© 1997 Rainer Glaser. All rights reserved.
The University of Missouri at Columbia, Chemistry 210, Organic Chemistry I, WS97

Collaborative Learning
in Chemical Learning Communities

Having recognized the complexities of learning, it is the purpose of the Chemistry 210 Group Projects to engage the students in collaborative learning. You are requested to form groups of five students. Each group will define and carry out a project that involves access to chemistry related information via the World Wide Web. The results of the project will be submitted to the instructor in form of an electronic report and, upon approval, this report will be hyperlinked and posted on the Chemistry 210 Course Pages for all the class (and anybody else) to enjoy. The posted results of the group projects will be evaluated by other groups. The final grade for the entire project will be decided equally by the instructor and by the evaluating student groups.

The act of reaching out to your fellow students in forming the small groups has several advantages. You will be more aware of the great diversity of backgrounds and interests represented by the students of Chemistry 210. It is hoped that the group you join for the Chemistry 210 Group Project will provide a forum for you to discuss not only the group project and chemistry in general, but indeed it is desired that these groups evolve to circles of friends on whose support and constructive criticism you can count. Working in the group will teach you valuable lessons on group dynamics. You will have to focus on optimizing the group performance rather than focusing on yourself. There will only be one grade for all members of each group.

The Utopian Goal: Teaching to Enable Autodidactic Behavior

About Learning in Customary Educational Settings: Not only do individuals learn at vastly different speeds and in different ways, but man seems capable of astonishing feats of rapid learning when the attendant circumstances are favourable. It seems that, in customary educational settings, one habitually uses only a tiny fraction of one's learning capacities.

Complexities of Human Learning: Educators are therefore becoming increasingly concerned with these concomitant learnings. They are aware that the long-term significance of the arithmetical skill that the student consciously learns may be nugatory compared with the importance of what he learns about himself as a learner, about his capacities and limits, about his relationship with his teacher, about power and authority, about his relationships with his fellow students, about equality, collaboration, competition, and friendship.

Organizing Your Group

There are some obvious ways to form groups. Some of you might know each other from courses previously taken together, from living in the same dorm, engaging in the same sports, you might know each other from Greek Life, and so forth. Others might be new to Columbia and MU and might not know anybody in this course as yet. In either case, to find other students to create your groups just approach other students and ask whether they might be interested in joining you.

A list with the names of the students in Chemistry 210 will be posted on the Chemistry 210 Course Page. This list will contain the electronic mail addresses and the majors of the students. It is planned to link student portraits to this list as well. Students with their own home pages are strongly encouraged to submit the URLs of their home pages to the instructor. Links will be established between the posted class list and the individual home pages. You can use this list to see whether you might find students with common interests to join your group.

Practical aspects (where does (s)he live, what times is (s)he available, ...) are as important as personal matters (do you think you can get along with this student ...) and your estimate of his/her ability and motivation (is this student likely to contribute to the group ...).

Meetings, Searches, Topics Selection ...

Setting up meetings times and places is the first and important step. Use electronic mail to communicate with each other. You can setup a "nickname" in your e-mail program that sends mail to all members at the same time. Select a suitable place to meet. For your first meeting, you might just go out together and brainstorm over pizza and Coke. Find out what computer site is best to carry out your projects. You might want to use one of the Silicon Graphics systems in Physics if a lot of graphics is involved. Check out those new Power Macs in "The Reflector". Perhaps one student in your group has a computer at his home where you could work completely undisturbed.

The basic philosophical idea behind this project is very simple: There is much more to chemistry than what you are being taught in the classroom. The American Chemical Society claims that Chemistry is the Central Science and rightly so! Yet, many of us do not take the time to reflect on the role of chemistry as much as would be desirable. It is this aspect that the group projects are designed to address.

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 this 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 reminded us that atmospheric chemistry might have consequences that we might not even realize. What are your thoughts and concerns in this context? Is there one aspect that you might want to bring to everybody's attention? Can you find web sites that provide content to make your point? For example, in teaching Chemistry 212 last semester, I found a site that documented chemical accidents and brought this site to the student's attention when we talked about isocyanante herbicides. There are many other areas that you might consider as your choice of topic. For example, the current decade witnesses the emergence of The WWW as a Tool for Teaching Chemistry. The web offers graphics and interactivity and is therefore intrinsically a perfectly suited medium to be used in the teaching of molecular modeling and spectroscopy. My Chemistry 212 Course Page from FS96 provides examples. The WWW in many instances does not only have the ability to convey information but often it does it better than any other medium. You all know the "Periodic System of the Elements" that can be found in any classroom where chemistry is taught. Compare that to the periodic system of the elements database accessible throught the Chemistry 210 Course Page. There is no comparison! The web based system goes way beyond the poster and it even goes way beyond book-type media. Obviously, there are many other database type resources that are relevant to chemistry and best accessed and used through the WWW. Can you think of any? What would you like to know and what do you think your fellow students also might be interested in? Can you find it on the web? A third start to coming up with a good topic consists in brainstorming about the History of Chemistry. You all know the McArthurs and Pattons as well as the Washingtons, Lincolns, and Roosevelts. There are chemists that have in fact affected your lives as much as any of these people from the power elite. Who are these chemists and how have they affected our lives? Use the web and find out and tell us about it. You might start by looking at some Chemistry Nobel laureats. Then, of course, there is the field of Chemistry among the Sciences that might offer interesting topics. How does chemistry interplay with biology, or physics, or astronomy? Many exciting possibilities and you can pick anything you like and being aware of the evaluation criteria given below. You can only pick one! Make it a superior selection!

Once you have selected a general area of interest, then you need to start exploring the web and look for suitable sites. You will be surprised as to what is out there. The problem is only finding it. Try to be systematic about your searches. Think carefully about what keywords to use. In a way you can only find a site if you have a very good idea what that site is about! The more imagination you have, the more successful you will be in locating sites of interst to you.

Write-up and Submission

The write-up of the project must be e-mailed to the instructor and must contain the following information. Please stick very closely to the format shown and use the same numbering of items and headlines so as to facilitate the hypertext mark-up prior to posting your report on the web. Failure to provide the information will delay approval and posting until all requested data has been submitted.

(1) Group Name
Be creative. "Organikeers"; "Premed Inc."; "Green Chemistry" and so forth ...

(2) Group Members
The names of all group members and their e-mail addresses in the format Last Name, First Name, e-mail address with one entry per line.

(3) Group Formation
Description as to how the group has formed.

(4) Group Meetings
Description as to how often the group has met to work on the Chemistry 210 Group Project. Include information as to where you have met. Include accurate estimates of the time spend in each meeting.

(5) Project Title and Description
Come up with a catchy, brief, descriptive title for your project and use it as the headline to item (5). In the first paragraph of the text to item (5), describe briefly why you selected this topic and describe in detail what search strategies were employed to locate sites of interest.
In the second paragraph of text to item (5), describe what sites have been found and include their URLs. Described the features that make these sites attractive and/or relevant to students of organic chemistry. The URLs should be embedded in the text.

(6) Group Dynamics
Describe experiences made while working in the groups. Mention advantages and be frank about problemes you encountered. Comment as to whether the collaborative learning went beyond working on the Chemistry 210 Group Project. Do you think you benefited on a personal level from the interactions you have had with your peers in these small learning communities? Conclude by stating whether you would want to engage in such group activities again.

Posting on the Course Web Page and Evaluation

The instructor will evaluate the electronic submissions from the groups for completeness. Incomplete submissions will be returned by electronic mail with comments as to what additions and improvements are required.

Once the submission is complete, the instructor will apply HTML tags to the submitted electronic document and create the HTML file "groupname.html". This HTML file will then be assigned a group number and be listed on the Chemistry 210 Course Page in the section "Chemistry 210 Group Projects". There will be a one line entry containing the group number, the group name, and the group project title. The group project title will serve as the link to access the file "groupname.html". In case your group does have HTML expertise, feel free to apply the tags yourself and forward the HTML document to be.

Evaluations of your sites will be carried out by your fellow students. These evaluations again will be carried out within the groups. Each group is required to evaluate the postings of five other groups. There will be a page on the web in which evaluation assignments will be made. Each group must submit the completed evaluation forms to the instructor by electronic mail. Please write and e-mail separate evaluations for each of the five sites. It is essential, however, that the evaluations are carried out in groups. This is an excellent exercise in consensus formation.

Your group has the power to assign between 0 and 50 points to each site. The evaluations from five groups will be averaged. The remaining 50 points are assigned by the instructor based on scope, technical merit, and completeness of assignment. Do take these evaluations seriously, you are affecting the grade of your fellow students. Be fair and be objective. You must be comfortable with your judgement and be able to stand by it and defend it in public. Your evalutions will be made available on the web. Each group will know which groups evaluated them.

Your evaluation report should contain the following items. Please stick exactly to the format. Use the same item numbers.

(1) Group Number and Group Name of Evaluators

(2) Group Number and Group Name of Evaluees

In the next few items, you will be asked to assess various aspects of the sites you are evaluating. For each item, your evaluation report should contain one line that contains the number of the item followed by the headline of the item in which you replaced the X by a number between 0 and 10. Below each such line, you should very briefly justify your assignment. More detailed justifications should be given if the assigned score is either very high or very low.

(3) Visual Appeal of Site: X Points
There is no question that visual appeal stimulates interest and creates a positive learning attitude. Evaluate the sites with regard to their visual appeal. Are multimedia tools used well? (Note: Do not judge the visual appeal of the "groupname.html" pages. These, of course, only will contain text and linked URLs. It is the visual appeal of these linked URLs that you need to evaluate.)

(4) Content of Site: X Points
Visual appeal only gets you so far. In the end content matters to attract customers. How does this site do in that respect. Does it convey information and how much?

(5) WWW Suitability: X Points
Evaluate the importance of the WWW as the carrier of the information the sites offers for you. Does this site convey information that is better accessed through the WWW than through any other medium (books, journals, TV, ...). Be very critical about this!

(6) Relevance to Chem 210: X Points
Do you feel that this site is relevant to Chemistry 210? Do you feel that the group that submitted the entry has made the case for relevance sufficiently well?

(7) Personal Gain: X Points
How much did you learn from browsing this site.

Relevant Dates and Deadlines

Formation of Groups. Friday, February 7. Send an e-mail message to the instructor that contains the name of the group and lists all of its members. The list of students will appear on the Chemistry 210 Course Page by the second week of the semester. By that time, enrollment issues are usually settled. Moreover, this date is two weeks before the first midterm and you can prepare in groups.

Submission of Write-up. Friday, March 7 (last day before spring break). Feel free to submit your assignment earlier. Each assignment will be evaluated for completeness within a couple of days.

Posting Complete. Monday, March 17 (1st day after spring break). NO NEW OR REVISED ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED AFTER THIS DATE. If your assignment is not received by this date, all members of the group are assigned scores of zero. A list will be made available soon after this deadline that will assign groups to evaluate the group projects of others.

Submission of Evaluations. Friday, April 4. You will have almost three weeks to get the evaluations in.

Posting of Final Results of Group Projects. Friday, April 11.

Further Information

Group Projects are being carried out in Chemistry 210 for the first time in the present fashion. Your input is crucial to us. Please be as open and frank as possible when commenting on any aspect of the design, planning, and execution of the group projects. Let us know what works and what does not work. The Chemistry 210 Group Projects will be monitored by professional educators and your comments on any aspects of "Collaborative Learning in Chemical Learning Communities" will be valuable. All materials associated with this project will be used in thesis research in the Department of Education. Thank you for you cooperation.

Absolument mon ami, l'excellence est une habitude.