The University of Missouri at Columbia, Chemistry 205, Organic Chemistry, FS04

Learning & Writing,
Collaboration & Peer Review

The "Chemistry Is in the News" Project

Philosophical Background

Chemistry is the Central Science says the American Chemical Society. Chemistry is central indeed and in several ways. Chemistry is central among the sciences and chemistry also is central to the most pertinent issues of modern society.

When thinking about Society and Chemistry, you might reflect on the agricultural growth due to fertilizers and herbicides, you might remember your last bacterial infection and thankfully reflect on the progress chemistry has brought to pharmaceuticals, you might be a space travel enthusiast and contemplate that no shuttle would ever make it back without the new materials developed for the heat shields. On the other hand, you become aware and concerned about the damage caused by chemistry in war and peace time. Chemical warfare has been used in the last century causing unimaginable and extraordinary pain to millions of people. Accidents in chemical plants pose a threat and have exposed many people to potential long term harm. The ozone hole keeps reminding us that atmospheric chemistry might have consequences that we might not even realize.

Newspapers mirror society and newspaper articles allow to construct the important relations between society and chemistry. This is the basic premise of the Chemistry is in the News Project. You begin recognizing these connection first by studying the existing CIITN items. Next, you create new CIITN items yourself. Moreover, your creations will be evaluated not by your teacher but by other students instead. This peer review adds a new layer of complexity as you need to consider the perspectives of others on any given issue. Overall, the CIITN activities serve as a preparation for science communication.

This collaborative group project includes the identification of an important newspaper article, the writing of interpretative comments, the location of pertinent references in a textbook, and the creation of questions with suggested answers including an essay answer to a question about a complex societal issue. The project also includes the peer-evaluation of news items created by three other groups. The first two writing assignments are preparations for the main project.

CIITN Group Project

Working as a group,
[1] Read online newspapers and search for articles whose content in some way is connected to organic chemistry. Consider only top-notch well recognized newspapers to assure the highest quality.
[2] Identify one article that illustrates an important consequence of organic chemistry well. Identify the key organic chemistry topic the article touches upon and identify the chapter in a textbook that is most relevant. Identify keywords that best describe the issues raised by the article. Identify keywords that best describe the most relevant chemistry topics related to the article.
[3] Create editorial comments with links to useful online resources, pertinent references section, and questions & answers in CIITN web tool.
[4] Peer Review I: Constructive intergroup peer review.
[5] Revise your item considering the commentary and recommendations made in the constructive peer review.
[6] Peer Review II: Evaluation & grading by intergroup peer review.
[7] Peer Review III: Intragroup peer review.

Instruction in online searching of news media, using the CIITN webtool, and preparations for the peer review will be the subjects of instructions in lectures and another several collaborative learning sessions prior to this assignment.

Guidelines for Newspaper Article Selection

A key feature of online publishing is access to national and global information. To be able to access national and global information, one needs to develop an awareness of the extraordinarily increased accessibility. You can only find new things if you are looking for new things. But how does one look for new things? Well, looking around in a curious manner helps. To make your searches of "new" sources of information more interesting, here is a little incentive. The instructor will award 10 extra points to every member of three groups with "novel" source selection.

You are not limited to any particular online news services, you can use any online newspaper that you can find on the WWW. Let's restrict ourselves, however, to English language newspapers for now. So, where to look? The
New York Times and the Washington Post make a good start. Get the West Coast view from the Los Angeles Times. But then again, don't limit yourself to the US, take a look across the Pacific and browse the Japan Times. Why not. In fact, let's think global and find a newspaper by way of an online directory service, e.g. Online Newspaper Directory, World Newspaper Directory, NewsDirectory, NewsLink, ScienceDaily, PressDisplay, ... You might also want to visit the newswise web site, a search tool for reporters, or WurekAlert!, the media advisory service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Your selection of topic and of its connectedness to chemistry will be judged by your peers. To further increase the quality of your selections of topic, the instructor will award 10 extra points to each member of three groups that, in his view, have done excellent jobs in article topic selection.

The URLs of newspaper article sometimes change and that can be a problem. Some online providers use a different link for their current editions and their archives. Use an online provider that does not change the URL. Also, use only an online provider that is accessible free of charge.

The MU Library has subscriptions to many electronic journals and newspapers. For example, The New York Times is available through the Nexis - Lexis Academic Database. The databases have powerful search facilities you might find useful. To determine whether MU has electronic access to specific magazines and journals, use the "Electronic Journals" link on the Library's gateway page:

Make sure you have the text of the article stored in electronic form. If there are problems with the direct link, we can always make the article available via a local link. If that becomes necessary, please upload the html file of the news and name it as group#_article.html. A local link needs to contain href="../2004001/group#_article.html". The absolute URL of the article is

Every news item should be connected to one of the book chapters covered in the course. As much as possible, let's try to get an equal distribution.

Guidelines for Interpretative Comments and Links

There are many approaches you may take in writing the interpretative comments. Make sure that you realize at all times for what audience you are writing.

Embedded Link Requirements and Construction. The interpretative comments should contain between 4 - 8 links to sites that provide information that deepen the understanding of the subject matter of the newspapers article and provide the best possible context definition. Several issues need to be considered in selecting these links. [a] Quality. Is the information provided by this link pertinent? Is the information presented well? Are layout, graphics, and animations used in the best possible way? How much can one learn from this site? [b] Credibility. Is the information provided by this link credible? Who wrote the link and what is the authors' agenda? A link written by the tobacco industry telling you that smoking is good for you might be suspicious. [c] Stability. Will this link exist in future? This question is much related to the quality issue. You should only use links that are likely to be stable.

To construct an embedded link you need to supply the URL of the site to which you want to link. This information is provided in a so-called "a-tag". The "a-tag" starts with <a> and ends with </a> and the word that will serve as the link will be between these tags. The URL is provided as part of the <a> tag in the "href" qualifier in the format <a href="URL">link-to-this-text</a>. The web site of CNN for example is located at and a link to this web site could be provided by the statement <a href="">CNN</a>. When you enter the text of your project in the online database, please do provide such "a-tags" whenever you want to embed a link.

Inclusion of Reaction Diagram (Not required.) The interpretive comments section should contain one reaction diagram. Prepare the reaction diagram with the program ChemDraw and save the picture as a "gif" file. Name your gif file group#_rxn.gif or group#_pic#.gif (e.g. for group 9 the filename should be group9_rxn.gif or group9_pic1.gif) and upload your gif file to the CIITN web site. You should include the instruction <BR> <BR> <CENTER> <img src="../2004001/group#_rxn.gif"> <CENTER> <BR> <BR> in your interpretive comments at the place where the structure diagram should be inserted.

You can insert other images as well, e.g. other structure drawings, pictures of molecular models generated with Chem3D, sketches as part of Q & A, ... If you have several images, insert the others in the same fashion and again use a name of the type group#_whatever.gif.

Inclusion of 3D Molecular Model. (Not Required.) If you want to be really cool, include a molecular model in 3D (e.g. as in the visualization centers). Create the model in Chem3D and store it as a PDB file and name it for example group30_ASPIRIN.pdb. Upload this PDB file to the web site. Then create the file group30_ASPIRIN.html as follows and upload that file to us as well. Change the name of the PDB file, adjust the height and width percentages (percent of display screen covered by model window), play with the other qualifiers as you wish.

Include this link:

<a href="../212w03%%PR/group30_ASPIRIN.html">Model of Aspirin</a>
The link will then call the following html file and display the model:
<body bgcolor=white>
<embed src="group30_ASPIRIN.pdb" frank=no name="molecule" 
startspin=no height=100% width=100% display3D="ball&stick" bgcolor=white
palette="foreground" script="zoom 150; set specular on; set ambient 40;
select *.h; color atoms [196,209,146];
select *.c; color atoms [26,80,70];
select *.n; color atoms [92,180,220];
select *.o; color atoms [220,37,110]; select all">

Connection to Professional Chemistry Journal Requirement. One of your links should lead to an article that has been published in a professional chemistry journal. (In some cases, the project might profit from a link to an article published in a professional scientific journal rather than a chemistry journal.) You will learn in one of the Collaborative Learning sessions how to access and search the professional chemistry journals published by the American Chemical Society. Do provide the full citation to the article as well as the link so that people off campus also can access the article (in their libraries) if they do not have online access privileges. The full citations contains the authors, the abbreviation of the journal in italics, the year of publication in bold, the volume in italics, and page numbers (e.g. Michael Lewis and Rainer Glaser J. Org. Chem. 2002, 67, 1441-1447.).

Guidelines for Questions and Answers

Asking good questions is not a simple task. In fact, to ask a good question about a problem leads halfway toward its solution. Asking questions is a key problem-solving skill and schools critical thinking.

You need to write 5 interesting questions. The questions should include as many of the following types as possible and question 5 has to be of the PSP type. You should identify the type of each of your questions by providing the type abbreviation in parentheses after the question.

You also need to provide answers to your questions. Answers to questions 1 - 4 will be rather factual and should be given as brief and concise as possible. Question 5 should be answered by a 1-page essay and this essay should be the result of a collaborative effort. There is no one correct answer to PSP questions and instead the quality of the essay will be decided by the depth of the analysis and the number and quality of arguments in favor and against the thesis. Note that you are answering your own question and you are in the wonderful position where you might consider improving the question as you work on finding an answer.

Identification of Components and Relationships (ICR) Questions in this category seek to emphasize pertinent pieces of information in the assignment. Questions of this type require the reader to identify essential pieces of information and identify their logical value (hypothesis, assumption, deduction, rationale, ...).
Seeking Clarification (SCL) Questions that fall in this category seek closer definition of material or clarifying background information.
Reasoning Using Quantitative Data (RQD) Questions in this category require the interpretation of graphs, tables, and figures or the manipulation of data therein.
Evaluation Process (EVL) Questions in this category require judgment as to whether the conclusions are justified by the evidence and whether the given interpretation is the only one interpretation possible. Questions in this category assess credibility.
Flexibility and Adaptability of Scientific Reasoning (FAR) Questions in this category require the extension of concepts and information presented to unfamiliar situations. Questions of this sort often are useful to assess whether "the point really came across".
Reasoning about Philosophical, Societal and Political Implications (PSP) Questions in this category usually will be open-ended and subjective. Questions in this category are meant to create discussion and not necessarily to lead to an immediate answer. Answers to questions of this type might be subject to ideology. Every news items is required to contain one such question as the last question.

Categories for Peer Review

The evaluations of the Collaborative Group Projects will be carried out by public and collaborative peer review. Each group is required to evaluate the projects of three other groups using the CIITN web tool.

Every group can assign up to 100 points to a project. The web tool will request you to assess various aspects of the group projects. For each criterion, you need to supply a number grade and a brief justification. More detailed justifications should be given if the assigned score is either very high or very low.

(1) Is the selected news topic a significant real world issue? (0-10 points): Is the selected topic of interest to broad segments of the audience in their everyday lives? Does the topic have continuing significance?
(2) Is the topic connected in a substantial way to Organic Chemistry? (0-10 points): Was the key organic chemical issue made clear? Was sufficient background provided to understand the chemistry? Have important compounds been described and characterized sufficiently. Is the pertinent reference section complete? If not, what additional references should be given?
(3) Is the news selected from a highly credible news source and is it timely? (0-10 points): Was the newspaper article published in a high quality newspaper? Did the author seem qualified to write on the science? Was the article published within the past year? Is the article too long or too short? Is the article exciting? It it too sensational?
(4) Do the editorial comments provide pertient information? (0-10 points): Do the editorial comments help to place the article in the greater context? Do the comments help to crytallize the key issues in a clear and authoritative manner? Is the reaction shown in the reaction diagram well selected? Is the chemical information provided pertinent?
(5) Are the editorial comments well written and organized? (0-10 points): Is the editorial written in good English (grammar and style) and in a well organized fashion (appropriate number of paragraphs of appropriate lengths and so on). Has a reaction diagram been included? Is the reaction diagram of good quality and chemically correct?
(6) Judge the quality and selection of the links embedded in the editorial? (0-10 points): Do the links satisfy the requirements for relevance, quality and stability? Did you learn something useful while visiting these links? Are the links embedded well into the editorial comments. Is it clear what the function of each link is and why these links were chosen to be included in the editorial comments?
(7) Do the questions address central issues rather than marginal details? (0-10 points): Does the project contain 5 questions? Are the question types specified? Do the questions vary as far as the categories of the questions are concerned. Is the last question a PSP question? Are the questions useful to deepen the connection between chemistry and the real world? Or are the questions bizarre and far-fetched?
(8) Are the questions written in an understandable and clear fashion? (0-10 points): Is it clear what is being inquired? Is it possible to work the problems in a reasonable time?
(9) Are the answers easy to understand and convincing? (0-10 points): Are the answers correct and complete? Could the answers be improved to be more useful? Half of the points in this category should be assigned based on the quality of the essay.
(10) Are all components integrated into an interesting and constructive project as a whole? (0-10 points): Would you consider this problem set fit for publication and use as an educational material by others elsewhere (most points), a useful assignment after some adjustments, or unfit for distribution and general classroom use (few points)?

A detailed rubric is provided on the webtool.

The evaluations from all peer evaluations will be averaged. Do take these evaluations seriously, you are affecting the grade of your fellow students. Try to be fair and objective. You must be comfortable with your judgment and be able to stand by it and defend it in public. Your evaluations have to be made in writing and they will be made public on the web.

The peer review will proceed in two stages. In the constructive peer review, your should focus on pointing out the strengths and making suggestions as to how the project could be improved. The projects will then be revised. The second peer review evaluates the revised and final version of the project. Usually, the scores of this second peer review will be higher than those of the first. Only this final score counts for the course grade.

Inter-Group Peer Review

You will receive via email the numbers of the groups to review. Group Numbers refer to the group numbers used in the CIITN database.

The basic idea is that most groups are reviewed by 3 other groups - the averaging will take the edge off of individual judgements - and that groups never evaluate their own evaluators - revenche is a bad strategy. Some groups will benefit from 4 reviews and some groups will have to prepare 4 reviews.

The more everybody browses all of the entries, the better the quality of the grading. Evaluations of small subsets without having a view of the overall quality inadvertantly distort the evaluation.

Intra-Group Peer Review

After project completion, you will be asked to fill out an online questionnaire about each of the other members of your group. The intragroup peer review webtool was developed by instructional designers Ms. Kathleen Carson and Mr. Brian Hodgen and implemented by database programmers Zhengyu "Martin" Wu and Yongqiang "John" Sui. The intragroup peer review tool will be introdcued to you by the members of the CIITN chemistry education group.

For intragroup peer review, each person is given 100 points to divide as they see fit between their group members, not all points have to be assigned. Your intragroup peer review score is the total of the points given to you by your group members. Your final score for CIITN will be computed by multiplying the group grade by your intragroup peer review score and division by 100. For example: Student A was in a group with 4 other people. They gave Student A 20, 18, 19, and 22 points respectively. The group as a whole received an 80 on their group project. Student A's grade would be (20 + 22 + 21 + 23)x(85) / 100 = 73.1. Theoretically, if all group members contribute their share, they should receive credit for the quality of the product they produced.

A detailed rubic for intragroup peer review is provided on the CIITN webtool. Categories to being thought about are:

(1) What was the group member's level of performance? Did (s)he fulfill what was required of him (her) toward completing group projects? Did (s)he go "above & beyond" or did (s)he fail to contribute adequately to the group project?

(2) Did the group member fulfill a variety of roles within the group? Did (s)he attempt all of the roles (Facilitator, Proposer, Supporter, Critic, and Organizer) or did (s)he only attempt 1 or 2 roles?

(3) How well did the group member fulfill each role?

(4) How much time did the group member devote to group activites? Did (s)he attend all the meetings and do significant outside work? Did (s)he miss meetings without having made prior arrangements?

(5) Did the group member contribute his (her) share of the workload?

(6) Did the group member have a clear understanding of the requirements of the assignemt? Did (s)he contribute innovative ideas? Did (s)he attempt to find answers to questions the group had?

(7) Did the group member provide the group with chemistry knowledge necessary to do well on the project and assignments? Did (s)he work to clarify questions?

(8) Did the group member collaborate with the group?

(9) Did the group member show enthusiasm for group work?

Absolument mon ami, l'excellence est une habitude.