A Joint Project of The Teaching Center and The Department of Chemistry
Washington University was one of 31 U.S. institutions of higher education to receive the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Technology for Teaching Leadership Grant in 2005. This grant initiative was designed to support the development of mobile technology environments that positively influence student learning.
The grant provided the following HP technology:
1 Wireless Tablet PC
1 Tablet Docking Station and DVD-CDRW Optical Drive;
1 Portable Digital Projector
For the Classroom
20 Wireless Tablet PCs
10 Tablet Docking Stations and DVD-CDRW Optical Drive
1 Access Point with Wireless Card
1 20-unit Laptop Cart
1 All-in-One Inkjet Printer and Digital Camera
Chemistry: Regina Frey
Chemistry: Bill Buhro, Dewey Holten, and Bill Spees
Courses Supported by the Grant
This grant focuses on curriculum development in our upper-level undergraduate laboratory and interdisciplinary courses, beginning with Physical Chemistry Laboratory (Chemistry 445) and Solid-State and Materials (Chemistry 465). Two key skills addressed with the use of the tablet PC technology are the utilization of chemical computational software (Chemistry 465) and record-keeping and data-documentation (Chemistry 445).
The primary aim of this curriculum-development project is to increase students’ understanding of techniques and skills used by practicing scientists. In Solid-State and Materials Chemistry, the 2005 HP grant has enabled us to implement the use of current computational chemistry software and to introduce in-class active-learning exercises for chemical modeling that have resulted in an increase in class participation and improved homework scores. In Physical Chemistry Laboratory, the grant has enabled us to improve the teaching of record-keeping and data-documentation practices via an electronic laboratory notebook. The introduction of the electronic laboratory notebook has improved the teaching and learning of efficient organization and management of experimental data and observations; this technology has also encouraged students to modify experimental procedures to obtain better results, thus allowing them to simulate a research experience in the classroom.
Solid-State and Materials Chemistry
During the past two years (2006 and 2007) since we have utilized in-class exercises that use the tablet PCs:
Scores on homework using PowderCell software have improved. When additional in-class exercises were added in the second year (spring 2007), the scores improved over spring 2006.
Student participation and interactivity increased when in-class use of tablet PCs was introduced.
In spring 2007, when additional in-class exercises were added, the instructor observed that the increased student participation and in-class dialogue continued even in the non-tablet PC class sessions.
In post-semester surveys taken in 2006 and 2007, students rated the following items as shown below, on a scale from strongly agree (5) to strongly disagree (1).
Incorporating Tablet PC exercises into lecture improved my understanding of course content: 4.6 average
I understood concepts more easily using in-class computer exercises than waiting until after class to try the computer exercises: 4.1 average
I am more comfortable working computer exercises outside of class because I used tablet PCs in class: 4.31 (4.1 in 2006 and 4.5 in 2007 when more in-class exercises were added)
Physical Chemistry Laboratory
Using the tablet PCs as electronic notebooks resulted in
Immediate sharing of the experimental data, which led to increased team work.
Improved pre-laboratory notebook templates, which allowed for the incorporation of graphic information, such as instrument schematics and wiring schemes. The students were then able to write notations and changes on these graphics, which led to information consolidation.
Improved grading feedback by instructors, which led to higher-quality laboratory reports.
Increased “on-the-fly” data analysis by students, which improved final experimental results.
In post-semester surveys, students reported having positive attitudes about using the tablet PCs:
Preferred electronic over hardcopy laboratory notebooks: 4.1 (Spring 2007 only)
Agreed or strongly agreed that electronic notebooks allowed them to better manage and organize their notebooks and experimental data: 85-95%
Agreed or strongly agreed that electronic notebooks allowed for easier sharing of data: 90-100%
The tablet PCs have changed the way the instructors teach their courses. The instructors have re-designed their courses around using the tablets and would not be able to teach these courses as they now envision them without the tablet PCs. The tablet PCs have changed the physical-chemistry instructors’ methods of commenting on papers and the solid-state instructor’s method of teaching chemical structure.
The tablet PCs have greatly improved our ability to teach our students the practical skills they need as future scientists. Based on our experiences, the wireless tablet PCs are the perfect technology for electronic laboratory notebooks. It is easy to transfer data from the instrument to the notebook, to share data between team members, to write observations, to calculate results, to download figures, and to write reports. The efficiency and immediacy with which it is possible to obtain and analyze data allow students to modify experimental procedures during the lab session, which mimics research experience but in a class situation.
Computer modeling, which allows for the solution of complex problems and the rendering of three-dimensional objects, is now routinely used in the chemical industry. The tablets give our students hands-on experience in computer modeling, resulting in the recognition that modeling and visualization are essential for understanding chemistry.
For Further Reading
iTeach Newsletter, Fall 2005 The Record, July 15, 2005