(A Qualitative Case Study)
by Daonian Liu
University of Nebraska
This study examined a graduate general chemistry course delivered on the Internet. A qualitative case study procedure was used for this research. The central question explored was what did the students and instructor experience in the course. The themes emerging from an in-depth understanding of the complexities of the participants' experiences were elaborated and the implications of the new teaching approach as an alternative in the curriculum and instruction design were discussed.
The major themes included merits and limitations of distance learning and technology-mediated learning as well as the implications of cooperative learning in distance education. The findings demonstrated an overall positive evaluation of the Internet chemistry course in terms of providing otherwise unattainable educational service, creating a highly collaborative teaching and learning environment, and meeting various needs of in-service chemistry teachers. The participants thought highly of using CD-ROM SmallScale as the course textbook and of the instantaneous class interactions. However, while they recognized the advantages and potential power of distance learning, the participants encountered difficulties that were associated with this learning mode. The difficulties included technical problems such as difficult e-mail access, shortage of hardware and software, and lack of technical training support, and pedagogical issues such as attitude toward distance education, time management, and class participation management. The study analyzed those issues, relating them to previous research, discussed the ways in which the problems could be tackled, and offered suggestions for future research on distance education.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter One Introduction Chapter Two Procedures Chapter Three Description of the Case Chapter Four Development of Issues Chapter Five Interpretations Chapter Six Summary References
Appendix A Consent Form
Appendix B E-mail Interview Questionnaires
Appendix C Questionnaire for the Instructor
Appendix D Telephone Interview Questionnaire
Appendix E An Assignment Sample
Appendix F Illustrations of CD-ROM SmallScale
Appendix G Course Information Package
This was an e-mail message from David Brooks, professor of chemistry education at a major Midwestern American university. It brought in instant electronic responses across the globe:
Twenty-one students were enrolled including ones from New Delhi and Honolulu. Teaching or taking a course on the Internet was a new experience for the instructor as well as the students. "We, all of us in this course, are breaking new ground" Brooks announced.
The Issues Leading to the Study
High school science teachers have had to address a variety of issues related to hands-on activities during the last two decades (Brooks, 1995; Carin, 1994; Jackson, 1993; McKean, 1989; Morrison, 1994; Steitberger, 1992). These demands have been insufficiently met due to the lack of teachers who are experienced at these activities. Meanwhile, training for in-service science teachers is difficult because they can not leave their jobs for the training. Running summer workshops has served as an approach to address this conflict, but bringing the teachers together requires substantial travel and support costs. Worse still, summer workshops are handicapped in that they block the opportunity of testing out the hands-on activities with students in real-life high school classrooms (Brooks, 1995). Therefore, it is necessary to seek approaches that will save the need of travel and high support costs as well as integrate the training with the in-service teachers' concurrent real-life classroom teaching practices. Distance learning, characteristic of using telecommunications technologies, appears to be one choice. The research literature documents numerous attempts at distance learning over the past few decades and there has been evidence of its success ( Alexander, 1993; Harris, 1989; Langford, 1994; Ross, 1994; Strom, 1994; Turner, 1989). Ross (1994) reports that Indiana University and Purdue University integrated distance learning in teaching chemistry. The labs were micro-scale and utilized home chemicals and supplies at reduced concentrations and quantities, while hazardous experiments were done by watching the experiments being performed on videotapes and collecting data from the apparatus shown.
In her article Research on telecommunicated learning: Past, present, and future, Johnstone (1991) reviews the studies that examine the effectiveness of distance learning since the 1930s, which involves utilizing telecommunications technologies that allow students to be linked with faculty via phone lines, cable television, broadcast and microwave networks, and satellites. She concludes that most studies agree that, when well designed, courses taught in the format of telephone conferencing, computer conferencing, and one-way video or two-way video with audio interaction, were as effective as those taught in a traditional environment. Hawkins (1991) reports on several different distance learning projects. Those projects extended rare learning opportunities to a much larger number of students, encouraged collaborative inquiry in science, math, language arts, and social studies, and facilitated timely sharing and exchange of information and ideas. With few exceptions, the research so far is largely confined to projects that involved televised communications and video/audio conferencing. Such projects are often expensive and complex to carry out and sustain (Blumenstyk, 1991; Hawkins, 1991). Researchers encounter problems in working with technologies under development; problems in coordinating the many technologies such as combinations of satellite, microwave, cable, fiber-optic, and telephone channels; problems in coordinating participants who are novices to both the ideas and the tools; and problems in coordination within and across schools whose work and schedules are not organized to accommodate so-called invaders that enter through electronic networks or satellites (DeLoughry, 1995; Hawkins, 1991; Rojas, 1994). Consequently, there has been the need for educators to be more sensitive to cost and technical barriers, and to choose a technology with fewer "bells and whistles" (Carey, 1991).
Considering the above-mentioned issues, Brooks (1995) designed and conducted a graduate course entitled "Small-Scale Chemistry Activities for Secondary School Classrooms" entirely on the Internet. The course aimed at increasing the awareness and skills in the area of small-scale chemistry with focus on high school chemistry classrooms and meeting the immediate needs of high school chemistry teachers to enhance and revitalize chemistry skills and the related teaching strategies without leaving their jobs for graduate studies.
No research thus far has been reported on conducting a science course entirely on the Internet. Further, to my knowledge, Brooks' attempt was the first reported in the United States that included a lab component in a graduate chemistry course. The audience for the research, therefore, consists largely of college science teachers.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the present study was to provide an in-depth case study of a graduate general chemistry course which was delivered on the Internet for the first time in the United States. The study concentrated on what the students experienced in the course. Elements of the students' experience that were examined included the sources of motivation, the nature of interactions, the advantages and issues associated with distance learning and technology-mediated learning, and the student learning outcome. Based on an in-depth understanding of the students' experience, the study explored the implications of this new teaching mode as an alternative approach in college curriculum and instruction design for science teaching. This research utilized the qualitative case study strategy, but the research site was on the Internet rather than in a traditional classroom setting.
The central question for this case study was: What did the students and instructor experience in a graduate general chemistry course delivered on the Internet? Around this focus were the following subquestions:
€ What was the context in which the students decided to take the course? € What happened during the course? € What did the students think of the course? € What themes emerged from the students' experience in the course? € What themes were unique to this case as compared with the themes that
emerged from other cases applying distance learning? € What theories helped understand the themes? € What insight can be gained from studying the themes across similar cases?
The terms that need to be defined in this study are case study, cooperative learning, distance learning, FTP, general chemistry, Internet, listserv, motivation, qualitative research, small scale chemistry, technology-mediated learning, video-conferencing, and World Wide Web.
Case study means a study in which the researcher explores the particularity and complexity of a single case bounded by time and activity, and collects detailed information by using a variety of data collection procedures during a sustained period of time (Merriam, 1988; Stake, 1995; Yin, 1989).
While distance learning and technology-mediated learning are interrelated, cooperative learning stands for an instructional technique whereby students work together in heterogeneous groups on a structured task to help one another learn (Cooper, 1995; Gamson, 1994; Slavin, 1989; Strother, 1990).
The U. S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment defines distance learning as the "linking of a teacher and students in several geographic locations via technology that allows for interaction" (1989). "Simply put," says Jason Ohler (1991), director of educational technology at the University of Alaska, "distance education occurs when students are in one place and teachers, peer teachers, or resources are in another. The gap in time and space between them is bridged with an array of familiar technology as well as the new machines of the information age (p. 24)."
FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is an Internet tool that allows a user to transfer files between different Internet hosts. A broad range of databases and software are available through FTP (Quible & Ray, 1995).
General chemistry covers the chemistry content at the mainstream high school level as well as at the lowest undergraduate level. The content includes atomic theory, bonding, stoichiometry, gas laws, states of matter, solutions, chemical kinetics, chemical equilibrium, thermodynamics, chemistry of the elements, nuclear chemistry, organic and biochemistry (Brooks, 1995).
Internet refers to the world-wide electronic network constructed by interconnecting the networks of participating countries. It serves as the worldwide information superhighway. The main uses of the Internet include communication via electronic mail, information search, and downloading software and files (Clark, 1995).
A listserv is an electronic bulletin board that a group of people use to share and exchange information. It is an automatic message service which allows its subscribers to receive every message sent to the listserv address (Barron & Ivers, 1996). Those who want to access to a listserv can subscribe to it by sending an e-mail message to the listserv program running on the host computer (Quible & Ray, 1995).
Motivation in this study involves making a decision to initiate action toward a learning goal (Pressley & McCormick, 1995), while interaction is defined as the discussions, debates, and assistance among the students and between the students and the instructor.
Qualitative research is defined by Creswell (1994) as "an inquiry process of understanding a social or human problem, based on building a complex, holistic picture, formed with words, reporting detailed views of informants, and conducted in a natural setting" (pp. 1-2).
Small scale chemistry downscales traditional lab experiments and takes advantage of the inexpensive manipulative plastic equipment developed for use in biotechnology laboratories. Work in the area of small scale chemistry appears to make possible a wider variety of classroom teaching strategies than previous laboratory work, and to extend the range of content coverage possible (Brooks, 1995).
Technology-mediated learning is associated with learning that is augmented by utilizing technologies such as facsimile, telecommunications technologies, videos, and computer software that combine text, sound, graphics, and animation into interactive learning materials.
Video-conferencing refers to the technology which allows a group of people at different locations to conference online with each other. During a videoconference, participants can see and talk with each other through a television or a computer screen.
World Wide Web is an Internet service used for information retrieval. This service takes advantage of seamless linkage of key terms in a document with related information in other documents. Several Web browsers (also called Web navigators), such as Netscape and Mosaic, can be used to navigate the World Wide Web.
Delimitations and Limitations
This study was largely confined to a description and analysis of the information provided by the students and the instructor. The study was limited in at least three aspects: 1) only a little more than half of the students participated in the research; 2) there was little face-to-face contact between the researchers and the students; and 3) the method of data collection was largely confined to e-mail communications. Due to these limitations, the findings, could be subject to criticism and other interpretations.
Significance of the Study
Since no research thus far has been reported on running a chemistry course entirely on the Internet, this study throws light on further exploration of distance learning and provides first-hand information for teachers, especially college science teachers, school administrators including curriculum and instruction designers, and learners who are interested in teaching and learning on the Internet. Specifically, this study contributes to the existing body of literature on distance education by examining both technical and pedagogical issues associated with distance learning and discussing ways of resolving those issues.
Assumptions and Rationale for a Qualitative Design
At present, educational research designs fall into two major paradigms: qualitative and quantitative (Creswell, 1994). According to Stake (1995), the qualitative-quantitative difference is linked to two kinds of research questions. In quantitative studies, the research question seeks out a relationship between a small number of variables whereas in qualitative studies, research questions typically orient to cases or phenomena, seeking patterns of unanticipated as well as expected relationships.
The qualitative research paradigm is largely an investigative process where the researcher gradually makes sense of a social phenomenon by contrasting, comparing, replicating, cataloguing and classifying the object of study (Miles & Huberman, 1984). "For the qualitative researcher," Creswell (1994) notes "the only reality is that constructed by the individuals involved in the research situation. Thus multiple realities exist in any given situation: the researcher, those individuals being investigated, and the reader or audience interpreting a study. The qualitative researcher needs to report faithfully these realities and to rely on voices and interpretations of informants" (pp. 5-6).
This study took a qualitative procedure so that themes could emerge from an in-depth understanding and interpretation of the informants' perspectives in a single event, i.e., the delivery of a graduate general chemistry course on the Internet. Further, because this course delivery format was among the first attempts in the country, the research aimed at exploring and discovering variables for future experimental study. In addition to the absence of variables, there was very little numeric data involved in the study. Both elements fitted in with the assumptions for a qualitative paradigm of research (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992).
The Type of Design Used
This study utilized the qualitative case study tradition. A case study is employed to catch the complexity of a single case and to study the detail of interaction with its contexts. Stake (1995) writes "For the most part, the cases of interest in education and social service are people and programs. Each one is similar to other persons and programs in many ways and unique in many ways. We are interested in them for both their uniqueness and commonalty" (p. 1). Although understanding one case requires an understanding of other cases, uniqueness is expected to be critical to the understanding of the particular case. The main objective of a case study is to understand thoroughly the uniqueness of the case.
Stake (1995) sorts case studies into two categories: intrinsic study and instrumental study. The former refers to a case study where the researcher is interested in the case just because he or she needs to learn about that particular case, while the latter, a case study where the researcher intends to use the case to understand something else rather than the case itself. This present study fell into the first category because its focus was to understand the case other than how this case was related to other cases.
The present case study aimed to understand what the students experienced in one graduate general chemistry course delivered on the Internet. It examined in detail how the students learned about the program and what they expected from it; how the students and instructor interacted between and among each other; what the students benefited from the program, and what setbacks and obstacles they had to overcome or succumb to. Based upon a thorough understanding of the students' experience, the study tried to relate the uniqueness of this program to the commonalty of other programs so that themes and patterns could emerge, be identified, and offer hints or starting points for future research.
The Researchers' Role
Stake (1995) holds that the case researcher plays different roles and has options as to how they will be played (p.91). As qualitative research is primarily interpretative research, the biases, values, and judgment of the researcher should be stated explicitly (Creswell, 1994). There were three researchers involved in this study. One of them was a senior professor of Chemistry Education at a university in the midwest, who has for years dedicated himself to applying technology to science teaching and whose fruitful contributions in terms of educational software development and innovative college science teaching research have gained nation-wide recognition. As the instructor of the course under study, he provided the information on the issues that led to this research, helped collect data, and gave general and specific guidance as to what should be the focus of interest in the study. Another was a senior professor of Curriculum and Instruction, who has rich experience in curriculum research and served for many years as the chair of the Center for Curriculum and Instruction of a midwestern university. He conducted the telephone interviews and provided input in terms of curriculum and instruction design. I took the role of the primary researcher. As a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant at the Center for Curriculum and Instruction of a Midwestern university, I have been studying educational technology and exploring ways of utilizing technology to enhance teaching and learning outcome. In this study, I served as the data collector, interpreter, and analyzer.
Due to previous experiences of educational technology, however, certain biases may have been brought into this study, which may have influenced how the data was understood and interpreted. The study commenced with the assumption that teaching small-scale chemistry on the Internet could achieve similar outcome as if it were taught in a classroom setting and that there might be certain advantages of the electronic approach in terms of encouraging cooperative learning, taking advantage of designing new small-scale experiments and trying them out in actual high school classrooms, and making the course available to individuals who could not leave their home or work for further studies.
In addition to the roles of data collection instrument and data interpreter, I also served as an evaluator of the case. Stake (1995) believes that a case study is partially a search for the merits and shortcomings of a case. The emphasis of a qualitative evaluation of the case was laid on the quality of activities and processes which was presented in narrative description and interpretive assertion.
Data Collection Procedures
The Informants The informants in this study were the course instructor, and the individuals enrolled in the course and willing to participate in the research project. These individuals, coming from all over the country, were chemistry teachers mostly in secondary schools and a few in colleges. Most of them held a Master's degree in chemistry, and some held a Bachelor's degree in chemistry.
They signed up for the course for three major reasons. The prominent reason lay in that they wanted to update their knowledge of better ways of teaching chemistry. Second, they thought the program would be a good opportunity to increase experience with the Internet so that they could find out what other chemistry teachers throughout the country were doing. Lastly, they could earn a few extra credits to advance their salary without having to leave their job.
Qualitative research design invades the life of the informant(s) and sensitive information is often revealed (Spradley, 1980). Three safeguards were taken in this study to protect the informants' rights. First, an exempt research form was filed with the Institutional Review Board; second, the research objectives (including a description of how the data would be collected and used) were articulated clearly in writing (see Appendix A) so that they were fully understood by the informants; and finally, a written consent form was obtained from all the informants (see Appendix A). In addition, the anonymity of the informants was maintained in reporting the study.
Data consisted of the e-mail correspondence between the instructor and the students, between the students themselves, and between the instructor and the school administrators; the students' responses to e-mail interviews; the students' responses to telephone interviews; the instructor's response to a face-to-face interview; the instructor's notes of a telephone conversation between him and a student; and the students' written assignments submitted via e-mail and by mail. The data were collected mainly through e-mail. There were three e-mail interviews (see Appendix B), which were conducted at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the course. The face-to-face interview with the instructor was done at the end of the course (see Appendix C), while the telephone interviews (see Appendix D) with the students were conducted by Dr. Jim Walter four months after the course was delivered. The following table illustrates the forms of data collection used in the study:
Forms of Data Collection
- May 1996
|E-mail Interviews||February 1995;
- May 1996
Data Analysis Procedures
Data analysis in a case study is the search for meaning (Stake, 1995). Stake (1995) suggests two strategies to reach meaning about cases. One of them is direct interpretation of the individual instance. The researcher concentrates on the instance, trying to take it apart and put it back together again more meaningfully. When taking the case apart, the researcher seeks to make sense of certain parts and reflect on them deeply. The other strategy is categorical aggregation. The researcher aggregates instances until something can be said about them as a class. Case studies rely on both of these methods, but usually most time is spent in direct interpretation in intrinsic case studies.
Regarding data analysis in qualitative research, Creswell (1994) points out that "Data analysis requires that the researcher be comfortable with developing categories and making comparisons and contrasts. It also requires that the researcher be open to possibilities and see contrary or alternative explanations for the findings" (p.153).
This study employed both direct interpretation and categorical aggregation methods. Efforts were made to understand individual instances of behavior, issues, and contexts in the case. Meanwhile, patterns and themes were expected to emerge from aggregating frequencies and consistencies from the data, generating categories, and comparing and contrasting these categories. The analysis took the following steps:
€ Read the data in general to have a feel of data (i.e. what was going on); € Read the data and derive a thick description of the case from the data; € Read the data so as to develop themes; € Read the data in order to organize the themes into some broader concepts.
Although generalization to other cases was not the objective of this study, attempts were made to draw some assertions that might apply to other similar programs or projects. Nevertheless, the findings were presented in such a way that the readers could see the researcher's biases and limitations, and form their own alternative interpretations of the case from their own viewpoint and experience.
In the course of data analysis, I tried to use NUD.IST, a computer software designed for processing nonnumerical unstructured data. It provides sophisticated index and search systems which can be used to develop ideas and organize data into categories. However, because the software does not allow copying data directly from an indexed text file and pasting it in a word-processing application, I found it more convenient to use Microsoft Word to search for the data I wanted to quote for my write up. I organized my data into categories and then used the "FIND" function of Microsoft Word to search for whatever data I wanted to use. Of course, NUD.IST would be a very powerful tool for analyzing qualitative data if it could blend the copy-and-paste property of a word processor with its indexing and searching functions.
The data analysis was presented through description of the course under study, development of issues in the case study, and assertions derived from the case study. The description chapter informed the reader about the students, the instructor, the syllabus, and happenings in the course in a chronological sequence. After the narrative description, one chapter was used to analyze the issues developed in the case study. With the course extensively described and the issues systematically analyzed, I interpreted the research findings in theoretical assertions supported by previous research and existing theories.
Methods for Verification
In ensuring internal validity, three strategies were employed in this study:
1. Multiple data collection methods. Data included e-mail interview questions and answers; e-mail correspondence between the instructor and the students and among the students themselves; telephone communication minutes; telephone interviews; and written assignment analysis.
2. Informant checking. The informants were given an e-mail copy of the data analysis for comment or verification.
3. Clarification of the researcher bias. At the outset of this study, researcher bias was be articulated in writing in the dissertation proposal under the heading "The Researchers' Role."
In ensuring external validity, the primary strategies employed in this study were:
1. Rich, thick, detailed descriptions of the project. I provided a detailed account of the purpose of the study, the researchers' role, the informants' positions and basis for selection, and the context from which data was gathered (LeCompte & Goetz, 1984). In reporting the study, the informants' quotes were used and detailed narrative description of the case was furnished.
2. Multiple methods of data collection and analysis. Using multiple methods of data collection and analysis will not only increase internal validity, but also help strengthen reliability. In addition to the above-mentioned multiple data collection methods, multi-layer data analysis was employed.
3. Expert Review. All the aspects of this study was subject to the scrutiny and supervision by an external expert in qualitative research methods.
4. Peer Review. Two graduate students who were also conducting a qualitative study verified the telephone interview data, and a co-researcher reviewed and verified the report and most of the data to insure the integrity between them.
Reporting the Findings of the Study
Miles and Huberman (1984) suggest that narrative text has been the most frequent form of data display for qualitative research. In this study, thick description was the vehicle for depicting a holistic, detailed picture of the teaching experiment. Meanwhile, quotes of the informants' experiences was presented to illustrate the research findings. I first described what happened in the course; then presented the issues that emerged from the case; and then interpreted the themes derived from the case. After the narrative description, presentation of issues, and interpretation of themes, I summarized the entire study in light of how it added to the existing body of scholarly literature on distance education.
In early January, 1995, David Brooks, professor of Chemistry Education, returned from his Christmas vacation in Europe to find that 21 students had registered for the Internet graduate chemistry course "Small-Scale Chemistry Activities for Secondary School Classrooms", which he had advertised on the Internet and in some magazines on chemical education. He was excited despite that the number of students registered was a bit smaller than he had expected. The course was going to be delivered entirely on the Internet. It was an innovation. As the course designer and instructor, Brooks meant it to be a research activity and requested no compensation for teaching the course. He hoped that the course would serve the needs of high school chemistry teachers who wanted to revitalize their chemical skills as well as strategies in teaching chemistry but could not leave their jobs to go to school for the training.
However, like many others who endeavor to undertake something novel and non-traditional, Brooks experienced a very hard time getting the course approved by the school authorities at different levels and listed in the university catalog. The idea of offering this course hit the instructor in late 1993. He made the first formal request in a memo dated February 10, 1994 to the Dean of Graduate Studies at the University. In response to this, the Dean called a luncheon meeting for March 10, 1994 with administrators from Continuing Studies including the Dean of Continuing Studies. The meeting was held, and it was decided to go ahead with a course CURR zzz x/ CHEM zzz x. "869" was used to replace the "zzz" as a mutually unused course number between the crosslisting departments, and the "x" stayed, which meant that the course was offered through Continuing Studies.
Immediately after the meeting, Brooks created a detailed syllabus (see Appendix G) for the course and started the necessary paperwork. On April 11, 1994, he met with the Teachers College Graduate Coordinating Council, and ultimately the proposal of the course was passed along to the university level. Meanwhile, the issue of crosslisting arose. Because Brooks was working for the Center for Curriculum and Instruction, the chemistry department reviewed the course and insisted upon appending a note that the course could not be used for graduate credit in chemistry programs. Eventually, the formal approval for the course was granted on May 31, 1994. By that point of time, Brooks had invested about five days in meetings, conversations, and in preparing written materials. He felt exhausted after the entire course of events. It never was clear why any of this could not have been handled through the regular registration services provided by university. Neither could he comprehend why it was so unusually difficult to undertake research that was in the institution's potential best interests.
Nevertheless, Brooks successfully steered his way through all the hurdles and blockades and now was ready to start the unprecedented online chemistry course, which, as the syllabus stated, was to extend from January 30, 1995 to July 7, 1995 (22 weeks and a half in length). Tuition for the course was $323 (plus tax where appropriate). The rate included CD-ROM materials which served as the course textbook. The students could take the 3-credit graduate course either in Chemistry or in Curriculum and Instruction. For chemistry credit, the graded activities would involve devising new procedures, down scaling other experiments, and verification of procedures for quantitative experiments; for curriculum and instruction credit, the activities would emphasize working out aspects of instruction since small scale affords opportunities for the use of alternative assessments.
The entire course would involve 7 modules. For each module, the participants would be expected to conduct 1 or several small scale experiments within 3 weeks. The students would have 21 weeks to complete 7 modules and an additional 10 days to wrap up overdue materials (6/26-7/7/95). In order to earn the 3 credits, each student was required to perform 1 assigned experiment from the 80 experiments on the CD-ROM SmallScale and report on that activity for each of the first 6 modules. All students must complete 1 graded chemistry assignment and 1 graded curriculum and instruction assignment. Moreover, each student must complete 3 of 7 assignments. For chemistry credit, 2 of the completed assignments must conform to the requirements for a chemistry assignment, while for curriculum and instruction credit, 2 of the completed assignments must conform to the requirements for a curriculum and instruction assignment. The students would have the opportunity to rewrite and resubmit any written assignment until a grade of A was earned. Any student who submitted an article for publication in the small scale column of the Journal of Chemical Education may use that manuscript (prior to acceptance) to substitute for any one assignment, either in chemistry or in curriculum and instruction. The instructor would accept the students' suggestions for alternative assignments for any and all modules. When the alternative was to be used as a chemistry assignment, the focus must be on getting the chemistry clear, safe, inexpensive, and effective at illustrating either some chemistry or some principle or some phenomenon. Curriculum and instruction assignments must elaborate some strategy or some curricular innovation or something that would make content either more easily acquired or more useful to the class.
The instructions and discussions during the course would be entirely accomplished via e-mail. Class interactions would be handled by a listserv created specifically for the course. The students' activities would include reading, responding to questions, introducing activities within their classes, developing new experiments and enhancing old ones, and testing classroom teaching strategies with their diverse audiences. Research about learning via Internet was not Brooks' intent in running this course. Brooks intended for the participating chemistry teachers to have the opportunity either to enrich their skills with respect to small scale, or to decide whether or not small scale was for their classrooms.
As the course was offered through the Division of Continuing Studies, all the registration and grade report procedures were handled by that department. Registration included purchase of a course text (CD-ROM SmallScale , developed by the instructor and other experts and available for less than $50). In addition, the students must have Internet access and a Macintosh computer in order to participate.
The 21 students (11 males and 10 females) enrolled in the course came from all over the country. They were mostly chemistry teachers in secondary schools. Many of them held a master's degree in chemistry, and some a Bachelor's degree in chemistry. They were attracted to the course either to get to know small-scale activities or to learn new ways of doing micro scale chemistry. Many of the course participants learned about the course offering through the article "Small-scale Chemistry via the Internet" posted by the instructor in Chemunity News and other magazines such as the Journal of Chemical Education and the American Chemical Society; some read about it via the Internet through the ChemEd listserv or from the Labnet on America Online; others heard about it at professional conferences; two of them got the information directly from the instructor.
The registration having completed, Brooks immediately contacted the university to set up a listserv for the Internet chemistry course. Thanks to the efficiency of the university's listserv service, it took only a day to have a listserv named Chem869 set up for the course participants. On January 25, Brooks informed the course participants of the listserv address through Chem869 and explained the procedures of subscription. Within 10 days, everybody involved in the course succeeded in subscribing to the listserv Chem869, except for a student in New Delhi, who could not get connected until February 14, 1995 due to the undependable telephone lines in India.
On February 1, 1995, the instructor launched the course through a message "Let's go". In the message, he asked the students to post a brief biosketch of themselves and complete an assignment related to stoichiometry. He not only described the requirements of the assignment, but also gave detailed instructions on how to work on the assignment.
Biosketches bounced in one after another and, in two weeks, everybody made his or her appearance. At the same time, the students and instructor interacted with each other and discussed Module 1. The participants were finding the course beneficial. One student exclaimed: "Some of the things that I've learned from this class so far, or gee, Dave, this is a great class". There were as many as 132 e-mail messages posted on the listserv during February. The first completed assignment was submitted on February 17, 1995 (see Appendix E), 4 days ahead of the deadline. However, when Module 2 started on February 22, 1995, most students had not completed assignment 1. One student got married during Module 1 and submitted his first assignment a couple of weeks later than the scheduled February 21, 1995. Some students did not submit assignment 1 until April, May, or even June. They failed to hand in their assignments on time either because they were too busy or because they ran into some technical problems in writing or sending the reports. Because the course participants were all busy chemistry teachers, Brooks was flexible about the deadlines of the assignments. Students who could not integrate the course small-scale activities into their classroom teaching due to curriculum mismatch were allowed to make up for the assignments after their teaching semester was over. Three students did not start working on the assignments until after the end of the spring semester. One of them was a college teacher. She invited a local high school chemistry class to work in her lab and generated such extraordinary data that the instructor thought was the best that he had ever seen.
In March, 1995, the instructor suffered from a severe chronic cough that broke his ribs and subdued his energy considerably. Nevertheless, he plugged along and strove to keep the class active. Now, about 8 students participated in the class discussions regularly and only 4 students managed to keep pace with the progress of the course. The e-mail messages amounted to 97 during March, down by 35 as compared with February. One student requested to drop out because his sister-in-law suffered a stroke and he had to take care of the kids while his wife was helping out. Even more unfortunately, another student's son became seriously ill and had to have a back surgery, which was to be followed by three months of recovery time. The instructor was very concerned about this student's situation and encouraged her to stay in the class and not to worry about participating until her son recovered from his illness. She tried, but eventually could not make it.
April was a busy month for everybody. Only 56 messages appeared on the listserv Chem869. But the participating students rose in number; two more students participated in the class discussions than in March. More students were catching up with the pace of the class. May saw an increase to 78 e-mail correspondences between the course participants. Twelve students participated, the largest number since March. Two students successfully completed 6 assignments, with only 1 left for June. However, one student, who had long been absent from the listserv, sent the instructor the following message:
It was very unlucky of Donald to have his wife injure her foot, but, although he knew he was not going to make the class, he still desired to share his lab results with other course participants. It is this sharing of information, of knowledge, and of ideas that really stimulates learning and works wonders. The success of an online course heavily depends on how willingly and effectively the participants interact with each other and exchange whatever they have. Such messages as "I can't say enough about the marbeling lab- I do it every year and it is great! I haven't really found the altruistic tie into a lesson so if anyone has one I would be psyched! I love it and did a joint project with an English teacher when they were making their own books." well reflect the power of sharing ideas among professionals.
Between June and July, 1995, as the course was drawing to the end, the amount of electronic interactions totaled 64. By August 11, 1995, eight students (5 females and 3 males) had successfully completed the course; twelve students (7 males and 5 females) had not fulfilled the course requirements and thus received an "Incomplete"; and 1 student (male) had dropped out. Of the 12 students with an "I", only 1 student (male) succeeded in removing the "I" for a "B+".
At some points of the course, Brooks tried to urge the students to "talk" more and to keep up with the syllabus. On the other hand, he knew that they were busy high school teachers and it could not help much to push them. He was disappointed with the rather high attrition rate, but, meanwhile, he suspected that this might be a common problem for online courses. During the entire course, he always provided the students with sufficient guiding instructions, prompt feedback, and generous encouragement. There were about 4 students who participated in the class activities regularly and enthusiastically. Those students benefited most and contributed most to the class. There were another 4 students who did not participated in the class discussions much but reported excellent lab results. Most of these students failed to join in the online chat because their students were not working on the same experiment as the one under discussion. Other students participated in the class sporadically due to unexpected incidents in their lives, lack of time, or, in some cases, lack of commitment.
The Internet chemistry course was over now. Brooks was filled with mixed feelings. He was glad and, perhaps, relieved that the program worked. More evidence was obtained from high school classrooms that using small-scale activities in teaching general chemistry was easy, sound, economical, and environmentally safe. One student wrote: "I find the small scale chemistry experiments intriguing in the ability to teach things that I think are difficult for our students to learn. They can do so many things so many more times. They are allowed to make mistakes and then go back and do it again. I just think there's so much more opportunity there to let them do the discovery kind of experiments, and because you don't have to set up a big apparatus or get something working or work with a lot of expensive glassware." Another student reported that he and other teachers tried to hit at least 40% of their chemistry curriculum time in doing labs, and almost all their labs are small scale.
Academically, about half of the participants benefited a lot from the course, they either engaged in small scale chemistry for the first time and had fun with it, or learned more about it and became more familiar and comfortable with it. The other students also got something out of the course despite that they failed to earn the credit. With respect to the new teaching mode, that is, teaching on the Internet, it turned out to be a positive experiment. However, what bothered Brooks was the fact that the students did not participate in the class discussions as actively and fully as he had expected and that more than half of the participants failed to complete the course. There were yet a lot to explore in order to make an online chemistry course exciting as well as effective. After all, for those who did successfully complete the course, it was an incredibly fruitful learning experience which would not have been possible if the course had not been delivered on the Internet.
The course "Small-Scale Chemistry Activities for Secondary School Classrooms", being the first attempt in this country to teach a chemistry course entirely on the Internet, was a novel experience for all the course participants and provided a new perspective for all educators who are dedicated to integrating technology into teaching. What issues were developed and what was learned in this experience? This chapter will focus on the issues that emerged from the online course. The issues will include motivation, expectations, outcomes, difficulties, and evaluation.
The course participants, coming from all over the country, were mostly chemistry teachers in secondary schools. Many of them had earned a master's degree in chemistry, and some a Bachelor's degree in chemistry. None of them had taken a chemistry course on the Internet before. Most of them had had some exposure to micro-scale activities through workshops. Some even had worked with those activities for two or three years. Yet, there were others who had had very little knowledge about small scale chemistry.
They signed up for the course for several reasons. The prominent reason lay in that they wanted to update their knowledge of better ways of teaching chemistry. One participant said: "I'm hoping that small-scale will prove to be faster, cheaper, and most important - environmentally sound." Another wrote: "I'm interested in learning about Chemistry, in broadening my lab skills, and in reducing time, cost, and waste in the lab while increasing student experiment time." For participants who were already familiar with small-scale chemistry, the incentive was to interact with fellow chemists and get inspired to learn and try new things. One such participant stated: "The experiences I've had with small scale chemistry have been very positive. Although I already feel I do a lot of small scale labs, I'm always looking for new and better ones." Another commented that taking the course via the Internet forced her to try new small-scale techniques on students with reinforcements in protocol rather than reviewing labs on her own, trying them, pitching them if they did not work, wondering why it did not work.
A second motive to take the electronic course was to increase experience with the Internet and find out what other chemistry teachers throughout the country were doing. Several participants mentioned that they were interested in seeing what it would be like to take a course on the Internet and gaining experience of distance learning.
Moreover, some participants decided to take the course because they could earn a few extra credits to advance their salary or use the credits for continuing education towards certificate recertification. For those who could not leave their job to go to a graduate school, taking a course via the Internet was their only option.
As seen from above, all the students were highly motivated to register for the course. However, to take an active role in the class participation entailed their self-commitment and their efforts to keep their motivation level high. While some students deemed it their responsibility to e-mail the class regularly and constructively, some students only tried to read others' messages but would not bother to contribute their own ideas and experience. There were four students who logged on to the listserv only one time (of course, none of them completed the course). One student, who registered for the course to see what an Internet course was like, stopped participating right after the first module because she found herself uncomfortable reading from a computer screen.
Expectations can be general or specific. When asked what they hoped to get out of the course, most students responded in a very straightforward way. For those with little knowledge of small-scale chemistry, the goal was to become familiar with its technique and learn how to implement small-scale activities in the classrooms. One student said: "One of my hopes in taking this class is to discuss and learn from each and every one of you about the pros and cons of micro-scale and the process of curriculum development and use."
On the other hand, those who had known about or had already been using small-scale chemistry expected to gain new ideas for micro-scale labs, and share ideas with other chemistry teachers. One student wrote: "I've used micro-scale in my organic chemistry labs but not in the freshman classes. It's a great benefit in Organic as far as cost and in the reduction of waste. I'm sure that the same benefits apply here. I'm hoping to be able to use at least 50% micro-scale in all my classes next year." Another participant remarked that he expected some tremendous attending by the instructor and some clues from the other students about the things that were successful as well as those which should be aborted. Still another saw the course as a window on all kinds of issues that swirl around them as teachers and learners.
Some students were very specific in their learning goals. One student hoped to learn "ways to store reagents and which to store, new procedures and equipment" and to learn the use of the spreadsheet. Another wanted to know if it was possible "to get good quantitative data using small-scale." Still another said: "I'm particularly interested in the assignments which involve using the experiments with students and collating data in spreadsheets. In the past few years I've become increasingly interested in expanding students skills on designing experiments. My students are already using computers to graph data, and this looks like a good opportunity to provide additional practice." There were others who planned to learn what was on the CD-ROM used as the course textbook, in order to determine how their students could access the CD-ROM to self learn.
Further, some students expected to become more experienced in using the Internet to explore the resources and exchange information. Others were intrigued about finding out how taking a course on the Internet would work.
As far as how they felt about learning via the Internet is concerned, the answers varied. On the positive side, they thought it would be neat to be able to immediately use the small-scale activities with their students and share the results with other course participants. Another advantage they anticipated was the flexibility of class time, that is, they could choose when they wanted to "go to class." One participant remarked that the electronic mode of the course operation allowed her to communicate at all hours and fit into busy schedules. Further, some students thought that taking the class via the Internet would enable a wider range of interactions among themselves than in a classroom setting. One participant put it this way: "It's kind of nice to be able to communicate with ALL the students in a class at once. Usually only the instructor gets a chance to do this. This way I'm aware of everybody's questions/ideas. I know that wouldn't be true in a classroom. Probably I'd only interact with 3-4 people at a time." Other students anticipated that learning via the Internet would require more independent motivation, thus providing a greater chance to develop and learn on their own. In addition, some students envisioned that the success of the course would result from the excellent resource materials on the CD-ROM "SmallScale," which served as the course textbook.
On the negative side, the instructor as well as a few students voiced their concern that the class would be less fun and personal because of the absence of direct face-to-face interactions. "I don't see e-mail as a conversation" one participant said. The instructor echoed: "In a summer workshop, I could stick my nose right into experiments, chat, use my eyes to detect good feelings and bad feelings, and tailor my remarks to individuals. That was good for me; it was fun. That interaction is not possible in our course."
As far as small scale chemistry is concerned, one student, who taught at a college, expressed her concern that, although she anticipated the course to help them in their effort to bring more lab experiences to the large number of students in their first year classes, she was not sure that these labs would really help beginning students develop a model of chemistry. Another student stated: "We are under administrative pressure to adopt micro-scale for 'economic and environmental' reasons. After a couple of workshops, I remain to be convinced that it is fundamentally better. It clearly has benefits, but I am skeptical of its ability to stimulate and excite students as I have seen with macro-scale."
Did the course participants attain what they had expected? To about half of them the answer was yes, but to the rest the answer was more complicated than a simple yes or no. As mentioned earlier, out of 21 students enrolled, 9 completed the course, 11 received an "Incomplete", and 1 dropped out.
Those who completed the course praised the course as an valuable learning opportunity, an opportunity to study micro scale from the CD-ROM SmallScale, from trying out the labs and designing their own experiments, and from the electronic discussions that took place between the students and the instructor as well as among the students themselves. "There were people that got a lot out of that course, and I did too" one participant told us.
Another said: "I wouldn't have been able to take this course other than via the distance format. The ROM will be something that I can use in my classes. The opportunity to 'see' what others are doing was very valuable. Many of the ideas are things that I am going to try. The different ideas reported for the same experiment will help me to make up the best possible experiment for my students. When different experiments were chosen for the same module, then, the benefit of someone else's experience helped me to decide if that would be an experiment that I would like to try."
Those who had not conducted micro-scale chemistry before the course expressed their satisfaction: "I have wanted for quite some time to do some micro-scale work. Now I certainly have access to some real chemistry teachers who are involved in this work." "Yes, it fulfilled a real need for me. I was completely ignorant of the many possibilities for small scale in general chemistry. I have started preparing an equipment 'to buy' list for next year's labs based on what I learned in this class." On the other hand, those who had had quite a bit of experience with small-scale chemistry also benefited from the course: "I have been doing small scale for 4 years, but I learned new things!"
One student who took the course with the intention to learn about the use of the Internet stated: "Through an Internet course, I have the opportunity to take courses at colleges and universities that would otherwise be unavailable to me because of location. From this course I became familiar with using e-mail." Another student echoed: "I cherish the contacts I have made via the NET and use them daily for my own professional growth, not just to communicate. I think teaching and learning are VERY possible via this medium."
At the same time, most of those who failed to complete the course viewed the course as a good, positive learning experience. This can be seen from the following comments by several students who, for various reasons, did not complete the course:
What caused quite a few students' failure in completing the course? Three major factors were derived from the participants' responses. First of all, lack of time hindered some participants from active participation in the course. The student who withdrew from the course said that he bit off more than he could chew. Another student, who was a full time teacher of chemistry, soccer coach, county telecommunications and Internet trainer, and the father of four children, could not find sufficient time available for the course with those multiple roles and responsibilities. One participant's wife broke her leg and had to be hospitalized for an operation. As a result, he became "Mr. Mom, taking all the kids where they needed to go" and had to change his priorities, "putting the course on the back burner." Even more unfortunate was the story of a student from Minneapolis:
A second cause came from technical problems such as backward network system, hardware and software shortage and incompatibility, and inexperience in the use of e-mail and certain software. Several course participants reported problems using e-mail:
One student said in a telephone interview that she could hardly bring herself to read all the e-mail messages. She found it hard to read large amount of information from the computer screen.
Problems associated with software also frustrated some participants during the course. Some students did not know how to use the spreadsheet to include the data derived from their labs in their assignments; others did not have the relevant software to open certain documents from their "classmates."
Lastly, some participants found that they could not fit the labs required for the course into their teaching curriculum. Examples of such complaints are as follows:
People who are willing to engage in something that has not been done before are called pioneers. The participants in the Internet chemistry course - the students and the instructor - were pioneers in seeking a new way of teaching and learning general chemistry. They broke the new ground not that they were ensured of great crops, but that they wanted to explore the possibilities.
The outcome was rewarding for those who put a lot into the course by integrating the course into their classes, motivating their students to collect quality data of small-scale experiments, squeezing out time to do the labs after school if they could not fit into their teaching curriculum, and actively participating in the electronic discussions. On the other hand, the crops were relatively meager, or even poor for those who had more events happening at the same time than they could handle, those who found themselves struggling with the pace of the "class" because of problems associated with technology, such as bad e-mail connection, hardware and software shortage and incompatibility, and those who were inexperienced users of information technology.
However, taking everything into consideration, the course was a success. It was instructionally beneficial and cost-effective. "Many of the comments that have been made about the experiments and their analysis have been very incisive and very practical, and I'm very pleased about that. That outcome of this experiment has been very positive" Brooks concluded. As mentioned above, the participants who successfully completed the course were more than pleased with what they got out of it. For those who failed to complete the course, the novel experience more or less added to their knowledge of distance learning and micro-scale chemistry. Among the eleven students who were telephone interviewed, five rated the course as excellent, three as very good, two as good, and one as average.
Heppner et al. (1992) point out that the purpose of research is to answer questions, solve problems, or develop theories, and ultimately to add to the existing knowledge in a field. What questions did the Internet chemistry course answer? What problems did it solve? Did it contribute anything to the existing knowledge of teaching and learning and information technology? This chapter is dedicated to answering these questions. The themes to be explored in this chapter are distance learning, technology-mediated learning and cooperative learning.
Distance Learning: Its Merits and Limitations
The Internet chemistry course was a case of distance learning. The primary understanding of the case, therefore, focuses on how the participants perceived distance learning and what they gained and failed to gain from the program.
What Is Distance Learning?
Changes in student lifestyles and learning styles have demanded alternative modes, places, and times of instruction. With the development of information technology, those alternatives are becoming available through distance learning. Distance learning is changing educational boundaries by location and by institution. Students from different schools, from different cities, from different states, and from different countries, are brought together into a dynamic learning community. Emerging educational uses of telecommunications are enabling faculty to tailor their teaching to respond effectively to the growing variety of their student needs. Educators and learners are thus able to bridge better communication, cooperation, coordination, and connections, and form more effective and functional learning communities.
A common early model of distance learning entailed a learner who was at a distance from an education institution, for instance, a person in a rural area who lived 200 miles from the nearest college or university. Such a person could watch a telecourse on a television station, complete reading and written assignments, and later travel to the school in order to take an exam and receive credit toward a degree (Carey, 1991). With technological advances over the last couple of decades, the concept of distance learning has broadened to include providing education to distance learners as well as meeting the educational needs inside and outside the classroom. The vision encompasses multiple and disparate strategies for expanding learning far beyond the physical confines of traditional schools by harnessing mediating technologies (Hawkins, 1991).
Through the Internet, students and instructors located remotely from one another can successfully explore, experience, and better understand each other. Because distance is of no consequence on the Internet, a space of thousands of miles between people is easily accommodated. As Internet-delivered coursework expands the walls of the traditional learning environment, opportunities are generated for learning experiences otherwise unattainable for either students or faculty. Students are able to learn by utilizing and exploring communication networks and associated technology. Faculty comfortable with computer networking can excite the learning process through the use of graphic programs to distill complex data into easy-to-comprehend charts, graphs, and tables. Activities designed to utilize modeling and data management programs allow students to project multiple scenarios, and networks provide access to a broad range of information from multiple databases. The flexibility and accessibility through e-mail systems allows students as well as faculty the opportunity to interact efficiently at their convenience and pace without interruption.
Computers, interactive video, and other media link classrooms that are far apart. Students can participate in classes from their homes or work on projects with "classmates" on the other side of the country. Teachers are allowed to teach the subjects they specialize in where and when they wish. Those willing to seek learning opportunities and resources beyond what is immediately or traditionally available find that media can often effectively transport experts from around the country and the world into their homes, schools, and business (Ohler, 1991). David A. Kondrup, a hardworking New York City policeman and the father of two, completed his bachelor of business degree from the New York Institute of Technology's American Open University, which gives self-paced courses via personal computer. He remarks that being a distance learner let him "conquer time and distance" (Ivey, 1988).
To highlight, distance education provides the following important services:
€ To overcome geographic boundary. Students and teachers from isolated
geographic locations can get together and form a learning community without
having to move. Students have the opportunity to take off-site courses without
€ To resolve time conflicts. Scheduling resolution serves as one of the primary
reasons adults turn to distance learning, which allows for the integrity of
family, job, and education. Conventional college classrooms typically use
synchronic instruction, which is based on a fixed unit of time and requires
that students and instructor be at the same place and at the same time. Although
the distance education approach sometimes uses a type of synchronic instruction,
in which students and instructor meet electronically at the same time but not in
the same place, asynchronic instruction is far more commonly employed. "Unlike
synchronic instruction, it is not based upon a fixed unit of time. It is an
instructional approach that does not require students and instructor to be in the
same place at the same time, or even available during a specified time"
(Cartwright,1994). In the absence of time constraints, students share
information with each other, with their instructor, and with other experts in their
field, ask questions, and complete assignments at various times of the day.
€ To take advantage of a world of experts and resources. A variety of learning
opportunities open up when education is no longer limited to the resources
physically located within the classroom. Distance teachers can help enormously
to overcome shortages of qualified teachers in many school districts. Experts such
as senior professors, scholars, and scientists across the nation as well as
from foreign countries can be reached easily. The resources, which include not
only experts but also online databases, dictionaries, encyclopedias, educational
software, books, and journals, are of a global significance and thus nurture
higher level thinking skills of analysis and synthesis (Barron & Ivers, 1996;
Honey & Henriquez, 1993).
The principal application of distance learning has been providing educational services for the geographically isolated schools and for underserved or advanced students (Azarmsa, 1993). In recent years it has been viewed not only as a means of providing opportunities to reach a wider student audience, to meet the different needs of students, and to involve outside speakers who would otherwise be unavailable, but also as a means of improving curricula and instructions, of creating new interactive learning environments, of opening new markets and revenue streams, and of linking students from different social, cultural, and economic backgrounds.
Research on distance learning has consistently concluded that, when used in business, military training, and adult learning, no significant difference exists in effectiveness between traditional instruction methods and distance learning (Azarmsa, 1993). Thomas L. Russell (1995), director of the Office of Instructional Telecommunications at North Carolina State University, extracts the findings of 218 research reports, summaries, and papers on distance education published from 1945 to 1995, which report that no significant difference in academic achievement was found between the groups of traditional classroom learning and those of distance learning using technologies ranging from one-way radio in 1945 to two-way interactive television in 1995.
Many researchers have measured the effectiveness of distance learning by comparing test scores of students who are taught in the face-to-face, traditional classrooms with the students who are taught at a distance using telecommunications technologies. The evidence seems to support an equality of test scores (Johnstone, 1991). Robinson (1985) reviews the progress of a distance-learning consortium of four rural Illinois school districts. The consortium was formed in 1983 to increase the number of courses that could be offered in each of the schools, to promote achievement as measured by mastery of advanced-level course work, and to increase the efficiency of the teachers' instructional time. He concludes that the project effectively achieved its goals of expanding the curriculum and increasing teacher efficiency, and that the students in the remote instructional-television classroom scored just as well as their counterparts in traditional classrooms (Johnstone, 1991).
More analytic studies have been conducted using college-level and other adult learners. Puzzuoli (1970) studies the differences between resident students and remote students taking college classes via audioconferencing with a graphic component. His analysis indicates that the achievement scores of remote students were equal or better than the scores of the resident students (Johnstone, 1991). Since 1993, the educational administration department of a Midwestern university has been offering an online doctoral degree program in Educational Administration (Stick, 1996). Lotus Notes has been used as the technology system supporting the distance learning, which only requires the students to spend one summer on campus to meet the university residence requirement. In 3 years they have enrolled over 50 students all over the world. Many of the students produced work of much better quality than that of their on-campus counterparts.
In addition to the equality of test scores, other aspects of the effectiveness of distance learning may include a positive attitude on the part of the students, higher levels of communication between schools and districts, greater levels of parental involvement with the courses, and the ability of teachers and students to use new technologies in an educational setting (Johnstone, 1991).
However, with all its achievements and promises, the efficacy of distance learning is not yet as well-established and well-evaluated as education in physical classrooms (Hochner, 1996). Thus far, there is still no clear, irrefutable quantitative evidence of the superiority of educational uses of information technology (Gilbert, 1996). As distance education is still in its infancy in many ways, there are concerns about its quality and efficiency, especially when it is not properly configured and lacks thoughtful attention to pedagogy and to the settings in which learning can occur (Gilbert, 1995).
The primary concern about the quality of distance learning is associated with technology infrastructure. This is a dual-faceted challenge. The first aspect is identifying what special facilities and equipment (at both the teaching and the learning ends) are needed for distance education, and what special training and support services are needed and available to faculty and students engaged in distance education, and then infusing appropriate technologies together to accomplish our educational goals and objectives. It is no easy task.
The second facet concerns costs. While the racing development of hardware and software is facilitating the use of applications of information technology, it is costly for educational institutions to keep their equipment and facilities updated and to provide sufficient support services for their faculty and students. As the hardware and software requirements for an online course increase, the potential audience decreases and technical issues and obstacles increase (Tello, 1996). Powerful technologies, such as two-way technologies (i.e. audio- and video-conferencing), are rather expensive for courses with a large number of students from different locations.
In addition to the issues of technology selection and operation, and cost-benefit tradeoffs, other concerns are associated with the roles of participants, methods and strategies, learner characteristics, policy and management, equity and accessibility, and the nature of interactivity of distance education.
What Did the Course Participants Gain from Distance Learning?
All of the participants in the course "Small-Scale Chemistry Activities for Secondary School Classrooms" were on-the-job chemistry teachers, mostly in high schools and a few in colleges. The primary difference distance education made to them was that it provided an opportunity for learning that otherwise would have been unattainable. This is illustrated in the following comments by several students:
A second benefit from the Internet program lies in the fact that many participants were able to integrate the course into their teaching, trying the experiments out in real life classrooms while they were taking the course. "I thought it would be really neat to be able to immediately use the activities with my students and be able to share the results with others" one participant commented. Another student informed us that the distance learning format enabled her to "try new small-scale techniques on students with reinforcements in protocol" rather than reviewing labs on her own. "It was a simultaneous adaptation while the course was going." She did not have the issue of coming home and wondering how this would fit into her own laboratory setting.
Third, the distance learning mode allowed the students access to the instructor, who is a well-known professor of chemistry education in the United States. When asked to comment on the strengths of the Internet chemistry course, several students mentioned the teacher as a major strength. "The chief strength of the course is David Brooks. What stamina!" "Dave has a broad spectrum of experience which allows him to respond, knowingly, to almost every situation." "I appreciated the efforts of the instructor who obviously is very able and dedicated." There were a few students who signed up for the course mainly because they wanted to get into contact with him.
A fourth merit as a result of distance learning format was seen in the simultaneous interactions among the course participants. It was this merit that the participants, including the instructor, benefited most from the program. One student said: "I have wanted for quite some time to do some micro-scale work. Now I certainly have access to some real chemistry teachers who are involved in this work." "Chemists are not usually limited to text only (as we have been in this course); it was amazing to me how easily communications flowed in that setting" another student wrote in an e-mail interview. However, the advantage of simultaneous interactions is described in more detail in this student's remark: "The opportunity to 'see' what others are doing is very valuable. Many of the ideas are things that I am going to try. The different ideas reported for the same experiment will help me to make up the best possible experiment for my students. When different experiments were chosen for the same module, then, the benefit of someone else's experience helped me to decide if that would be an experiment that I would like to try."
We can catch a glimpse of how the interactions were going on in the following two examples:
Furthermore, the sharing of ideas and exchange of information were not just limited to the course content. Many participants also used the class as a place to share information on chemical education beyond the course syllabus:
Finally, the development of self-teaching skills served as a fifth advantage of distance learning format. An Internet class is a student-centered rather than teacher-centered unit. The students are allowed freedom of developing self-reliance by working on their own, exploring the resources on the Internet and discussing with their teachers and classmates whenever and wherever they want to. The instructor of the Internet chemistry course laid special emphasis on encouraging his students to design their own experiments and inviting innovative chemistry ideas. "We seemed encouraged to go out on a limb to think about a specific implementation of a broad chemical idea. This leads to creativity, rather than redundancy" one of the students commented.
What Limitations Did they Find with Distance Learning?
The participants in the Internet chemistry course mentioned several inherent limitations associated with distance learning. First of all, they learned the lesson that the success of distance education heavily depends on efficient support systems such as reliable and convenient network connection and sufficient hardware and software supports. Since e-mail was the vehicle in the program, a student would be at a great disadvantage if he or she did not have easy access to e-mail. Several participants reported problems with e-mail access:
The student who took the course from New Delhi had wonderful teaching experience to share with the class, but, due to problematic e-mail access, he could barely participate in the course activities:
Second, many participants were disappointed that there was not as much communication going on during the program as they had expected. Some students found it time-consuming to type up everything in order to communicate with the class. Consequently, they either "talked" little on line or just gave up talking. One student found herself "making shortcuts." Instead of a couple of sentences, she might bring it down to just a few words because she did not want to take the time to do all the typing. Besides, it was especially challenging to allocate time for on-line discussions if the students could not integrate the small-scale activities required for the course into their teaching curriculum. Several such students failed to conduct all the required lab experiments, not to speak of regularly participating in the e-mail communication. During the course, there were about five or six students who communicated with the class through e-mail regularly and substantially, while the majority were listeners rather than talkers.
A third problem with distance learning that the participants encountered was the absence of face-to-face interaction. Although it was an expected blemish, without the traditional face-to-face contact, many students still found it difficult to be aware that they were taking a course and that they were interacting with their "classmates" instead of a computer screen. Here is one of these voices:
Because they were not communicating face to face, it would take a couple of days before somebody would respond to another person's e-mail message. Sometimes they had something to share with their "classmates" but forgot to put the information on the computer in time. One student put it this way: "It was kind of like, uh, it's out of sight and so out of mind, you don't have to go there, so you don't have to show up in class, you know, you're not seen by anybody."
Fourth, to some students, the flexibility of time in participating in the class discussions and submitting assignments turned out to generate procrastination. "One of the things that I thought would be nice would be to be able to choose when I wanted to go to class, but I'm actually finding this a little difficult as it becomes easier to put things off" one participant informed us. Because it was their first experience to take a course on the Internet, it was difficult to know to what extent they could use the freedom of attending the "class" whenever they had time to. When they overused that freedom, they fell behind, became frustrated, and in some cases, failed to complete the program.
Last, but not least, the course designer and instructor underwent immense frustration in getting the course listed in the university catalog despite that he requested no compensation for running the course and viewed it as a research activity. The strong reluctance of the university administrators, as the course designer analyzed, came from their assumption that a course entirely taught on the Internet would not work and from their apprehension that, if the experiment turned out to be successful, then other institutions would follow the example and attract the students away from the state. Resistance also came from the university's chemistry department because of more or less similar fear. (The course designer worked in the Center for Curriculum and Instruction of the university.)
Technology-Mediated Learning: Its Implications and Complexities
How did technology facilitate teaching and learning in the course? What setbacks and pitfalls did the course participants come across using technology? Before I answer these questions, let us review some literature pertinent to technology-mediated learning.
Emerging Technological Capabilities
In terms of functionalities for telecommunications devices enhanced by advances in information technology, Dede (1991) points out the following types:
€ improved technical performance in transmission, encoding, decoding,
storage and retrieval, and content production, at decreasing costs;
€ convergence of communications functions, as well as communication products
€ decentralization of intelligence and control throughout communication systems
with the development of software-driven and software-defined communication
€ the availability of some discrete communication services that were previously
provided only as part of a package-unbundling;
€ increased portability of products and services;
€ improved ease of use through better software design;
€ increased networking capability; and
€ increased capability to target messages to specific individuals or groups.
Impact of Technological Development on Education
Rapid technological development has brought about fundamental changes in education. Technologies have helped to create learning environments in which students are carefully guided through work on complex, meaningful, and authentic tasks as contexts for learning and flexibly applying knowledge and strategies. In these learning environments, coaching, scaffolding, and opportunities for articulation, reflection, and collaboration characterize students' interactions with experts and other learners. Students are enabled to participate in a vibrant educational culture where work is intrinsically motivating, and lively interaction between learners and experts embodies and surrounds their activities (Hawkins, 1991).
The characteristics of communications channel between the learner and the content to be mastered often affect the manner in which learning takes place. The wider the bandwidth of a communications medium, the more immediate and rich a learning experience can be (Dede, 1991). For instance, seeing a videotape on how to conduct an experiment in general chemistry conveys more information than reading a manual for that experiment. The greater the interactivity of a medium, the better learning can be motivated, individualized and optimized. Taking advantage of technological functionalities in educational practice can enhance individualization, encourage students' active construction of knowledge, promote cooperative learning, and tailor complex cognitive content to different learning styles.
The fundamental characteristics of technology-mediated interactive learning, according to Dede (1991, p.148), are as follows:
€ a technological medium either interposes between direct person-to-person
interaction or creates a shared environment that shapes the process of
€ technology provides tools and experiences that enhance the collective learning
of the people involved, as well as their individual accomplishment; and
€ the participants' interaction is spontaneous.
In recent years, computer-mediated communication has been increasing its presence in education, especially at colleges and universities. This phenomenon reflects a pedagogical philosophy which aims at enhancing student autonomy and responsibility, extending learning beyond the classroom, and creating active learning circumstances (Cotlar, 1994; McComb, 1994).
Bailey and Cotlar (1994) offer some helpful suggestions on the ways of delivering a course through the Internet, pertaining to instructional communication, textual readings, and feedback. First of all, instructional communications constitute an electronic forum among and between students and instructors. They allow a high level of interaction for everybody in the learning community, especially in raising questions and sharing access to the ensuing discussions. Electronic panel discussions can overlay the content of a course throughout the semester. An additional dimension of this methodology is the development and delivery of guest lectures from remote discussion leaders.
Further, the textual readings for courses can be delivered in downloadable files. Supplementary materials such as graphics and videos are likely to be downloaded via file transfer, although currently a lot of them have to be mailed. For feedback, individual or group results can be shared through e-mail lists. Computer simulations can also be used to evaluate and provide immediate reinforcement and feedback. Two-way feedback techniques can be established through e-mail with an anonymous complaint and suggestion board on course activities, content, or any other issue that may concern a student. Assessments and involvement with students can be facilitated with database technology, which would allow students free access to performance evaluations on a regular basis.
Having taught three college courses employing computer-mediated communication, McComb (1994) summarizes the interactions among students and instructors as follows:
€ students, groups, and instructors send messages to one another using
private e-mail, the students asking questions or seeking help with
problems and the instructors responding to questions or issuing directions
€ instructors post official class notices on the bulletin board;
€ students read and post their own messages on the bulletin board;
€ instructors make available sharedisk resources like course syllabi, schedules,
assignment and project formats, bibliographies, grading criteria, and other
material that would otherwise be distributed as handouts;
€ students submit their group assignments online to the instructor, who comments
on them and returns them. The students then revise the assignments until the
instructor approves their move to the next Standard Agenda phase; and
€ students and instructors have access to other resources online such as
experts in the topic area or Internet information sources.
Now let us look at how technology was utilized in the Internet chemistry course and what issues emerged from the practice.
Technologies Involved in the Program
The technologies involved in the Internet teaching program included e-mail system, CD-ROM facilities, and the associated hardware and software configuration.
As mentioned earlier, e-mail served as the vehicle in the Internet chemistry program. As such, the technologies associated with e-mail were crucial in facilitating teaching and learning. The students were required to have access to a color Macintosh with a hard drive and the ability to send and receive e-mail via the Internet at least twice weekly. Some applicants were unable to enroll in the course because they only had access to a mainframe computer or an MS-DOS microcomputer. The instructor advertised the program both on the Internet and in a special issue of ChemUnityNews, a nation-wide magazine on chemistry education. The course description and syllabus was sent to interested individuals through e-mail. The class instructions and discussions, communications between/among the participants, as well as assignment delivery and submission, were all accomplished using e-mail. A listserv was set up through the university network system for use by all the course participants. It served as a bulletin board which posted the information written by any participant from any place and at any time. The class instructions and discussions, assignments, and most of the communications between/among the participants went to the listserv, which was accessed by all the members of the Internet chemistry class to post or retrieve information.
The following examples demonstrate the functionality of e-mail in the program:
An instruction on Charles Law to all the class by the instructor:
Instructions from the instructor in reply to questions raised by students:
In addition to e-mail, another technology that played a key role in the course was the CD-ROM SmallScale (see Appendix F), which was a highly interactive database derived from an application program called HyperCard and served as the textbook for the course and ran on Macintosh computers only. Therefore, the participants were also required to have access to a CD-ROM player, be it built in a Mac or a separate player hooked up to a Mac. SmallScale contained text instruction and visual illustration of 80 small-scale experiments in general chemistry, which provided an excellent resource of such activities for the secondary classrooms. The visuals of the 80 small-scale labs were provided through both still pictures and QuickTime movies.
The course participants found the CD-ROM SmallScale helpful in four ways. First, it provided excellent resource materials created by a group of experts in chemistry education. "Each time I peruse SmallScale CD, I am amazed at the wealth and breadth of chemistry found there" one participant wrote. "I was really impressed with the parts of the CD-ROM that I did get to look at" another chimed in. Many participants pulled some labs out of it for use in their classrooms. "I think it's one of the best text material we ever have. I think it was designed for teacher use, and I think that it's open-ended in terms of what you want to do, but yet all materials are there for you to do it. You can pretty much go in with an idea of what you wanna do and set it up so that you'll be able to do exactly what you wanted" a participant commented in a telephone interview.
Second, the QuickTime movies on the CD-ROM helped the course participants as well as their students understand the small-scale experiments. "A lot of times when I had no idea what they were saying, that helped a great deal" one participant reported. The high school students benefited a lot from the make-up feature on the CD-ROM. They could watch the CD and make up the lab. "The students could miss a class, come in, and if they had to, do it on the computer." "One of the points I keep trying to stress is that you really have to have materials for the students to have their hands on. If you are not there, they have got to have real support materials, and I found the CD-ROM to be valuable" said another participant.
Third, the CD-ROM offered new ideas about how to conduct experiments which a participant had known as well as ideas about experiments that he or she had not thought of before. "It was helpful in, uh, giving me insight into the different techniques that are used in microchemistry" a participant commented in a telephone interview. Lastly, the participants could easily develop materials from the CD-ROM. "I could tailor-make materials for exactly what I wanted to do" a participant informed us. They got ideas and insights from the CD-ROM and thus were in a better position to design labs to meet the special needs in their own classrooms.
In terms of hardware and software, the requirements of equipment and facilities were kept at a low cost level. For hardware, the participants only needed to have access to an e-mail system, a color Macintosh computer, and a Mac compatible CD-ROM player. The major computer software involved in the program were HyperCard, Eudora and other e-mail applications, as well as any application software capable of producing a spreadsheet, such as Microsoft Excel, Claris Works, and Lotus.
HyperCard is an object-oriented application software designed for Macintosh computers. It can be used to combine text, sound, graphics, and animation into interactive instructional materials. The CD-ROM SmallScale, which served as the hypermedia course textbook, used HyperCard to demonstrate the experiments in a variety of forms: text, graphics, and videos that were created with the application software QuickTime. "The movies were a real big help" the students commented.
Eudora was used by some participants to store and retrieve e-mail messages from the course, to send messages, and to attach files to the messages they sent. Spreadsheets were employed by the course participants to record and transmit data collected in the labs conducted by themselves or their students. Microsoft Excel and ClarisWorks were most frequently used for this purpose.
Issues Associated with Technology-Learning
Technology-learning played a crucial role in the Internet chemistry course. Without utilizing technologies, running an Internet program will be out of the question. The success of such programs relies heavily on the level of technologies available to the participants as well as the participants' ability to use them. In the course of the Internet chemistry program, four major issues emerged associated with technology-learning.
First, inadequate e-mail systems posed a big problem for some students who had to rely on America Online for Internet connection. One of those students told us:
Problematic e-mail connections not only slowed the victims down, but impeded them from sharing their ideas with the class.
A second issue arose from lack of Macintosh computers in some schools. There were four applicants who were unable to enroll in the course just because they did not have access to a Mac. This is indeed unfortunate because it is often chemistry teachers in schools poorly equipped with technological facilities that most need on-the job renewal of knowledge. Macintosh computers were needed for the CD-ROM Small-Scale in the Internet chemistry course because it consists of HyperCard software which are compatible only with Mac computers.
Third, lack of basic computer skills put some participants in a disadvantageous position. Several students found themselves frustrated in writing reports of their lab experiments because they did not know how to combine written material created using different application programs. For instance, they did not know how to copy the data from a spreadsheet and paste it into a document written with a word processing application such as Microsoft Word or Word Perfect. Listen to the following electronic dialogues back and forth between a student and the instructor:
The chemistry teacher in the above example might be working in a school where teachers were not provided with sufficient technology training. Luckily, this teacher had an instructor to describe the steps and a student to show him how to carry out the steps in submitting his lab report. But what would have happened to him without this help? There was another student who could not submit his assignments via e-mail after several repeated attempts. What the instructor received from him were just blank messages. These phenomena reveal that many high school science teachers need to improve their computer skills in order to take better advantage of rapidly developing information technology. In addition to the above three issues pertaining to technology-learning, a fourth and grave issue occurred in association with software. One course participant pointed out: "There is a severe problem with the course in terms of sharing information. It's amazing what the variations are. I happen to have ClarisWorks and a neighbor with Quicktake. Some of the students obviously don't have good e-mail systems." Another student told the instructor that he put together a protocol for the study of "The Molal Volume of Nitrogen", but unfortunately, he could not e-mail him a diagram of the setup for the apparatus, which would help in understanding how the entire system worked together. Even the instructor could not escape the embarrassment of software shortage, not to speak of students whose schools were located in remote areas:
Not having the software QuickTake, the instructor had to request that the pictures be saved in the PICT format and sent to him as PICT files.
Moreover, it would have greatly improved the transparency and quality of experiment reports if everybody could videocapture the lab procedures and send them with his or her text reports as Eudora attachments. But unfortunately, not all schools had the software and digitizing facilities to accomplish this. Besides, although compressed QuickTime movies could be made available at an ftp (File Transfer Protocol) site, many students could not take advantage of this because they were using a slow-speed modem, with which, as the instructor put it, "a decent movie can take longer than forever to download."
At the beginning of the course, Dr. Brooks attempted to develop an electronic roster for the class, that is, to create a HyperCard stack containing information for each course participant including his or her photo so that everybody could "FTP" it or obtain it via the listserv. The plan was aborted simply because only a few students could have their pictures digitized and sent to the instructor.
Cooperative Learning: Its Implications in Distance Learning
Distance Learning Facilitates Cooperative Learning
Educational philosophers hold (Dewey, 1963; Freire, 1983) that education must engage the learner's own experience, concerns, and voices. Students should be encouraged to become active creators of knowledge rather than passive reactors to knowledge. Learning is not transmitted from teachers to students, but takes place as the result of interactions among teachers and students.
In discussing the optimal learning environment for the individual student, psychologist Donald Norman (1993) states that the optimal environment for learning exists when we
€ provide a high intensity of interaction and feedback; € have specific goals and established procedures; € motivate; € provide a continual feeling of challenge, one that is neither so difficult
as to create a sense of hopelessness and frustration, nor so easy as to produce
€ provide a sense of direct engagement, producing a feeling of directly
experiencing the environment, directly working on the task; and
€ provide appropriate tools that fit the user and task so well that they aid
and do not distract, and avoid distraction and disruptions that intervene and
destroy the subjective experience.
Traditional classroom teaching methodology views learning as a knowledge transmission from teachers to students. Students are treated as empty vessels into which an omniscient teacher pours facts and information (McComb, 1994). Typically, the traditional teaching approach employs the lecture format, in which students are placed in a passive role hardly conductive to learning. Pence (1993) points out that the traditional method of showing physical concepts in chemistry classes is lecture demonstrations, which discourage student involvement and performance. In his article Restructuring the role of faculty, Guskin echoes (1994) "The primary learning environment for undergraduate students, the fairly passive lecture-discussion format where faculty talk and most students listen, is contrary to almost every principle of optimal settings for student learning" (p.18).
Educators have been searching for teaching methods to counteract the student passivity as the result of the traditional lecture course format and place the student in a more active learning environment. One of the viable methods is cooperative learning, which is an instructional technique whereby students work together in heterogeneous groups on a structured task to help one another learn (Cooper, 1995; Gamson, 1994; Slavin, 1989; Strother, 1990).
Cooperative methods stress interpersonal interactions as a powerful force for learning. Many educational leaders in higher education advocate having students actively structuring their own learning situations and building their own knowledge base. Studies have demonstrated that higher achievement, more positive relationships among the learning community, and the development of cooperative behaviors can result from cooperative learning experiences Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1988). Cooper (1995) summarizes the advantages of cooperative learning as follows:
€ students take responsibility for their own learning and become actively
€ students develop higher-level thinking skills;
€ student retention is increased as a result of active participation in learning;
€ student satisfaction with the learning experience is increased and positive
attitude toward the subject matter is promoted.
Cohen (1990) states that her own research and experience support the conclusion that cooperative learning can help teachers teach to a very high level in academically, linguistically, and culturally diverse classrooms. Smith, Hinckley and Volk (1991) conducted an experimental study of cooperative learning in the undergraduate laboratory. The cooperative learning laboratories (the experimental group) were organized with students working in small groups, each student being assigned a particular part of the learning task. The two researchers found that the cooperative learning approach had a significant, positive effect on the laboratory learning experience of the undergraduate chemistry students and in particular the achievement of the low-achieving students.
Bailey and Cotlar (1994) write that meaningful cooperation needs to be goal-driven, with students being responsible for the planning necessary to accomplish the goals. Distance learning and cooperative learning combined have the potential to maximize the learning experience for students as well as faculty. Guskin (1994) argues that there are key elements of the student learning process that only can be accomplished effectively through the human interaction of students and faculty members, through using electronic technologies, especially new information technologies, and through peer interaction without the presence of a faculty member.
The Mechanisms of Cooperation in the Course
How was the Internet chemistry course operated in terms of class instructions and class discussions? What was the role of the instructor and that of the students? What were the sources of motivation? What were the nature of interactions in this distance learning environment? All these questions can be answered with one single word: cooperation.
Cooperative learning functioned as the hub of all the activities in the program. For most participants, if not for all, the incentive to enroll in the program was to learn some good chemistry from different chemistry teachers who came from different schools in different regions. In the program, every academic idea was shared; every success was a catalyst for a new innovation; and every setback was a lesson for all the participants. Let us look at the cooperation during the course from three aspects: the role of the participants, the sources of motivation, and the nature of interactions.
The Role of the Participants
The course participants included the instructor and the students. In a traditional classroom, the role of teachers is to teach their students whatever they know about a particular subject area. Therefore, the classroom is teacher-centered with the teacher doing most of the talking and students listening. To put it another way, a traditional teacher is responsible for talking while his or her students are responsible for listening. In contrast, the Internet chemistry program facilitated a learning environment in which the teacher and students assumed the same role - that of both a teacher and a learner. Every participant, teacher or student, was responsible for contributing to the class by sharing what they learned from their lab experiments and other sources. Everybody benefited from the successes of other participants and drew lessons from others' pitfalls. If there existed any substantial difference between the role of the teacher and that of the students, it would be that the teacher, as a senior professor of chemistry education with a solid knowledge base and rich teaching experience, took an additional role of an organizer, a guide, and a facilitator throughout the course. He designed the syllabus, assigned the modules, provided guidelines or hints, directed class discussions, answered more questions, and evaluated the academic achievements.
The Sources of Motivation
American psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that human beings are interested in growing rather than simply restoring balance or avoiding frustration (Engler, 1991). He described human beings as wanting animals who are always desiring something (Engler, p. 371). Motivation, according to Maslow, refers to reducing tension by satisfying deficit states or lacks (Maslow, 1970). In his observational learning theory, Bandura (1977) includes motivational process as one of the four interrelated processes which govern learning through observation. No learning takes place without sufficient incentive. When we are not motivated to do something, we lack the enthusiasm and perseverance necessary for success. Thus, motivation emerges as a primary psychological component in learning activities.
For the participants in the Internet chemistry program, motivation of learning stemmed from their desire to update their knowledge of chemistry education and revitalize their chemistry skills. As one of the participants put it, independent motivation was essential in the program. When they decided to enroll in the course, they had set learning goals for themselves. Whether or not they could accomplish those goals depended on the nature of what Bandura calls "self-reinforcement" (Engler, 1991, pp. 244-245), which refers to the fact that people regulate their own behavior by setting standards of conduct for themselves and responding to their own actions in self-rewarding and self-punishing ways. The individuals in the Internet chemistry program set their own individual goals and thus each had different self-rewarding and self-punishing standards.
As is true with any program, whether distance learning or classroom learning, it is crucial to keep motivation at the highest possible level. Although distance learning tends to rely more on independent motivation, the teacher can still make difference. There is always something the teacher can do to keep his or her students' momentum high. The remedy David Brooks used in this respect was flexibility and invitation of creativity. On one hand, he was flexible about assignment deadlines and assignment requirements. When a student failed to meet a deadline due to lack of time, he would give that student extra time so that he or she could keep going in the program. As far as assignment requirements are concerned, the instructor provided a broad range of assignments for the students to choose from. Commenting on the broad range of assignments, one student stated: "It is nice to be able to pick something that would fit particularly well with your curriculum ... The students could adapt in whatever directions they happen to seek based on that collection of work."
On the other hand, the instructor laid special emphasis on critical thinking and creativity by encouraging the students to design their own micro-scale experiments on some topics. The course participants thought very highly of this teaching technique:
However, while flexibility helped reduce anxiety and enhance motivation in the course, it also unintentionally left a leeway for tardiness and procrastination. When asked what the instructor could have done to increase participation in lab discussions and to enable more students to complete the course, two interviewees alluded that the instructor might have been a bit lavish with flexibility:
In sum, the Internet chemistry course was characteristic of independent motivation. The level of motivation largely depended on the nature of the self-reinforcement of the individuals. They were motivated to learn as long as they were rewarded with positive reinforcements. On the other hand, their motivation level would decrease when they came across more negative than positive reinforcements. Although self-reinforcement accounted most for how motivated the students were in the Internet learning experience, flexibility with assignment requirements and timelines and encouragement of creativity did make a remarkable difference in keeping their momentum.
The Nature of Interactions
As the course was delivered on the Internet, the interactions among the class, that is, those between the students and the instructor and those between the students themselves were largely via e-mail. The listserv served as a meeting place for the participants to discuss assignments and exchange information about lab experiments as well as update events and development in chemistry education. The e-mail interactions played an essential role in facilitating learning for the Internet chemistry program. The sharing part of the interactions were highly cherished by the participants:
The interactions among the class not only generated chemistry ideas, but also enabled the participants to help each other with the lab assignments:
In addition, for each lab activity, each teacher could collect the ideas of his or her students working on the same activity. "We can choose a reaction, for example, about representative Stoichiometry or Gas Laws, or whatever, and that means if there were 23 students involved, there could have been 23 different studies happening at the same time" one participant reflected.
In short, the interactions in the Internet chemistry course set up bridges of collaboration. Linking innovative ideas of hard-working chemistry teachers and their students, these bridges led to cooperative learning outcome. Cooperative learning combined with individual creativity, as was highlighted in the program, brought about the optimum learning outcome that bore fruit of collective talents and efforts.
Potentials for Improvement
The above interpreted the themes that emerged from the unique experience of teaching chemistry on the Internet. Merits and weaknesses were illustrated and analyzed. This section will probe into potential ways of resolving or alleviating the weaknesses associated with a program similar to the present program.
The problems that occurred in the course fall into two main categories: technical and non-technical. The technical category includes those related to technical facilities and support systems while the non-technical refers to those related to attitude toward distance education, course design, and course management.
Addressing Technical Issues
A dynamic distance learning program relies on a solid technical infrastructure. Efficient support systems such as reliable and convenient network connection and sufficient hardware and software supports are indispensable for an effective delivery of any distance learning course that involves telecommunications. Rapid advances in hardware and software technology improve speed and quality of telecommunications as well as create unstable and unmanageable technological environments (Yohe, 1996).
Aware of the technical and financial difficulties in using advanced information technologies, the designer of the Internet chemistry course decided to rely primarily on the most commonly available and widely used Internet tool -- electronic mail in delivering the course. Costs to students and the amount of new technical learning required of students were thus greatly reduced. The major technical problems that occurred in the online chemistry course included difficult e-mail access, lack of basic computer skills, and shortage of hardware and software.
Several things can be done to solve these problems. First, easy and timely access to e-mail should be listed in the course description as a prerequisite for enrollment in such a course as the one under study. This would ensure that the students can participate in the course activities whenever they want to. Of course, this would also exclude students from taking the course who cannot have convenient access to e-mail. The description of the Internet chemistry course as cited below did highlight the importance of e-mail access, but instead of "at least twice weekly," it should require easy access to e-mail daily.
€ access to a color Macintosh with a CD-ROM drive and a hard drive,€ the ability to send/receive e-mail via Internet, at least twice weekly
€ and the ability to accomplish FTPs, and
€ access to a lab with small scale lab hardware. (Equipment kits, not included
in tuition/fees, will be available for purchase from a commercial supplier.)"
Moreover, it would be helpful to know before the course started what kinds of access the students had to the Internet. Did they own their own computers and dial in via a modem? Or did they use their schools' computers in their own offices? Or did they use public access facilities in the campus library or computing facility?
In addition, while a listserv is useful for running an Internet course, a better way of electronic communication would be through a WWW system, which displays multimedia documents in color and allows the user to upload and download multimedia files with ease. This can be accomplished by setting up a Web page where the course participants can post and retrieve information. Of course, this might mean more work and technical training for the instructor. Ideally, each course participant could sets up his or her own Web page which is linked to a Web server run by the instructor. It may take a little while before this can come true, but, at this point of time, in terms of access and expense, using a World Wide Web system seems to be the best approach for delivering an online course (Tello, 1996). To make it easy for students, a Web-based online course can just require the use of a Web browser such as Netscape. The students only need to become comfortable with their browser and the web in general. In other words, they only need to know how to point and click, which may only take 2-3 hours of practice. Using buttons and links on a Web page, the participants of an online course can easily access all the information of their course; they can also chat, e-mail, and exchange text files with each other. After the students become comfortable with their Web browser, they can learn how to create their own Web page and use their Web browser to upload and download other forms of files such as sound, graphics and animation. As for cost issues, a Web-based online course can be comparatively cost effective because the participants basically only needs a Web browser. Many software tools such as those to compress and decompress multimedia files, and those to display and create Web-compatible multimedia documents are shareware or freeware and downloadable through a Web browser. Further, increasingly, even relatively remote communities are finding local ISPs (Internet Service Providers) with reasonable monthly rates. Carol Thomson (1996) of California State University-Santa Monica informs us online: "I have never used a commercial Internet service provider, relying instead on an independent service provider to give me Internet access through a local phone line and using the Netscape and Eudora software my provider supplied. I believe my fees are lower ($25 initial set-up and 19.95/month for unlimited access) than AOL, CompuServe, et al. In addition, I am able to get 'corporate billing' so that invoices are sent to my employer for payment rather than having my personal credit card billed for professional expenses." This trend of reducing the cost of Internet access will only intensify (Richardson, 1996).
Very recently, there have been increasing practices of Web-based instructions. Gary Meyer (1996) of Lower Columbia College designed and currently is teaching a Web-based English course (see http:// www.teleport.com/~gbmeyer/101.html). His students are mostly first time computer and Internet users. Carole Richardson (1996), director of the Center for Distance Learning at Central Michigan University, reports that they are working to support on-line course delivery via the Internet through building a Web infrastructure that requires the use of a standard graphical Web browser (probably whatever version of Netscape that is most current and proven in the fall of 1996). Their goal is to keep the technology curve as flat as possible for distance learning students. They anticipate that the Web system will allow them the flexibility to embrace whatever appropriate new features technology offers as this global network continues to evolve (see http: //www.mth.cmich.edu/faculty/mathews/761syllb.html). Steve Tello (1996) of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell writes that the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth has offered 12 graduate and undergraduate courses via the Web over the past year to offer credit courses over the Web (see http://www.umassd.edu), and that the University of Massachusetts-Lowell is partnering with UMass Dartmouth to offer credit courses over the Web in the fall of 1996. Seven online courses will be offered by UMass Lowell, while UMass Dartmouth is offering an additional 13 courses. The UMass Lowell offerings include Business Writing, Total Quality Management, Marketing Principles, C Programming, Lingo, and Mathematica. To attend such a course, students must have access to the following:
€ Personal computer with a graphical browser such as Netscape or Mosaic;
€ High-speed modem - 14.4 Kbps or better;
€ Internet access through a SLIP/PPP connection;
€ Communications, e-mail and World Wide Web software (some courses may
have additional software requirements, such as the C Programming, Lingo and
Each course is offered totally online using the Web, e-mail, chat and FTP, and the focus will remain on trying to make the courses as technically accessible and affordable as possible (see http://www3.umassd.edu). Nevertheless, the above-listed technical requirements have discouraged a lot of students to enroll. Indeed, it is no easy task to balance quality and cost issues involved in distance education.
In terms of computer skills, three remedies can be used to ensure that the participants possess or acquire them. First, the description of an Internet course should list all the computer skills that are involved in successfully completing the course. As shown above, the description of the Internet chemistry course required "the ability to send/receive e-mail" and "the ability to accomplish FTPs." The minimal computer skills entailed for the course, however, included sending/receiving e-mail, using a word processor and a spreadsheet application, combining a spreadsheet document with a word processor document, reading information from CD-ROMs, and navigating HyperCard stacks. Ideally, the students should be able to digitize pictures or videos of their lab experiments and send them to the listserv as attachments to their written reports.
Second, a screening of the applicants' accessibility to hardware and software equipment and of their computer skills can be conducted prior to registration so that the course instructor as well as the students can have a better estimate of what to expect in terms of technological skills. A combination of questionnaire and performance tests can be used for the screening.
A third remedy would be giving the applicants the training related to the required computer skills after the screening is conducted and analyzed. The training can be accomplished through video tapes demonstrating all the computer skills required in the course. The applicants can purchase the tapes and teach themselves. The demonstrations can be created using various applications such as Persuasion, Powerpoint, HyperCard, Digital Chisel, Authorware, etc. Alternatively, the training can be accomplished by including the demonstrations in a course description and putting the course description on the Internet via a WWW page. Thus the applicants can access that Web page and have the training without cost.
The quality of distance education also depends on sufficiency of effective hardware and software. If not for hardware and software shortage, the quality of the Internet chemistry course would have been much better. For example, if every participant had had access to an application software and the hardware support such as a camera or a scanner for digitizing images, they could have used it to capture their lab experiments and share those snapshots with the class. They also could have used the facilities to take pictures of themselves and put their photos on an electronic class roster.
As far as software is concerned, satisfactory quality of an Internet course entails applications with related accessories for the following performances:
€ creating and displaying documents in various forms: text, numeric, graphic,
€ sending/receiving multimedia documents via the Internet;
€ desk-top videoconferencing.
Because different applications may not be compatible or convertible across different platforms, it is important to specify what applications and support systems are required for a particular Internet course.
Eudora is an easy-to-use application for sending/receiving multimedia documents via the Internet. It allows the user to send, receive, and archive documents of various forms. It is more convenient to use than FTP (File Transfer Protocol) applications in sending/receiving multimedia files such as text, pictures, sound, and movies. All you have to do is attach those files to your e-mail message as "Attachments." For Macintosh computers, Fetch 3.0, an FTP application, also serves as an easy-to-use tool to download and upload multimedia material. In the Internet chemistry course under study, however, FTP was not used and was successfully replaced with Eudora attachments by some participants.
Further, various WWW browsers such as Netscape and Mosaic are excellent applications for users to retrieve and exchange information. Owing to their multimedia, multi-user domain, and graphical user interface properties, they can serve as extraordinarily effective tools for educational purposes. In an Internet course, the Web pages can be used as virtual classrooms where the instructors and students can chat on specific topics. They also can be used to link the whole class together so each can access to others' library of information, and send e-mail to them without taking the trouble to type in the e-mail address.
In the past few years, desktop videoconferencing has been used increasingly in education (Bates, 1995). As John Henry Wells, associate professor of Louisiana State University (Wells, 1996), points out, desktop videoconferencing facilitates the transmission of simultaneous, real-time computer-to-computer video, audio, text, and graphics via the Internet using existing desktop computers and inexpensive video equipment. This medium allows for the fullest communication of ideas through live text communications, as well as aural and visual communications such as gestures and facial expressions.
In the spring of 1995, John Wells (1996) utilized desktop videoconferencing to develop and expand an introduction course in biological engineering and to establish an inter-institutional collaborative teaching experiment. He reports that during the semester, 20 lecture hours of the first offering of our course at Louisiana State University were broadcast via the Internet to the University of Missouri. The intent was not to broadcast lectures in the typical distance learning sense, but to allow a peer who had participated in development of instructional materials help evaluate their effectiveness in classroom use. Students in the course were impressed with guest appearances by other faculty via computer network. Their evaluations rated the overall effectiveness of the course as outstanding-to-excellent, the highest rating he had received since becoming a faculty member in 1987.
For courses delivered on the Internet, ongoing e-mail discussions or Web chatting can be augmented with regular desktop video conferences. The e-mail or Web communication allows the participants to reflect on video conferences and extract salient points relating to curriculum content or pedagogical approaches. In an Internet chemistry course, desktop video conferences can be used for the instructor(s) to deliver instructions and for the students to give instantaneous feedback and ask questions. They also can be used for live discussions on course content such as lab procedures and assignments. The equipment for desktop video conferencing consists of an application software and a miniature video camera, which are cost-effective and easy to set up. CU-SeeMe would serve as a good application software for the purpose.
Addressing Non-Technical Issues
Although a solid and efficient technical infrastructure is a critical factor in facilitating distance learning, it comes second in comparison with non-technical elements such as educational goals, the development of instructional resources, and the reform of curriculum and pedagogical approaches (Strom, 1994). The Internet chemistry course had well-defined course goals and course content. The program aimed at helping high school chemistry teachers enhance their professional skills both academically and pedagogically, while the content consisted of hands-on/small-scale activities. The non-technical issues to be discussed here focus on attitude toward distance education, course design, and course management.
The rapid development of telecommunications has been accelerating the extension of distance learning and technology-mediated learning. More and more educators as well as school administrators are realizing the importance of integrating technology and telecommunications into education at all levels. However, there are still many who are either doubtful about the efficacy of these teaching and learning media or feel threatened by their potential power. Before it can come into existence, a new distance learning program often has to overcome the obstacles set by those who adopt a skeptical or negative attitude toward things that are not traditional. As recently as last year, an effort by the University of Maine to make the state a leader in distance learning inflamed faculty members and students so abhorrently that it led to demands for the chancellor's ouster (DeLoughry, 1995). The opponents charged that the distance-learning technology was second-rate and that the central administration tried to homogenize courses on the various campuses in order to package classes for distance learning. Although not quite as bad, the inventor of the Internet chemistry course experienced opposition both from the administrators and faculty in getting the course approved. Perhaps this issue of skeptical or negative attitude will continue to impede the development of utilizing technology and telecommunication in education. Curriculum and instruction researchers who are inclined to improve the quality and expansion of formal education by means of technology should be prepared to steer their way through doubt, opposition, and resistance from administrators and faculty who have not yet been convinced of the power of the application of technology in education.
As far as the course design is concerned, the Internet chemistry course was a novel venture in this country in that it was entirely taught on the Internet. Although the outcome confirmed this delivery format as a promising teaching approach, it could have been even better if all the students could have integrated the course content into their teaching curricula. When asked why there was much less participation in class discussions than had been expected, several course participants viewed the discrepancy between the labs required for the course and their teaching schedule as a major cause:
The discrepancy reduced considerably the chances for some students to participate in the discussions on the labs that were not included in their own teaching curricula. How can we solve this problem of mismatch between the course content and the high school chemistry teachers' teaching curriculum? A participant suggested a sound remedy:
What he was suggesting is that the instructor announce the course content at least one semester ahead of the course's starting date. Thus, the students, who are mostly high school teachers, can integrate the labs required for the course into their teaching curriculum for their own students.
Of course it is no easy matter to make the match. For one thing, it depends on how much freedom each individual chemistry teacher has in setting up his/her curriculum. It also depends on the ability of his/her students. However, the match must be there in order for the course to attain its goal: finding out what small scale chemical activities work successfully in secondary classrooms. Announcing the curriculum far ahead of time will certainly help ensure the match.
In addition to curriculum match, other ways of increasing participation in class discussions would be associated with class management. Several steps can be taken here. One step is to schedule some chat sessions as suggested by the instructor and some students:
There are quite a few MUD (multi-user domain) applications that can be used by a group of people to hold online discussions. As various graphical World Wide Web browsers are becoming more and more powerful and popular, the most effective and convenient approach to online chat sessions would be via a Web site. The instructor or his/her assistants can set up and maintain the Web site, which allows the course participants to share their learning experiences. All the students have to do is to access the Web site using a Web browser, say, Netscape, point and click, and type in their messages, which are automatically and instantly added to the Web page that displays the comments from all the persons participating in that chat. So by writing and viewing the comments back and forth, the course participants can chat on anything that comes up to their mind. In addition, videoconferencing is certainly an ideal way, if not the best, of chatting and sharing ideas.
Second, efforts should be extended to ameliorate the impersonal nature of an online program. The instructor of the Internet chemistry course did plan to create a class roster that would contain a photo of every participant. This did not come true due to the lack of the related facilities with some participants. Thanks to the graphical interface of a WWW browser, it would be rather straightforward to design a photo-attached class roster and put it on a Web page. In comparison, videoconferencing serves as an even more effective means to personalize an Internet program. Regular videoconferences enable the participants to know each other as they do in a physical classroom setting, that is, by name as well as appearances.
Third, the students should be encouraged to help each other in the learning process. A beneficial and lively Internet learning experience results from a cooperative learning environment. Every participant should regard helping others or getting help from others as a natural and healthy learning process. Most students in the Internet chemistry course were willing to help others and were not afraid of seeking help from others. But sometimes it is difficult for someone to offer help without being asked to. One participant told us the following story:
Likely, she could have helped her "classmate" if it had been emphasized in the course that everybody was welcome to help others.
Fourth, while it is very important for the instructor to be flexible with timelines in an Internet course, he or she should also guard against procrastination. Although distance learners are usually highly motivated to learn, there are those who are not as mature and self-disciplined as others. Caution should be taken to prevent such students from being tardy. In the Internet chemistry course, some students overused the flexibility of time in submitting assignments and put things off until too later to catch up. To prevent procrastination, it is necessary to ensure that everybody be aware of the extent of flexibility and realize the full responsibility of learning.
Fifth, since commitment plays a critical role in a distance learning course, applicants who cannot afford adequate commitment should be discouraged to enroll. Of course, they may audit with appropriate permission. To avoid uncommitted participants, the description or syllabus of an online course should include commitment as one of the requirements.
To summarize, in this chapter I attempted to interpret the themes emerging from the unique experience of teaching chemistry on the Internet. These themes were associated with distance learning, technology-mediated learning, and cooperative learning.
First, I reviewed the existing theories on distance learning and examined both merits and limitations of distance learning mode as seen in the Internet chemistry program. The merits occurred as 1) providing learning opportunities that otherwise would have been unattainable; 2) enabling the students to integrate the course into their teaching, trying the experiments out in real life classrooms while they were taking the course; 3) allowing the students access to the well-known senior professor of chemistry education as their instructor; 4) allowing simultaneous interactions among the course participants; and 5) facilitating the development of self-teaching skills. In terms of limitations, problems were found with 1) difficult e-mail access; 2) insufficient communication due to time factors; 3) the absence of face-to-face interaction; 4) procrastination as a result of overuse of time flexibility; and 5) difficulty in getting the approval of and support for the course from the university administrators and the chemistry department.
In terms of technology-mediated learning, I reviewed the related literature and studied how technology facilitated teaching and learning in the online chemistry course and what setbacks and pitfalls the course participants encountered using technology.
The technologies involved in the program were e-mail systems, CD-ROM facilities, and some necessary hardware and software configuration. E-mail served as the vehicle of communications and interactions in the program. Instructions, discussions, and submission of assignments all were accomplished via e-mail. The CD-ROM SmallScale was used as the course textbook and was found to be an example of excellent instructional material. The primary hardware requirements were a color Macintosh computer and a Mac compatible CD-ROM player. The frequently used software included HyperCard, Eudora, and any application software capable of producing a spreadsheet, such as Microsoft Excel, ClarisWorks, and Lotus.
Four major issues emerged associated with technology-learning in the Internet chemistry course. First, inadequate e-mail system posed a big problem for some students who had to rely on America Online for Internet connection. Second, lack of Macintosh computers in some schools impeded several applicants from enrolling in the course. Third, lack of computer skills such as creating written reports and transferring files caused frustration and delay for some participants. Lastly, shortage of hardware and software posed a limiting problem in the operation of the course. The biggest handicap in this respect was the inability of digitizing pictures or videos. As a consequence, the course participants could not know each other more by seeing each other's picture image, nor could they capture their lab procedures in video clips and share them with their classmates.
Finally, I reviewed the literature of cooperative learning and interpreted the role of cooperative learning in the Internet chemistry program from three aspects: the role of the participants, the sources of motivation, and the nature of interactions.
Cooperative learning governed all the activities in the Internet chemistry course. Thus the instructor and the students were both teacher and learner. They all had the liberty to talk and share their ideas whenever they wanted to. An additional role for the instructor was that of an organizer, a guide, and a facilitator in the course activities. Self motivation accounted for most motivation in the learning process Moreover, flexibility with assignment requirements and deadlines, and invitation for creativity - the teaching strategies employed by the instructor - helped keep the students' motivation high in the learning process.
As the course was delivered on the Internet, the interactions among the class were largely on line. Most e-mail communications were accomplished through the listserv. The electronic interactions played an essential role in learning for the participants. They brought together experiences of chemistry teachers from different parts of the country, generated new chemistry ideas, and facilitated a collaborative learning outcome. Lastly, after presenting the themes that occurred in the Internet chemistry course, I discussed some ways that would help address the technical and non-technical problems that the participants encountered.
The technical problems included difficult e-mail access, lack of basic computer skills, and shortage of hardware and software. To solve the problem of e-mail access, either easy and timely access to an e-mail system should be a prerequisite for enrollment, or a WWW conferencing system should be used to replace the e-mail system. As for computer skills, three remedies can be employed. They are 1) listing all the computer skills that are involved in successfully completing the course; 2) a screening of the applicants' accessibility to hardware and software equipment and of their computer skills prior to registration; and 3) giving the applicants a training of the required computer skills through videotapes or demonstrations on a WWW page. To deal with the shortage of hardware and software, the applicants should have access to applications with related accessories and hardware supports for creating and displaying documents in various forms: text, numeric, graphical, and video, for sending/receiving multimedia documents via the Internet, and for desk-top videoconferencing.
In terms of non-technical issues, the discussions were focused on attitude toward distance education, course design, and course management. As to attitude issues, curriculum and instruction researchers who are inclined to improve the quality and expansion of formal education by means of technology should be prepared to steer their way through doubt, opposition, and resistance from administrators and faculty who have not yet been convinced of the power of the application of technology in education. A good design of an Internet course for in-service teachers should enable them to integrate the course content with their own teaching curriculum as much as possible. In addition to a sound course design, several considerations should be taken in terms of class management: 1) scheduling chat sessions using a WWW site or videoconferencing; 2) personalizing the class by enabling the participants to know each other by name as well as appearances; 3) encouraging the students to help each other in the learning process; 4) preventing procrastination; and 5) emphasizing adequate commitment.
Summary of the Study
In this qualitative study case, I reported on a graduate general chemistry course that was taught entirely on the Internet for the first time in the United States. In the introductory chapter, I informed my readers the purpose of the study and the research questions to be answered in the study. While Chapter Two provided the research procedures involved in the study, Chapter Three described what happened in the course: how did the course get started, how was it delivered, what did the participants get out of it, and how did the participants like it. The course, extending from January 30 to July 7,1995, was created in demand for promoting hands-on activities to in-service secondary school chemistry teachers. Twenty-one students (eleven males and ten females) were enrolled in the course. It was delivered solely on the Internet via a listserv managed by the instructor, using e-mail as the primary vehicle for instructions and communication. During the course one student (male) dropped out. Of the twenty remaining, nine (five females and four males) successfully completed the course and eleven (six males and five females) did not complete the course. The students, whether they earned the 3 credits or not, gained useful information on small scale chemistry as well as on teaching methods. Their overall impression of the course was positive, embracing it as a beneficial and enlightening learning experience.
Following the narrative Chapter Three, Chapter Four delineated the issues that emerged from the case study. They included motivation, expectations, outcomes, difficulties, and evaluation. The students were mostly highly motivated learners. They wanted to update their knowledge of better ways of teaching chemistry, to expand their experience with the Internet, and to earn a few credits for salary advancement. Those who were novices about small scale chemistry expected to become familiar with its technique and learn how to implement hands-on activities in the classrooms; those who had had some experience in the sector anticipated to gain new ideas for small-scale labs, and share ideas with other chemistry teachers. Although half of the participants failed to complete the course, they more or less obtained what they had expected. Three factors were found responsible for the rather high incompletion rate. The major cause was lack of time. Three students could not keep up with the class because their family members fell ill or had a bad accident; some others were too busy with their teaching to participate in the course activities regularly. A second cause came from technical problems such as inefficient network system, hardware and software shortage and incompatibility, and inexperience in the use of e-mail and certain software. Third, discrepancy between some participants' own teaching curriculum and the labs required for the course made it difficult for the participants to have their students conduct the experiments and collect the data. While some of the issues were included in the research questions, difficulties that resulted in a rather low completion rate emerged as an important issue in the case study.
In Chapter Five, I tried to relate the themes and patterns that emerged from the study to existing theories of distance learning, technology-mediated learning, and cooperative learning, and to offer some suggestions on ways in which an online course might be improved. The success of the Internet chemistry course added to the evidence that distance learning, when well designed and properly mediated by technology, serves as an efficacious educational approach, which meets the learning needs of those with limited resources and those with work or family commitments, stimulates critical thinking, facilitates cooperative learning, and enhance global education. I examined the positive side of the Internet chemistry course as well as the issues that arose from the teaching and learning experience. As seen from the present case study, the success of course delivery on the Internet relies on such factors as supportive attitude of participants and administrators, sound course design (content and selection of technology), and effective course management, as well as efficient technical infrastructure including network system, hardware/software sufficiency and configuration, and training support.
Contributions of the Study
This study was essentially a qualitative research on distance learning; or, to narrow it down, it was a qualitative case study on a course delivery via the Internet. As such, it made several unique contributions to the existing research in the sector. First, since no research thus far has been reported on running a chemistry course entirely on the Internet, the major contribution of this study is taking the lead in exploration of quality and cost-effective application of modern telecommunications to chemistry teaching and learning, and thus providing first-hand information for teachers, especially college science teachers, education planners including curriculum and instruction designers and educational administrators, and learners who are interested in teaching and learning on the Internet.
Second, to my knowledge and at the point of writing, this is the first qualitative case study on distance education reported in the United States. There have been numerous evaluations of distance learning as compared to face-to-face lecturing ever since the 1940s (Russell, 1995); but none of the studies examined qualitative differences between the two types of learning. The studies thus far have been predominantly quantitative; but there are so many elements that cannot be measured with inferential statistics. Employing a qualitative case study method, this research attempted to make sense of an online chemistry course. In doing so, I tried to describe the realities that were constructed by the individuals involved in the course, interpret the themes and patterns that emerged from an in-depth understanding of the course participants' perspectives, and ultimately explore and discover variables for future research, experimental or non-experimental.
Third, unlike most studies on distance education, in which there was little discussion of the pedagogy of the teaching and learning mode (Bates, 1995), this research studied both technological and non-technological issues on distance learning. The pedagogical discussions in this study included attitude toward distance education, course design and management. This research reinforced the findings of Blumenstyk (1991) and DeLoughry (1995) that many distance learning efforts hit political obstacles. Educators who are in favor of integrating distance education into formal schooling should be prepared to cope with resistance from skeptical administrators and faculty members. In terms of course design and management, the findings of this study suggest that, although the content of distance-learning courses usually differs little from that of those taught on campuses, methodologies must differ to adapt to the different nature of student-teacher interactions. For online courses, various strategies, such as being reasonably flexible with assignment requirements and timelines, inviting creativity, encouraging cooperative learning, providing tutorial for students lacking in basic computer skills, emphasizing sufficient commitment, preventing procrastination, and compensating for the absence of face-to-face interactions by means of transparent and interactive technologies such as WWW systems and video-conferencing systems, all these help retain motivation and persistence of participants, increase the frequency of interactions, and improve the quality of coursework.
Fourth, the present study reported in detail the incompletion rate of the Internet chemistry course and provided an in-depth analysis of the causes of incompletion, whereas, to date, little attention has been paid to attrition issue in previous similar studies. The findings led to the assertion that incompletion rate can be high in a distance-learning course due to technological problems and pedagogical immaturity.
Fifth, while this research agreed with previous research that cost and technological issues often pose hard-to-overcome obstacles for distance learning attempts, it came to realize the indispensability of technologies, such as online chat and videoconferencing, that help increase participant interaction and make up for the absence of face-to-face contact. In other words, this study recognized that, though relatively easy and inexpensive, communication entirely via e-mail is inadequate to satisfy the communication needs of individuals involved in distance-learning courses.
Limitations of the Study
As stated in the introductory chapter, this case study was largely limited to a qualitative report of the information provided by the students and the instructor. Only a little more than half of the twenty-one students participated in the research and there was little face-to-face contact between the researchers and the students. Further, the method of data collection was largely confined to e-mail communications, most of which only involved the actively participating individuals. In addition, this report just reflected one person's encounter with a complex case. There must be many aspects and issues that I missed or failed to discuss in depth; there also might be some misinterpretations or erroneous assertions of the themes and issues derived from the case. Due to these limitations, the findings of this study are subject to criticism and other interpretations.
This research shares Azarmsa's observation(1993) that there is no single best model of distance education. The optimal quality and effectiveness of distance-learning programs relies on best-fitting pedagogical and technological designs, highly committed faculty and students, whole-heartedly supportive administrators, and solid technical infrastructure. While there have been increasing quantitative studies on the quality and effectiveness of distance education in terms of academic achievements, there is an urgent need for sensitive qualitative research that looks beyond mere test scores, that examines issues pertaining to curriculum and instruction designs, including teaching strategies and selection of technology, and that explores new issues and variables for experimental studies.
Another urgent need in future research on distance education is to study pedagogical aspects. Researchers should report in detail obstacles and difficulties encountered in distance learning and ways in which they are coped with. The obstacles and difficulties include those generated by human factors such as resistance from administrators and/or faculty, as well as those caused by technical factors such as high cost, high consumption of time, deficient/insufficient network systems, and problematic hardware/software and training support. Compared to traditional classroom learning, distance learning is still at its infancy; there still exist many known and unknown hurdles for its practitioners, who need to adapt their problem-solving skills and teaching and learning methods. It is urgent to derive useful and effective problem-solving skills and teaching and learning methods from individual distance learning programs so that they can be shared and improved by distance educators and learners.
While many studies have evaluated the quality and effectiveness of distance learning programs by comparing the academic achievement of distance learners with that of their on-campus counterparts, new variables are needed so that more comprehensive assessment methods can be developed. Such variables as student/faculty satisfaction, scope and depth of learning, nature and frequency of interaction, attrition rate, cost and financial benefit/loss, all these are well worth studying.
Lastly, while we cannot expect to find a single best model of distance learning, we should strive to generate and update cost-effective models of distance learning programs, be they coursework, degree programs, or supplementary components in classroom teaching and learning. The models should include types of programs; selection, application, and maintenance of technologies; teaching and learning methods; and holistic learning outcomes including academic achievements as well as such qualitative aspects as student and faculty satisfaction, quantity and quality of interaction and collaboration, and scope and depth of learning.
* This paper makes no account of chemical superscripts and subscripts.
Alexander, G. H. (1993). Flexible and distance Learning. Choice, 31(1), 185.
Azarmsa, R. (1993). Telecommunications: A handbook for educators. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc.
Bailey, E. K., & Cotlar, M. (1994). Teaching via the Internet. Communication Education, 43, 184-193.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Barron, A. E., & Ivers, K. S. (1996). The Internet and instruction activities and ideas. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
Bates, A. W. T. (1995). Technology, open learning and distance education. London and New York: Routledge.
Blumenstyk, G. (1991). Many attempts at 'distance learning' are impeded by unforeseen political and financial problems. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 38(9), A23-25.
Brooks, D. W. (1995). Unpublished course information package.
Brooks, D. W. (1995). Face-to-face conversation.
Carey, J. (1991). Plato at the keyboard: Telecommunications technology and education policy. The annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 514, 11-21.
Carin, A. (1994). Hands-on environmental science activities. The Science Teacher, 61(2), 66.
Cartwright, G. P. (1994). Distance learning: A different time, a different place. Change, 26(4), 30-32.
Clark, D. (1995). Internet essentials (2nd ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Que Corporation.
Cohen, E. G. (1990). Continuing to cooperate: Prerequisites for persistence. Phi Delta Kappan, 72(2), 134-136.
Cooper, M. M. (1995). Cooperative learning: An approach for large enrollment courses. Journal of Chemical Education, 72(2), 162-164.
Creswell, J. W. (1994). Research design: Qualitative & quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Dede, C. J. (1991). Emerging technologies: Impacts on distance learning. The annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 514, 146-158 .
DeLoughry, T. J. (1995). Distance-learning program inflames Maine faculty. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 41(30), A24-25.
Dewey, J. (1963). Experience and education. New York: Collier Books.
Engler, B. (1991). Personality theories (3rd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Freire, P. (1983). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Gamson, Z. F. (1994). Collaborative learning comes of age. Change, 26(5), 44-49.
Gilbert, S. (1995). Why distance education? [Online]. Available E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org [No date].
Gilbert, S. (1996). A vision worth working toward. [Online]. Available E-mail: email@example.com [1996, July 2].
Glesne, C., & Peshkin, A. (1992). Becoming qualitative researchers. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Guskin, A. E. (1994). Restructuring the role of faculty. Change, 26(5), 16-25.
Harris, D. (1989). Beyond distance teaching - Towards open learning. Journal of Higher Education, 60(2), 242-244.
Hawkins, J. (1991). Technology-mediated communities for learning: Designs and consequences. The annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 514, 159-175.
Heppner, P. P., Kivlighan, Jr. D. M., & Wampold, B. E. (1992). Research design in counseling. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Hochner, A. (1996). 2 of 2 distance education, AFT, faculty role dialogue. [Online]. Available E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org [1996, March 21].
Honey, M., & Henriquez, A. (1993). Telecommunications and K-12 education: Findings from a national survey. New York: Center for Technology in Education, Bank Street College of Education.
Ivey, M. (1988). Long-distance learning gets an 'A' at last. Business Week, 3051, 108-110.
Jackson, S. (1993). Pi in the Sky: Hands-on mathematical activities for teaching astronomy. Mathematics Teacher, 86(7), 614-615.
Johnstone, S. M. (1991). Research on telecommunicated learning: Past, present, and future. The annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 514, 49-57.
Johnson, R. T., Johnson, D. W., & Smith, K. R. (1988). Cooperative learning: An active learning strategy for the college classroom. Unpublished manuscript. University of Minnesota.
Langford, D.A. (1994). Case study of development of distance-learning course. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 120(4), 333-340.
LeCompte, M. D., & Goetz, J. P. (1984). Ethnography and qualitative design in educational research. New York: Academic Press.
Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
McComb, M. (1994). Benefits of computer-mediated communication in college courses. Communication Education, 43, 159-170.
McKean, H. R. (1989). Hands-on activities that relate Mendelian genetics to cell division. The American Biology Teacher, 51(5), 294-300.
Merriam, S. B. (1988). Case study research in education: A qualitative approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Meyer, G. (1996). Low-tech start for distance education. [Online]. Available E-mail: email@example.com [1996, July 3].
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Morrison, P. (1994). Bending light: dozens of activities for hands-on learning. Scientific American, 271(6), 123.
Norman, D. A. (1993). Things that make us smart: Defending human attributes in the age of the machine. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.
Ohler, J. (1991). Why distance education? The annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 514, 22-34.
Pence, H. E. (1993). Combining cooperative learning and multimedia in general chemistry. Education, 113(3), 375-380.
Pressley, M., & McCormick, C. (1995). Cognition, teaching, and assessment. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers.
Puzzuoli, D. A. (1970). A study of teaching university extension classes by telelecture. ERIC ED 042 961 (Morgantown: West Virginia University).
Quible, Z. K., & Ray, E. J. (1995). Using the Internet in written business communication. Business Communication Quarterly, 58(4), 11-15.
Richardson, C. (1996). Distance learning & WWW. [Online]. Available E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org [1996, May, 29].
Robinson, R. S. (1985). An investigation of technical innovation: Interactive T.V.. ERIC ED 256 331 (Paper delivered at the Annual Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Anaheim, CA).
Rojas, D. (1994). Distance learning combats nursing shortage in Texas. The Vocational Education Journal, 69(6), 34-35.
Ross, L. R. (1994). Educators overcome difficulties with partnerships, 'distance learning'. Chemical & Engineering News, 72(37), 35-37.
Russell, T. L. (1995). The "no significant difference" phenomenon. [Online]. Available HTTP: http://tenb.mta.ca/phenom/phenom.html; http://tenb.mta.ca/phenom/phenom1.html; http://tenb.mta.ca/phenom/phenom2.html [1996, January 10].
Slavin, R. E. (1989). Cooperative learning and student achievement. Education Digest, 54(6), 15-17.
Smith, M. E., Hinckley, C. C., & Volk, G. L. (1991). Cooperative learning in the undergraduate laboratory. Journal of Chemical Education, 68(5), 413-415.
Spradley, J. P. (1980). Participant observation. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Steitberger, H. E. (1992). How bright are you? Energy and power hands-on activities. Journal of Chemical Education, 69(4), 307-308.
Stick, S. (1996). Face-to-face conversation. (1996, June 27).
Strom, J. L. (1994). Bringing people together: distance learning now. School and College, 33(12), 11-14.
Strother, D. B. (1990). Cooperative learning: Fad or foundation for learning? Phi Delta Kappan, 72(2), 158-162.
Tello, S. (1996). Online (WWW) Dist. Ed. Courses. [Online]. Available E-mail: email@example.com [1996, June 27].
Thomson, C. (1996). Costs of Internet & distance education use. [Online]. Available E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org [1996, July 11].
Turner, J. A. (1989). 'Distance learning' courses get high marks from students, and enrollments are rising. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 36(4), 39-40.
U. S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (1990). Critical connections: Communication for the future. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Wells, J. H. (1996). Desktop Videoconferencing & Conversion Experience. [Online]. Available E-mail: email@example.com [1996, March 25].
Yin, R. K. (1989). Case study research: Design and methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Yohe, J. M. (1996). Information technology support services: Crisis or opportunity? [Online]. Available E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org [1996, April 1].
IRB # 95-03-207 EX
Evaluation of CHEN 869x/CURR 869x
Through Analysis of E-mail Correspondence
You are invited to participate in this research study. The following
information is provided in order to help you make an informed decision whether
or not to participate. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.
The purpose of this study is to provide information about Chem 869x/C&I; 869x
-- the first experience in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You are invited to
participate in this study because you are a student in Chem 869x/C&I; 869x.
There are no risks or discomforts associated with this research andparticipation in this study will not require any special time or effort on your
part. Data for this study will come from the e-mail correspondence between you
and the instructor and between you and the rest of the class as well as from
your response to three interview questionnaires which will be given to you via
e-mail during the course. The information gained from this research will result in
an objective evaluation of Chem 869x/C&I; 869x and guide our continued development
of new directions in curriculum and instruction design.
Your private correspondence with the instructor pertaining to the course andyour response to the questionnaires are only available to you, the instructor,
and the researcher(s). Your public correspondence will be available to the whole
class, the instructor, and the researcher(s). To permit data analysis, we will need
to print out your e-mail messages. These copies will be available only to the
instructor and the researcher(s). Information obtained in the study may be
published in educational or research journals or presented at educational
meetings, but, if this happens, your identity will be kept strictly confidential.
You are free to decide not to participate in this study or to withdraw at anytime during the study without adversely affecting your relationship with the
researcher(s) or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Your decision will not result
in any loss of benefits to which you are otherwise entitled.
You may ask any questions concerning the research either before agreeing toparticipate or during the course of the research. If you have any questions that
have not been answered by the investigator about your rights as a part of this
research, you may contact the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institutional Review
Board, telephone 472-6965.
You are voluntarily making a decision whether or not to participate in thisresearch study. Your signature certifies that, having read and understood the
information presented, you have decided to participate. You will be given a
copy of this consent form to keep.
Signature of Research Participant Date
Daonian Liu, M.Ed., Principal Investigator (402)472-3387
David W. Brooks, Ph.D., Secondary Investigator (402)472-2018
1. What's your name? Your year of birth?
2. Please list your degrees with year, majors, and minors.
3. Please give a synopsis of your teaching experience (what you have taught,
to what grade-level students, at public school or private school, for how long).
4. What is your current career goal?
5. How did you learn that this course was being offered?
6. Why are you interested in this course?
7. Please give a synopsis of your experience with small-scale chemistry.
8. Can you recall who introduced you to small-scale chemistry and how?
Describe if possible.
9. What do you expect to learn from this course? How do you think this
course would be different from an equivalent course taught in a classroom setting?
10. Is your access to the Internet through school, home, or elsewhere?
Describe. Do your students have access to the Internet? If yes, how often
do they use it?
11. How much and in what ways have you used the Internet?
1. Have you had any difficulty keeping pace with the course? If yes,
2. What problems have you come across in completing and handing in the
assignments? How did you solve the problems?
3. Approximately how many times have you communicated with the class
through the List Server? Approximately how many times have you
communicated directly with the instructor? Approximately how many
times have you communicated directly with your "classmates"?
4. How have communications between you and the instructor helped you?
5. How have communications between you and your classmates helped you?
6. Have you tried out small-scale experiments in your classroom? How?
7. Have you had any problems using e-mail, ftp, and/or CD-ROM? If yes,
8. What do you think are the strengths and/or weaknesses of this course?
9. How do you think we can make this course work better?
1. Did you have any problem using the CD-ROM? Was access easy or difficult?
2. Did you have any problem using e-mail? Was access easy or difficult?
3. Did you have any problem finding access to a lab to conduct the small-
scale experiments? Was the small scale equipment you could use adequate?
4. Have you had any difficulty keeping pace with the course? If yes,
please describe. 5. What problems have you come across in completing and handing in the
assignments? How did you solve the problems? 6. Have you tried out small-scale experiments in your classroom? How? 7. Have you had any problems using e-mail, ftp, and/or CD-ROM? If yes,
please describe. 8. How much time did you spend per week on this course? 9. Approximately how many times have you communicated with the class
through the List Server? Approximately how many times have you
communicated directly with the instructor? Approximately how many
times have you communicated directly with your "classmates"? 10. Is this course challenging enough for you? Please describe. 11. What do you think of the 7 modules and assignments for this course? 12. What do you think are the strengths and/or weaknesses of this course? 13. In terms of student-teacher and student-student interactions, what
differences do you think it would make if this course was taught in a
classroom setting? 14. In terms of motivation, how different, in your opinion, would it be if this
course was taught in a classroom setting? 15. In terms of academic achievement, how do you think it would differ if
this course was taught in a classroom setting? 16. Would you take another course through the Internet? Discuss.
(For Question 1, you can choose as many answers as needed.)1. I dropped out of the course because
a) I didn't have enough time
b) the course content was too difficult for me
c) the course content was not helpful in my teaching
d) access to the Internet was too difficult
e) other (please describe)
2. Would you like to take this course or other courses through the Internetin the future?
3. Do you have any suggestions on how to run the course better? If yes,please describe.
(This questionnaire is only for those that dropped out of the course.)
1. Had you taught micro-scale chemistry in a classroom setting before
this project? How many times? 2. What led to your idea of teaching the small-scale chemistry course via
the Internet? 3. How confident were you that the course would work at the beginning? 4. What problems or setbacks did you come across during the course? How did
you handle them? 5. Do you think that, in general, the course objectives were achieved? Please
give evidence. 6. If you could undo things, would you rather teach the course using the
traditional classroom setting or via the Internet? Please give your reasoning. 7. What should be done in order to run the course better? 8. Can we conclude from this project that teaching chemistry via the Internet
should be regarded as a viable alternative approach in curriculum and
instruction design? Please describe your reasoning.
1. How did you find about the course Chem869? 2. Did you have any problem using e-mail while taking the course? If yes,
describe your problem? 3. Could you always log on to e-mail immediately? If not, what caused the delay?
How often and how long was the delay? 4. Had you used CD-ROMs before taking this course? 5. What CD-ROM player did you use? Where was it? Who owned it (your school
or yourself)? Did you have any problem using the CD-ROM? 6. Was the CD-ROM helpful to you? In what way? 7. Did you have experience with small-scale chemistry activities before you
took the course? If yes, describe your experience. 8. How often did you conduct the small-scale experiments in your classroom
during the course? 9. Many of the course participants were not very active in the assignment
discussions. What do you think were the causes? What do you think the instructor
could have done to increase participant activities? 10. Several of those registered have not completed the course. What do you think
the instructor could have done to enable most, if not everybody, to successfully
complete the course? 11. Which teaching strategies contributed the most to this class? Did you use
any of these strategies with your students? How successful were they? 12. Which aspects (or components) from the class do you think contained the most
innovative chemistry ideas? 13. How would you rate the overall quality of the course? Was it excellent,
very good, good, average, poor, or very poor? Why? 14. For demographic information, would you tell me about your age and your
immediate family? Do you have children? How many? 15. Can you think of any other questions that would help evaluate the course?
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 1995 23:52:02 -0600
Subject: Chem869:Assignment 1
I intended to have a class of 50 tenth through twelfth grade students work through the Formula of a Hydrate experiment 041 on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 7 and 8. Only 27 students were able to complete the experiment - the rest were dying of the hacking disease which they now gave to the original 27. I hope to see my entire class in another week at best.
Some background on the original 27: probably can be considered an at-risk group...low self esteem, apathetic across all studies, no reaction to low grades as long as they do not attempt any work. To get into this first-level ChemCom course they must have received a C in Algebra 2. Our school is now in the process of revising what a C may mean. The first nine weeks are entirely devoted to labs and basic skills in laboratory science including using a balance; mathematical operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division when needed in labs; interpreting pie charts, bar charts, line graphs; hypothesis testing; comprehending science-related or scientific articles.
Schedule of events: Monday Feb. 6 we went through a pre-lab demonstration/discussion and copies given of the lab and an empty class spreadsheet and another sheet labeled RAW DATA containing 3 columns relative to the 3 measurements they were to complete. Also, the mole concept was briefly introduced with visuals (one mole bags of CuSO4-5H2O, carbon, NaCl, jar of water, balloons of CO2), and read an excerpt on the life of Avogadro from the Isaac Asimov book On Chemistry. They loved the picture of Avogadro since he looks like a mole (sorry Avo). This spurred questions about how he arrived at this constant. (Does anyone have the real story on this?--not just the fatty acid lab estimations of this) They were to read the experiment for homework.
Tuesday Feb. 7 each student did the experiment without the demand that the data be collected but rather that they ask questions about manipulations. The students knew the actual data collection would occur on Wednesday. My most difficult problem was keeping them focused on the experiment when the room temperature was around 50 degrees, maybe 45, and they were to use Bunsen burners for the samples. Problem 1 related to the expt: manual dexterity-manipulating the pipets on/off the wire gauze. Student solution 1: use a combination of forceps and tongs; or test for the center of gravity (this interested/challenged many if they could find it) by gripping the pipet at different positions before moving, otherwise one of the ends of the pipet will rotate upwards and hit/burn your hand (unless they were numb). Problem 2: pipets tended to roll off wire gauze - ring clamps not level. Teacher solution 2: bend the edges of the wire gauze slightly upward prior to use. Problem 3: spending time obtaining a pre-measuring estimate prior to placing the compound in the pipet. Student solution 3: the teacher should place a 0.5g sample for viewing/estimation on a piece of weighing paper for all to compare. Problem 4: getting the sample from the weighing paper into the pipet. We do not have spatulas so I suggested thin angle-cut straws: the students quickly discarded this approach. Solution 4: some students funneled the sample into the pipet with the paper--but losing sample everywhere; I suggested placing the paper and sample in one hand and using the pipet like a shovel and digging up enough sample to work with (eyeball estimate), tapping it into the pipet before picking up another shovel full - they liked this a lot and it went faster! Problem 5: nonuniform heating of compound--they noticed the top took longer to turn white (no problems melting the tip due to the warning in the instructions and pre-lab demonstration of how quickly this can happen). Teacher Solution 5: roll the pipet slightly with forceps.
Wednesday, Feb. 8. The real lab day. No tardies, lots of absences (23 out of 50), a little colder today - the boiler system not pumping out much heat or more wind than Tuesday. All anxious to get started. Problem 6: still had nonuniform heating. The sample near the ends were turning brown/black before all the sample was decomposed. Student Solution 6: instead of moving the flame back and forth parallel to the pipet (which would overheat the sample at the changes in direction - where the flame spent more time) it may be better to wave the flame perpendicular to the pipet as you move down to the tapered end and then end with a brisk parallel swipe to get rid of any water at the tapered end.
Post-Lab discussions: We are still doing them due to diversions like progress reports, masses, pep rallies, late start days, etc. Discussions/comments so far: I asked the students to look at the spreadsheet and guess at how the original mass, mass of CuSO4, and mass of H2O loss was/could be calculated (see spreadsheet columns D,E,F--never mind...I do not know how to paste the spreadsheet into this document without losing the columns). A few were able to guess and test their guesses by subtracting one of the appropriate data sets. For others I drew pictures to help them understand subtraction. By trial and error and much probing they determined which column should be subtracted from the other and seemed to grasp the reasoning behind it. I felt that the spreadsheet was an excellent and interesting way to release math anxieties relative to not getting the correct answer (asking others-so what do I put here?)- but would help the student focus on the process of how the correct answer was obtained. All were very interested in determining and testing their formulas (columns D minus E for water loss) relative to columns D,E,F. Today they finally grasped the idea of molar masses and determined them for water and CuSO4. (Next week we will be determining the portion of a mole they used in the experiment.) This was a long process because some students looked ahead on the spreadsheet and wondered about the e values in the columns that calculated moles CuSO4 and H2O used. This spurred classroom activities in understanding scientific notation.
As you look at the data there are only a few that came close to the expected results--this may be shocking for what is considered to be a pretty easy/highly successful experiment in the high school situation. However, since our belief is that we act as one company/team/Cardinal Ritter family we felt that we were successful...everyone applauded/whistled at getting a few data sets to come close to their expected ratio of 5:1. A few of the students suggested reasons for their own negative masses (not properly reading/taring the balances). Although we have been working on this experiment more than any others we have done there was a renewed interest and excitement in the students when they watched Channel One during homeroom this morning (Fri. Feb 17). The Internet was defined and described. Afterwards, students came in asking if that is what is going on with this experiment and who is on the other end.
The following information describes resources available from the SmallScale CD ROM.
Figure 1. Macintosh Window that appears when the SmallScale CD-ROM is opened.
Figure 2. Screen and Menu that appear when the SmallScale icon is opened (double-clicked) from the desktop window.
Figure 3. SmallScale screen from which experiments are selected.
Figure 4. Picture from SmallScale Experiment 017, "Electrolysis."
Figure 5. Picture from movie available from SmallScale Experiment 017, "Electrolysis."
Figure 6. Student Make-Up Feature. Top left shows icon which, when double-clicked, brings up screen. This screen permits students who have missed work and return after the experiment has been deactivated (usually 10 or more days, for most teachers) to complete work by viewing images from the CD-ROM. Note the very restricted menu compared to that in Figure 2.
SMALL SCALE BY INTERNET DESCRIPTION
There are few opportunities for EXPERIENCED chemistry teachers to either earn college credit or CEUs.
Small scale chemistry takes advantage of plastic equipment, developed for use in biotechnology laboratories, to reduce the scale of hands-on laboratory activities to the drops/mL level. The initial thrust in this area came about as the result of the laboratory portion of a Woodrow Wilson/Dreyfus program held during the summer, 1987, and followed serious work in microscale/small scale organic chemistry for instructional laboratories.
CCI 869X, CHEM 869X: "SMALL-SCALE CHEMISTRY ACTIVITIES FOR SECONDARY SCHOOL CLASSROOMS"
--A UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA LINCOLN (UNL) GRADUATE COURSE--
This graduate course will be offered through the UNL Division of Continuing Studies with 3 credits in either chemistry or curriculum and instruction. Tuition for the course will be $323 (plus tax where appropriate). The rate includes CD-ROM materials.
The course will be offered January 30 through July 7, 1995. In order to participate, an enrolled participant will need:
access to a color Macintosh with a CD-ROM drive and a hard drive,
the ability to send/receive e-mail via Internet, at least twice weekly
and the ability to accomplish FTPs, and
access to a lab with small scale lab hardware. (Equipment kits, not included in tuition/fees, will be available for purchase from a commercial supplier.)
The course will involve seven modules of three weeks duration during which participants will be expected to conduct one or several small scale experiments. "Conversations" between the instructor and individual participants, and between pairs or among small groups of participants, will be handled by e-mail. Exchanges in the class will be handled by a listserv created specifically for the course. Large documents, video clips, pictures, etc. will be exchanged using ftp. The primary text materials with video will come from the CD-ROM. (Participants do NOT need a hard wire to Internet; the use of Mosaic software is NOT involved.)
The course will be taught by David W. Brooks. Several faculty from other institutions will act as observers and, to the degree that they choose, become involved in e-mail/listserv interchanges. We admit to considerable reservations about how effective a course via Internet can be. This is an experiment that we hope will be successful and will be fun. This course was taught by Brooks as an on-campus, EESA-supported workshop in 1988 during two summer weeks with some after-the-fact follow through. The success of our on-campus workshops derives largely from what participating teachers bring with them. It remains to be seen how effectively we can share via Internet, especially when our focus is the use of hands-on activities for students. Since 1988, better activities and strategies have become available for use of small scale, so this is a good time to refocus on this content.
Participants decide in advance and enroll under the credit option of their choice -- chemistry or education. For education credit, the graded activities will involve working out aspects of instruction. Some small scale activities are especially effective when presented in the context of a cooperative learning strategy; small scale affords opportunities for the use of alternative assessments. For chemistry credit, devising new procedures, downscaling other experiments, and verification of procedures for quantitative experiments are possible.
This is NOT a grant supported activity. No financial support is available through the University of Nebraska. However, we will provide detailed course descriptions for schools and districts that offer tuition support or reimbursement through such resources as EESA funds. The instructor is not paid; tuition revenues returned to the instructor's department are committed to projects in small scale laboratory and to support of teachers using these techniques.
This is NOT a part of a formal research study. There MAY be a publication describing the mechanics of the course along with some qualitative commentary. While it is possible for clever Internet snoops to follow our progress, research about learning via Internet is not the intent of this course. My goal is that participating teachers have the opportunity either to enrich their skills with respect to small scale, or to decide whether or not small scale is for their classroom.
This is NOT envisioned as the first step in creating an off-campus degree granting program.
Admissions and registration will be handled electronically. The course enrollment is limited. (The instructor WILL read written materials created by the participants.) While this course offering may be repeated, current plans suggest limiting the offering to one or at most two additional offerings during the next six years.
Policies for awarding graduate credit toward a degree vary from campus to campus. Credit for Chemistry 869X IS NOT expected to be counted toward the core courses in an advanced chemistry degree on the UNL campus, for example. Credit IS likely to be counted toward electives in a PhD program.
If you are interested in this course, please respond to:
Depending upon the time of their receipt, responses to messages may take as long as three weeks.
Our registration address is: email@example.com
Be sure to indicate whether you are taking this as Curriculum and Instruction 869X or Chemistry 869X. If you are going to use this course for credit toward a degree, check to make certain that the course fits your degree plan. (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a multipage syllabus, if needed.) You should expect a tuition statement of $323, which includes tuition and one copy of the SmallScale CD-ROM. An $18 fee has been waived. Nebraska residents will pay sales tax.
* Full name
* Social security number
* Address (Street, PO Box, City, State, Zip/Country)
* Internet address
* Telephone number
* Course (CCI 869X OR Chemistry 869X)
We will confirm receipt of registrations via e-mail and send a statement for the tuition and SmallScale CD-ROM. Please return the statement with payment (cash, check, VISA, MasterCard,or American Express) to the Division of Continuing Studies, PO Box 839100, Lincoln, NE 68583-9100. Upon receipt of payment the SmallScale CD-ROM will be shipped.
Our registration address is: email@example.com
The following is a list of the 80 experiment titles that are covered on the SmallScale CD-ROM:
Classifying Strong Acids and Bases By Reactions
Acid Rain Investigations
Acids: Reactions with Common Substances
Bronsted/Lowry Acids and Bases
Carbonic Acid, Bicarbonate Ion, Carbonate Ion, and Carbon Dioxide
Dead Stop Titration
Combining Cations and Anions
Halogens and Halogen Reactions
Hydrogen Peroxide as an Oxidizing and a Reducing Agent
Mixing and Reactions
Oxidation States of Manganese
Using Solubility Rules
Diffusion of Two Gases in Two Dimensions
Gases: Preparation and Properties
Molar Volume of a Gas
Preparation and Properties of Oxygen
Temperature Dependence of Salt Solubility
Forming, Testing and Modifying Hypotheses
Formula of a Hydrate
Decomposition of Sodium Bicarbonate
Titration Strong Acid/Strong Base
Titration of Vinegar
Mass Titration of Vinegar
Copper Sulfide -- Limiting Reagent
Ksp for Calcium Hydroxide
Determining the Hardness of Water
Bleach Analysis; Chloride Assay
Vitamin C in Fruit Juices
Iodine Clock Kinetics
Thiosulfate in Acid Solution
The Rate of Crystal Violet Bleaching
Le Chatelier's Principle
Nitrogen Dioxide Dimerization
One Pot Copper(II) Reactions
One Pot Iron(III) Reactions
One Pot Silver Reactions
Copper Ammine Complex Formation
Density -- A Linear Function
Lattice Bonding and Characteristic Properties
Normal Boiling Temperature
Viscosity of Liquids
Triple Point Phase Transition for Carbon Dioxide
Growing Crystals in Gels
Silver Mirror Reaction
Potentiometry During Silver One Pot Reactions
Chemistry 894X, Curriculum & Instruction 894X
Small-Scale Chemistry Activities for Secondary School Classrooms
3 graduate credits
January 30, 1995 through July 7, 1995.
High school chemistry classrooms have had to address a variety of issues related to hands-on science activities during the last two decades. These include safety, waste disposal, and controlling costs. At the same time, teachers have been asked to increase the amount of hands-on activity and to change the nature of the activities provided for students.
Small scale chemistry activities were developed in response to these demands. (At the time, these were called microscale activities.) Following a model for college-level organic chemistry, high school teachers associated with a Woodrow Wilson-Dreyfus summer program at Princeton, New Jersey, in 1987 developed a series of small scale activities by downscaling traditional experiments and making use of the inexpensive manipulative equipment developed for use in biotechnology laboratories. In 1988, Dr. David W. Brooks teamed with Ms. Dianne Epp, a participant in the WW-D program, to deliver an EESA-supported workshop for Nebraska teachers. This workshop ended in the development of computer materials, written materials, and a videotape that are in use to this date. Brooks and Epp have continued both independent and collaborative work in this area. They will co-publish a CD-ROM entitled SmallScale, in 1994. (H. B. Brooks, D. W. Brooks, D. Epp, R. D. Curtright, E. J. Lyons, and G. D. Brooks, published by Synaps, Lincoln, NE.)
Work in the area of small scale chemistry appears to make possible a wider variety of classroom teaching strategies than previous laboratory work, and to extend the range of content coverage possible.
In order to become acquainted with small scale laboratory work, an introductory hands-on workshop seems desirable if not essential.
For those teachers who already have experience with this area (i.e., teachers who have manipulated small scale apparatus and have performed several experiments in this fashion), directly supervised, hands-on experience is not essential. Indeed, there seems to be a national interest in offering some sort of appropriate coursework in this area to accomplish two overall goals:
to enhance and revitalize chemistry skills, and
to related classroom activities to successful teaching strategies.
The teacher audience best able to benefit from this coursework is spread far and wide across the country. In order to try to meet the needs of this very special national audience, we propose to offer this course described below via Internet. This document describes the course content, delivery, requirements, and assessment.
We envision an audience of very busy teachers who will be motivated to take this course for either or both of the reasons:
credit for an advanced degree
required continuing education units for certification
We anticipate about half desiring education credit and half desiring chemistry credit. We also anticipate, because of the delivery and sharing means being employed, that students will earn credit at a rate of about 0.43 credits per three weeks. That is, they will take 21 weeks to complete this three credit class. Their work will include reading, responding to questions, introducing activities within their classes, developing new experiments and enhancing old ones, and testing classroom teaching strategies with their diverse audiences. (DWB is a strong advocate of content-based rather than content-free education classes. He does not have strategies in search of content.)
In this write up, the term teachers is used to describe those who will enroll in the course for credit, and students refers to the students of those teachers. Course refers to the course we offer whose enrollees are the teachers. Class refers to the class(es) taught by the teachers whose enrollees are their students.
Module 1. Stoichiometry and Solution Stoichiometry. 1/30-2/17 Review of currently available activities. Teachers are assigned one experiment to test and perform, and to gather classroom data. The data from classes are shared in the course. The related teaching strategy is using a computer spreadsheet to record data from student groups.
Chemistry. Develop and test a new or alternative procedure for a stoichiometry activity. This new activity must address some specific problem not otherwise addressed by existing experiments, or must yield either much cleaner data or much better results (i.e., less costly, quicker, etc.)
Education. Use the spreadsheet data to have a class (or classes) analyze the results of a class experiment. Teacher prepares a report on this analysis, and leads an Internet discussion about it.
Module 2. Gas Laws. 2/20-3/10
Review of currently available activities. Teachers are assigned one experiment to test and perform, and to gather classroom data. The data from classes are shared in the course. The related teaching strategy is using a computer spreadsheet to record data from student groups.
Chemistry. Develop and test a new or alternative procedure for a stoichiometry activity. This new activity must address some specific problem not otherwise addressed by existing experiments, or must yield either much cleaner data or much better results (i.e., less costly, quicker, etc.)
Education. Use the spreadsheet data to have a class (or classes) analyze the results of a class experiment. Teacher prepares a report on this analysis, and leads an Internet discussion about it.
Module 3. Descriptive Chemistry. 3/13-3/31
Review of currently available activities. Teachers are assigned one experiment to test and perform. The results and observations from classes are shared in the course. The related teaching strategy involves small group work in which groups are subdivided and charged with solving several tasks.
Chemistry. Develop and test a new or alternative procedure demonstrating descriptive chemistry. This new activity must address some specific problem not otherwise addressed by existing experiments, or must yield either much cleaner data or much better results (i.e., less costly, quicker, etc.)
Education. Use your students to explore several different approaches to the cooperative learning activity. Assess student learning and attitudes, and report on what you believe to be the impacts of strategy used upon these learning outcomes.
Module 4. Mass Measurements/Interfacing. 4/3-4/21
(If possible, acquire a top loading balance that you can connect to a computer such that the balance readout is recorded by computer.) Design any experiment that involves accomplishing a titration by measuring a mass of reagent added to a reaction vessel.
Chemistry. Develop and test a new or alternative procedure in which a titration in which a volume measurement (using a buret on lab scale or a drop counting procedure on small scale) is replaced by performing a mass determination.
Education. Prepare curriculum materials (i.e., write a lab procedure) whose goal is to have students compare and contrast the errors associated with small scale mass determination versus small scale volume determination. Use this write-up in a class. Obtain and discuss class results.
Module 5. A Quantitative or Qualitative Problem. 4/24-5/12 Review the existing curricular materials in which students are presented with an open-ended quantitative or qualitative problem to solve. Each teacher performs one assigned activity from this group (e.g., blue bottle, mystery titration).
Chemistry. Create a new open-ended problem to engage students in decision making.
Education. Several alternatives are offered. By experimenting with your classes, design several cooperative learning strategies for an existing experiment, evaluate the outcomes, and report on apparent outcome similarities and differences. Measure student attitudes after each of three successive open-ended problems. Compare and discuss outcomes. [The students' frustration level is expected to decline with time. Most high school students are frustrated by early attempts in open-ended situations.]
Module 6. Interdisciplinary Efforts. 5/15-6/2
Either design a chemistry experiment that meets the needs of two disciplines and promotes integration of these disciplines, OR take some existing chemistry experiment and use it as the focus of multidisciplinary studies. [For example, use the Becker hydrogen rocket as the focus of a joint chemistry and physics experiment.]
Chemistry. Develop the chemistry of the activity and write a procedure for the chemistry activity.
Education. Create the curriculum materials (lesson plans, hand outs, design for class cooperation, etc.) required to support the use of the one activity selected between the two disciplines chosen.
Module 7. Summary of Experiments. 6/5-6/23
A summary of the course results and outcomes will be shared and discussed.
Chemistry. Identify the areas of chemistry most neglected by the current collection of small scale chemistry experiments (from any published source.) Suggest ways in which new activities might be developed to address these gaps.
Education. Prepare a summary of the advantages and disadvantages to the use of small scale activities in the high school classroom. Your summary should address the following topics: learner outcomes; instructional strategies possible; teacher time; costs; student attitudes; and teacher attitudes.
Cleanup. Overdue materials. 6/26-7/7/95
Criteria for Credit
Each teacher will perform one assigned experiment from the ROM and report on that activity for each of the first six modules. All teachers must complete one graded chemistry assignment and one graded education assignment. For full credit, each teacher will complete 3 of 7 assignments. For chemistry credit, 2 of the completed assignments must conform to the chemistry assignment. For education credit, 2 of the completed assignments must conform to the education assignment. Teachers will have the opportunity to rewrite and resubmit any written assignment until a grade of A is earned. Each teacher is expect to participate in at least 6 of 7 electronic discussions. Any teacher who submits an article for publication in the small scale column of the Journal of Chemistry Education may use that manuscript (prior to acceptance) to substitute for any one assignment, either in education or chemistry.
Typically during a 2-weeks summer workshop leading to 2 graduate credits, a teacher would complete about 30 activities, and would work alone or as a team member in developing or modifying one activity. The materials for these activities would be prepared by the staff (three of us for 30 teachers). In these workshops, the discussion are very important. The flavor of the proposed course is not the same. Asking each teacher to prepare and perform each of the 80 experiments on the CD-ROM is busy work while probably not appropriate for graduate credit. Also, the discussion is very different in that it must be spread out over time. After reviewing several proposals, advisors have suggested that this workload is more in keeping with current expectations. It involves six small written assignments and three large written assignments.
A small number of distinguished faculty involved in the development of activities in this area of instruction will be invited to "attend" electronically. These include Dr. Robert Silberman, Dr. Arden Zipp, Mr. Robert Becker, and Professor Stephen Thompson.
Teachers register by the procedures set up through the Division of Continuing Studies. Registration includes purchase of a course text (SmallScale CD-ROM, available for less than $50.) Teachers must have Internet access and a Macintosh computer in order to participate.
Teachers acquire lesson materials by anonymous ftp from a UNL site. Access to the ftp site will be restricted to password access.
Communications between instructor (Brooks) and teachers is accomplished via electronic mail. Communication between individual teachers is accomplished likewise. Communications to be shared among all teachers are sent to a listserv that is managed by Brooks. (Class discussion are held on the listserv. Access to the listserv will be controlled by Brooks, and this will not be open to the public at large.)
Occasional video materials may be mailed by teachers to Brooks. He will digitize images from these and put them out via ftp.
The instructor will accept teacher suggestions for alternative assignments for any and all modules. When the alternative is to be used as a chemistry assignment, the focus must be on getting the chemistry clear, safe, inexpensive, and effective at illustrating either some chemistry or some principle or some phenomenon. Education assignments must elaborate some strategy or some curricular innovation or something that makes content either more easily acquired or more useful to the class.
The class will commence on 1/30/95. It will continue for 23 weeks, with a 2-week clean-up period for tardy materials. Final grades will be submitted on July 7, 1995.
This course is NOT intended to be offered on a recurring basis. However, it may be offered more than once.