© 1999 Rainer Glaser. All rights reserved.
The University of Missouri at Columbia, Chemistry 210, Organic Chemistry I, WS99

Collaborative Learning
and Peer Review
in Chemical Learning Communities

Creation of a "News Item"

Philosophical Background

The relevance of what you are being taught in the organic chemistry classroom is much higher than you might have realized as yet. 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 keeps reminding us that atmospheric chemistry might have consequences that we might not even realize.

Newspapers are the mirrors of society and newspaper articles therefore are the sources which allow you to construct the important relations between society and chemistry.

Purpose & Basic Idea

It is the purpose of the collaborative semester project to create "News Items" of the type contained in the Chemistry 210 Collection of News Items. The existing Chemistry 210 Collection of News Items were created by Professor Rainer Glaser - in some cases with the collaboration of undergraduate students - and they are now published by Prentice Hall. If you succeed at writing a winning "News Item", the instructor will consider your item for inclusion in the collection published by Prentice Hall. Wouldn't that be so cool?

Many of the existing news items are created around an article that was retrieved from Simon and Schuster's College Newslink. This process facilitates the searching for keywords in articles but the disadvantage is that the article is plain text, without layout and lacking images. Wouldn't it be better to write the news item around an article that has been published by an online newspaper and simply make a link to it. The news item accompanying chapter 9 provides an example.

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, 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 use any of the news papers that are listed in the Directory of Newspapers of the World.

This project includes the identification of an important newspaper article, the writing of editorial comments, the location of pertinent references in the text book, and the creation of questions (with suggested answers). The project also includes the peer-evaluation of news items created by five other groups.


(1) Create your "News Item" and win approval by the instructor.

(a) Read online newspapers of your choice and search for papers whose content in some way is connected to organic chemistry. Consider only top-notch well recognized newspapers so as to assure the highest quality.

(b) Identify one newspaper article that illustrates an important consequence of organic chemistry well. Identify the key organic chemistry topic the article touches upon and select the chapter in the textbook that is most relevant. Identify keywords that best describe the issues raised by the article. Identify the most relevant chemistry topics that are related to the newspaper article. These keywords will eventually be used to describe your item in the way exemplified by the existing Chemistry 210 Collection of News Items. Win instructor's approval of your choices of topic and newspaper article.

(c) Create editorial comments, pertinent references section, and questions & answers.

(d) Submit electronic "News Item" for approval and posting.

(2) Posting the problem set on the Chemistry 210 Projects Web Pages.

(3) Project evaluation via peer review.

Guidelines for Editorial Comments and Links

There are many approaches you may take in writing the editorial comments. Make sure that you realize at all times for what audience you are writing. More to come ... (to be written)

The editorial 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.

Types of Questions To Consider

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 justfied 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. For PSP questions, you are not required to provide a suggested answer. Every news items is required to contain one such question as the last question.

Project Write-ups - Submission & Content

Your write-up of the project report needs to be emailed to the instructor as an attachment. Incomplete submissions will be returned with comments as to what additions and improvements are required. The write-ups can be prepared in two formats.

HTML Format. If you write HTML, you may submit your report as an html file with the name "group_n_project1.html" where "n" is the number of your group. If you created any files that you want to link to the problem assignment page (e.g. some images or audio you created), start the names of all of these files with "group_n_" and include these files as attachments as well. For example, if your write-up contains GIF or JPEG images or molecules as PDB files, then these files all should be submitted along with the main page and relative path names should be used. Only such local and relative links are allowed to assure that the products will stay intact in the Chemistry 210 web site in future.

WORD Format. You can submit a WORD file. This file will be converted into a HTML file for posting on the Chemistry 210 Course Web Site by the Chemistry 210 Teaching Assistant. The submitted WORD file should be all inclusive and named "group_n_project1" where "n" is the number of your group.

The write-up should follow the format of the existing Chemistry 210 Collection of News Items. Review the peer review instructions for the project before you write your report.

Group Actions & Dynamics

In addition to the project report, you are required to write a second report in which you describe the group actions and group dynamics. This section should not exceed (the equivalent of) 1 written page with a line spacing 1.5 lines. Provide information about group meetings and group dynamics. The description of the group meetings should include information as to how often and where the group has met to work on the Chemistry 210 Group Project and should include accurate estimates of the time spend in each meeting. As to group dynamics, briefly describe experiences made while working on this project with the group. How useful was the group in the quest to identify a suitable newspaper on which to base the project? How many newspapers and how many articles did you consider before you decided your selection? Mention advantages of the group work and be frank about problemes you encountered. Comment as to whether the collaborative learning went beyond working on the Chemistry 210 Group Project. Did you study with other group members? Do you think you benefitted on a personal level from the interactions you have had with your peers in the group activities? Conclude by stating whether you would want to engage in such group activities again.

This second report should be emailed to the instructor as an attachment. As with the project report, you can choose between the HTML Format and the WORD Format. The name of the file should be "group_n_dynamics1.html" (if HTML) or "group_n_dynamics1" (if WORD).

Relevant Dates and Deadlines

Basically, the idea is that you find a newspaper article in the first two weeks of February. Between the formation of the groups and the topic approval date, you have 3 weeks to find an excellent article on a pertinent topic. You then have the rest of February and all of March to come up with good links and to put the project together by early April. Three weeks are alloacted for the peer review. All deadlines are set such that they avoid conflicts with the examinations. Here are the details:

Approval of Topic Selection. Friday, February 19, 1999.

Electronic Submission of Report to Instructor. Friday, April 2 (midnight), 1999. The reports will be posted by Wednesday, April 7.

Submission of Peer-Evaluations. Friday, April 23 (midnight), 1999.

Posting of Final Results of Collaborative Group Project. Monday, April 26 , 1999.

Absolument mon ami, l'excellence est une habitude.