we are trying to explain ?

ASQ-A3 CC Upgrading animations

We agree with you. If the animation or simulation has become too complicated or contains too much information, students will probably not get the message. However, what we meant by a different generation refers to a version using a new generation of technology. With improved technology, we can present the simulation better, not necessarily more complicated or contains more information.

From: george long
SQ-A1,2,3 GRL: Assesment

An issue that has been on my mind for some time is assessment of computer based curriculum. There are a variety of methods used for this, but most methods are conventional - by that I mean they could be applied equally as well to any curricular change. For example, the use of student evaluations, and then the double blind study of student performance on tests. My question - Are these reasonable assessment methods for computer based curricula ? the Software industry uses very different criteria in evaluating software, that deals with ease of use, among other issues (because the goals are different, of course). There seems to be no current criteria for efficiency in delivering material for example. Also, The rate of change in the available technology seems to be faster than the abillity to study the use of the technology. I'd be interested in any thoughts anyone might have on limitations of the evaluation methods.

ASQ-A1,2,3 CC: Assessment

Frankly, we have not done an assessment study of animation or simulation. Like many other educators, we make up these material hoping to achieve the goal of making students see what we like them to see. We pulled students opinion, and they did give favourable comments. However, the results did not give quantitative indication of the effectiveness of animations and simulations. How these were used also affects their effectiveness. We have difficulty in giving double blind test, because we give all students equal opportunities. We have about a thousand students in freshman chemistry, and we offer the computer material to all. Some classes have been exposed more to computer animations and simulations than others, but the examinations do not test concepts involved in these simulations specifically.

Publishers of our textbooks are interested showing us how fancy their visual clips of experiments are. The representatives are seldom interested in what we have developed. So far, we have not got any software industry to evaluate our computer simulations, partly because the technology evolves so fast that no market has been developed for them yet.

From: Donald Rosenthal
SQ-A3 DR: Some Short Questions about Paper A-3 From:

SQ A-3 DR: Q1- Student Access to Animations and Simulations Do your students have access to these animations and simulations or are they only available in your lectures?

ASQ A-3 CC Students access

Students have access to the animations and simulations over many years when students access the DOS version of our course information system. Since we move to the Internet course sites, students are not given the opportunity to access the DOS version of animations or simulations. Some, but not all are shown during lectures recently.

From: Donald Rosenthal

SQ A-3 DR: Q2- Do your students have access and do they use other simulations in your general chemistry course? For example, do they use simulations like those described in Paper A-1?

ASQ A-3 CC: Access to other simulations

Our course Internet site has links to some other simulations. Some students may have accessed to others, but we have no hard data on these yet. We are aware of simulations in A-1 only recently, and our course Internet site has not linked to these yet.

From: "Noah's Father">
SQ A-1,2,3 NF Class Size

SQ Addressed to all Presenters and Participants: I am curious how much of your efforts in computer usage are directed towards giving a "small class size" feeling to otherwise large lecture sections. Though I appreciate the wonder and utility of computers in the classroom, it seems to me the time input and added equipment is not much different than adding a new faculty line and diminishing the lecture class size, thus facilitating more student-student interaction, allowing more "on the fly" assessment, and generally providing for a more manageable, interactive atmosphere.

ASQ A-1,2,3 CC Class Size

Come to think of it, your question hit the nail right on the head, Professor Fackler. Because the class size is large (220 per class) and students ability differs greatly. We provide animations and simulations to help the weaker students. Strong students are able to handle abstract concepts, and they may see the simulations and animations as trivial. However, the availability of animations and simulations raises other interest than science itself.

Comment from Walt Volland

Hello everyone, I agree that an additional faculty member allows for smaller class sizes. However, just because the class size goes down by half doesn't necessarily alter what the student sees in lecture. Adding faculty doesn't necessarily improve our student's views and perceptions of chemistry models.

I think Donald is right when he trys to compensate for large class sizes. I think simulations and animations offer a way to do this. They also do more than that, because they offer students more than one bite at the apple. Students can get some experience with the principles without worrying about their limited access to a lab. When they work with the simulations and animations they are not hampered by a lack of lab skills. They are potentially free from schedule limitations. The animations create a version of an "open" lab.

Regarding the cost issue, 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.

Short question: Have any students commented on the convenience of accessing the simulations at off hours?

Some Other Related Discussion

From: SQ A-1: Simulations for problems.

Q1: I have read your paper and I have gone to your teaching web site to look at some of the simulations you offered to your students. You have used worksheets to guide your students' investigation. In other occasions, you have used a form for students to submit work. Thus, some of your simulations are sources of data for problems. They are actually sources of homework, especially for group learning tasks. Are you using simulations mostly for learning tasks?


Yes, at the present time most of my simulations are linked to learning tasks (homework). I have found that student compliance with doing problems from the back of each chapter is not good (one year I tried collecting it for a small amount of credit . . . the fraction of students handing in completed work from each chapter grew smaller as the semester progressed . . . there is also a problem with copied work). Most students do complete the on-line work related to the simulations even though I only collect each assignment from a small fraction of the class. However, students can still "collaborate" on the work.

SQ A-1 Q2 from

Q2: Using simulations for homework is certainly interesting, but you have devoted a lot of time in making these simulations up. Using CGI and programs, you have used HTML Forms to evaluate students' work. Do you see merit in using Forms to generate problems for students' home work, and use computer to evaluate their work without the simulations?

ASQ A-1 Q2

In fact I plan on adding some non-simulation "homework forms" within my course notes during the summer break. These will be used when simulations would be of little value (in my assessment). For example I plan to add interactive forms for conversion of unit type problems (within the SI system, moles/mass, mass/moles/volume/molarity, etc). The good points of these involve immediate feedback (as long as a check feature is built in) and a large number of problems (if they are generated using a random number function). However, students must have access to a computer and the web (although the interactive problems could be generated in a form that could be downloaded and used off-line). Whether they will be "effective" remains to be seen.

One concern that I have is the growing fraction of students who have difficulty using their calculators properly. Has anyone else noticed this?

Comment from

I have a system to let students write quizzes over the Internet. In one of my Quiz questions the result expected is (1/4)e-9. On some of the calculators, the student will see 0.000000002 and they enetered 2e-9 as the answer. My computer system gave a zero mark for such an answer. The student came to argue for marks in my office. I told him or her the answer he or she entered has an error of 20%, and that was why the answer worths zero marks.

Because of this incidence, I put a block of questions that gives similar answers such as (1/3)e-9, (1/6)e-9, (1/7)e-9, (1/8)e-9, (1/9)e-9 etc to make sure that each students will get one such a question. More students came to argue, and I was glad to catch some of students' bad habbit.

Comment from Jimmy Reeves

I think calculators are a key factor in the tendency of students to seek algorithms rather than understanding. If the proper formula can be found, it becomes an easy matter to plug and chug their way to a solution, without ever considering its meaning. When a students fail to realize that 3x10(-15) is not a reasonable answer for the number of molecules in a sample of matter, it seems obvious that the problem extends beyond their inability to use their calculators correctly. When I lecture, I emphasize the need to estimate the size and indicate the unit of the answer they are seeking as the first step in approaching a problem. The interactive exercises being developed for AACE will explicitly require students to do this. In addition, when I design multiple choice exams, I strive to make two of the distracters "impossible" but achievable on a calculator if the data is input incorrectly. For example, when asking a question on average atomic weight, I provide answers that are below that of the isotope with lowest weight and above that of the isotope with the highest weight. I also emphasize conceptual questions that ask students to identify a picture that best represents the physical situation indicated by a number (c.f. ).

Comment from Denis Bussieres

This seems to be a general trend. Nowadays, students want the best way to get the "wright" answer, whatever the process needed to get it.

I think the "key ingredient" in there is the "units". I insist and make obligatory to give the "units" with the answer otherwise there is a penalty. On the other end, I make sure they understand that "units" can help them sometimes to find the way to get the answer they are looking for.

And calculator do NOT give "units"...

Comment from L. Peter Gold

Most general chemistry textbooks are contributors to this problem. They say all the right things in Chapter 1 or 2 about looking at the reasonableness of the answer but then forget about it in subsequent chapters. The only exception of which I am aware is the new edition (3) of Brady, Russell, and Holum. They go through this for almost every example problem in the book. I don't know whether they also do it in the solutions manual; if not, they should.

I present this idea to my students as "Wheeler's First Great Moral Principle." John Wheeler is a physicist; he stated his principle in one of his textbooks many years ago. It says, "Never solve a problem until you know the answer."


Don Mencer's Comment invites some comment on quizzes.

I also liked Walt Volland's on-line quiz ( with animations. I am not sure how I could use such a quiz in a supervised setting (due to the logistics . . . too many students for any of computer labs) and I would not want to give quizzes on-line that would be done outside of class time (for example in dorm rooms). Any thoughts on how we can do on-line testing and be satisfied that the work submitted is actually done by the student who will receive the grade?

Chieh's comment

Our regular in-class (lectureed) students have been writing Quizzes over the Internet for more than two years. Anything presentable on the Internet can be used on these quizzes. I have used some figures, but have not used animations. I have also visited Walt Volland's site above, and find the questions excellent. I will try to use animations in the future.

In our case, the quiz marks is worth only 10% of the total grade. Each student write 9 quizzes for a 13-week term, and we use 8 best marks to derive an average quiz mark. Since the weight for the quiz mark is low, we do not care much about several students doing them together. These are not supervised quizzes. We keep track of some of the things students do, and the records show many students doing the quizzes after midnight. If a student get a very low mark, we allow them to write the quiz again. Of course, a new set of question will be chosen from the pool.

In each quiz, I give 5 to 10 questions, each from a set of similar questions. Thus, I can cover 5 to 10 different concepts in a quiz. When students re-write a quiz, they will learn the more same thing again, hopefully better.

While I revize the questions during the past few weeks, I thaught the purpose of the quiz is to help students learn. Why not make writing the quizzes a learning process. Thus, I added some background information and point out the skills students are suppose to acquire from doing a problem. As a result, students will have to read more, and spend more time for each quiz.

Unfortunately, only registered students will be able to write these quizzes, because of mark processing. Thus, I cannot offer the trial to the CONFCHEM audience at this time. The thaught and strategy might be of interest to you.

Regarding Walt Volland URL for emission spectrum

I took your suggestion and visited your excellent site

Would you let us know the software you have used to make up the diagrams on this and your other pages?

Reply from Walt Volland

Hello Peter,

Thanks for the nice comments. The spectrum site took a lot of time. You are seeing the 5th or 6th version of the spectrum simulation. I've had a good number of thoughtful suggestions from students for improvements so it is still a work in progress. There are some high school teachers who have their students using the "lab" as an enrichment activity.

The software I use includes

Adobe Photoshop 5.5
Macromedia's Fireworks 3,
Macromedia's Dreamweaver 3,
Homepage (by Filemaker),
Bryce 3D (Metacreations now Corel),
Chem3D , Cambridge Scientific
Poser 4 (Metacreations now Corel)
Painter 5.5 (Metacreations now Corel)
Graphic Converter (a shareware program)
These are the mainstay programs Each one offers a different "benefit."

The way to minimize costs is to buy though a software vendor like software showcase who provide educational discounts .

Some of the companies like Wavefunction and Cambridge have good educational discount offers.

Best regards,

Walt Volland

Comment from Don Mencer

This is not a bad idea . . . in essence the quiz is an on-line learning tool that counts toward the grade (similar to homework). Even though it counts for only a small portion of the grade, some students could take unfair advantage (by having someone else do the work for them).

Does anyone have thoughts on how a automated on-line exam/quiz system can be used to fairly assess (avoiding cheating) student learning? Am I "stuck" with using any on-line versions (which could include nice animations or simulations) as practice exams?

Has anyone tried projecting animations in a classroom as part of a quiz or exam?

Comment from Brian

To check how effective this was, for the next test I didn^Ot tell the students specifically that the animations would be covered on the test. During the test I setup the animation and asked them, for extra credit, to write out a description of the main points of the animation. The results as you might expect were quite good. Errors were generally incompleteness, not mistakes in interpretation. The next semester a similar procedure was followed, except I didn^Ot setup the animation during the test. Surprisingly the students did as well. Leaving out the step of discussing the student descriptions of the main points of the animation, resulted in somewhat less complete answers. The overall results were still quite good.