App Helps Chemistry Professor get Students More Engaged in Class and More Involved With the Learning Material.
Chemistry is my passion, and I am always fascinated by new methods to help students understand the subject. In my role as a chemistry professor at Saint Louis University, I strive to bring my enthusiasm for the subject matter to my students, and do my best to present them the course material in ways that they understand. However, like many STEM-related courses, chemistry can be a challenging topic for some students, as it requires the mastery of abstract concepts that are important in understanding molecular structure, physical properties, and complex chemical transformations. With my student’s best interests in mind, I’m always looking for new teaching tools to make chemistry more accessible so students are fully invigorated by the classroom experience.
Recently, I have watched with interest as my colleagues in other departments have incorporated mobile learning and iPads into the classroom. My own experiences with incorporating new technology resources into the classroom convinced me that students are receptive to learning opportunities that employ the various electronic mobile devices common to their everyday lives. So, when I learned there was a new chemistry app being launched this summer, I was eager to learn more about it.
I was pleased to learn that the new app, called ChemDraw for iPad ($US 9.99 on iTunes) and created by PerkinElmer, was developed based on desktop software that has been widely accepted and used in the scientific community since the 1980s. Given that I was already familiar with the desktop software, I had an easy time navigating the version of the software for iPad. It was apparent that my students would benefit from the experience of being able to draw, share, and save molecules and chemical reactions – both during and outside of class, and all from their tablets. I began to brainstorm how I could incorporate the app into my summer chemistry class, Principles of Organic Chemistry II. Now that the summer session has concluded, I can share how I incorporated ChemDraw into my daily teaching routine and the positive changes I observed as a result of this addition to the classroom.
Chemistry requires hands-on learning; from working out complicated chemical reactions to executing experiments in the laboratory, students learn best when they are working the material. Rather than simply lecturing to my students, I have always given them in-class problems to work so I can track how well the class is absorbing the material I am presenting. However, up until this summer, the process of tracking how well they were solving the in-class problems involved me calling on volunteers to verbally walk me through solving the problems on the dry erase board at the front of the classroom. While I worked hard to call on as many different students as possible throughout the course, inevitably it was the same small group of students who participated in the problem-solving exercise. Students who weren’t comfortable talking in front of the class or those who struggled with the material never participated. This ultimately resulted in most students not even working the assigned in-class problems; the majority of the class would just wait for the usual suspects to raise their hands and provide an answer.
Engaging ALL students
When I introduced ChemDraw to my students, it became a quick and easy way for all of the students to work on in-class problems and submit their answers directly to me. Importantly, the sharing capabilities of the ChemDraw app allowed for anonymous submissions and this provided comfort for all students to participate. As an incentive for all students to participate, I assigned a small amount of course points to sharing their answers with me; sharing in-class problem answers with me, regardless of whether the answers were correct, was worth about half a percent toward the overall grade. With this approach, I went from looking out on the class and watching most students not work the in-class problems to watching all students work the problems. Furthermore, the answers the students shared with me were quite diverse. I scanned the answers the students were sharing with me for incorrect ones to share and discuss with the entire class. I was able to assess, in real time, what concepts were causing issues. From my perspective, ChemDraw figuratively allowed every student to simultaneously come to the board and work the problems, but without leaving their seat and in an anonymous fashion.
ChemDraw has also helped students when studying outside of class. With the app and the Flick-to-Share technology, they are able to save and share molecules and reactions with each other (and me). This has created virtual study groups that have helped the students collaborate better, which has resulted in greater teamwork and discussion amongst my pupils. As an educator, it is rewarding to watch your students learn from each other, and ChemDraw makes this possible – whether my students are sitting in my class, participating in a study group in a dorm room, or studying independently.
Now that my summer class is over, I can report that ChemDraw helped my students become more engaged in the course material, and more involved in the classroom experience. There was a more robust discussion of class concepts among the students, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to continually determine my students’ progress – in real classroom time – throughout in the course of the semester (rather than simply on exam days). My students embraced the fact that they were able to learn science on their iPads, and had the ability to share their findings amongst each other. ChemDraw was a positive addition to my classroom this summer, and I look forward to seeing how my future students benefit from the app.