Use of Computer Networks in the
Physical Chemistry Laboratory
Project Number 14 – 1994
Department of Chemistry
Buffalo State College
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14222
Fax: (716) firstname.lastname@example.org
The use of computer networks in the Physical Chemistry Laboratory has proven to be a powerful teaching tool. Students used local network available software for the preparation of formal laboratory reports and for data analysis and manipulation. Electronic mail was used for the distribution and submission of laboratory related assignments and announcements. The class is part of Buffalo State College’s writing accross the curriculum effort, and as such, students were given various writing assignments. Students performed literature searches for journal articles directly related to the experiments they were performing in the laboratory and were asked to submit critical analysis of such papers. Searches were performed using Internet available databases (such as Uncover and FirstSearch), as well as CD-ROM based databases. To obtain a sense of the scope and usefulness of an electronic discussion group, the students joined the Internet’s Chemical Safety (SAFETY) and Chemical Education (CHEMED) discussion groups for a month. At the end of this period, they presented a summary of the postings dealing with the topic that most caught their interest, as well as a critical commentary on the subject. Students were also introduced to the Buffalo Freenet, in an effort to encourage them to keep their connection to the Internet after leaving college. The above mentioned activities have dramatically changed the structure and dynamics of the class and have proven to be powerful alternatives to the conventional way of teaching the course.
This project extensively uses the Internet as a source of information and resources for the students’ academic endeavors. This type of project and course reform can be easily transferred to any institution, since the resources utilized (computer terminals and networked PCs) are currently available in many campuses. The project can also be modified for use at any level in the Chemistry curriculum by simplifying or focusing the search strategies. As more and more information is available in the Internet, the possibilities of the project increase. For example, in future sesmesters the students will learn to use the Gopher system and to do file transfer. This will allow them to obtain Chemistry-related materials available on the Internet for use and evaluation.
Students in the class have shown a great deal of interest in this project. They receive an initial training in e-mail, and from that point on, all directions are given through e-mail messages. Only the basic access directions are given for each database and then the students have the freedom to explore what is available in that particular system. For many students, once they get “hooked”, exploring the Internet becomes a challenge. I have noticed that students learn to appreciate more what they do in the laboratory by looking at current published research. Comments like “So, they really do this in the real world” are common. They also see, through the discussion groups, opinions on different subjects from experts in the field. The most interesting incident I have seen so far was with the CHEMED discussion group. The particular discussion thread dealt with teaching students with dyslexia in the Chemistry laboratory. One of my students commented on this particular topic because she suffers from mild dyslexia and could identify with the students and appreciated the efforts made by the instructors.
All the modifications to the course were of no aditional cost to the Chemistry Department, as we had recently been given PCs and computer terminals for the laboratory as part of the SCAP (Student Access to Computers Program) College initiative. This project greatly improved my effectivess in transmitting the relevance of the Physical Chemistry experiments to my students. They have acquired tools they can use later in their careers. Awareness of information sources and ways to access them will definitively help my students in their future endeavors and give them an advantage in the working world. One of the products of this project is a group of students that are better prepared with expanded technological knowledge as well as better critical thinking skills.
386 PC running Windows 3.1 (for use of PowerPoint presentation program)