Students' Response to the Use of
Mediated Communication (CMC)
for Teaching Chemistry
Author: Rosamaria Fong
British Columbia Institute of Technology
Burnaby, BC V5G 3H2
(This paper is available for viewing interactively at:
One of the many goals of the pre
entry program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology
is to equip students with fresh stu
dy habits and the self
confidence they will require for future
success. To this end, a Web
based study guide was created to provide the direction and on
knowledge of results required for personal and academic growth. The web site was intended to:
provide students 24
hour access to the course,
improve students' problem
solving skills in chemistry,
give students instant self
evaluation with interactive problem assignments, and
identify specific problem areas of chemistry that the students
This ensures student success by building study habits and improving student confidence through
assessment and knowledge of results.
Students' evaluation and response to using the Web
based study guide were very positive and
ape future endeavors. This paper discusses both educational and technical issues. Web
for creating a Web site that is easy to navigate, interactive and dynamic.
(Feel free to browse and test the CHEM 0010 Web
based Study Guide)
Table of Contents
The ETE Program at BCIT
Introductory Applied Chemistry
The Evolution of the CHEM 0010 Web
based Study Guide
Study Guide Design
The Design Objectives
Computer Literacy Expectations
Dynamic & Interactive Web Site
Web Site Structure
A Dynamic and Interactive Site
. Study Guide Features
teractive Content Pages
The Home Page
Dynamic Display of Marks
of Student Evaluation
7. Future Work
2.1 The ETE Program at BCIT
"Introductory Applied Chemistry" CHEM 0010 is one of the courses in the Engineering
Technology Entry (ETE) Program at the British Columbia Institute of Te
The program is designed to emulate the workload of subsequent technology programs,
familiarize the student with BCIT and provide academic and study skills to enable students to
succeed in subsequent technology programs.
Students who enr
oll in the ETE program vary in age, academic background, and experience.
Student profiles in a classroom range from a combination of:
the recent high school graduate (within 5 years),
the high school graduate from more than 20 years ago to everythi
ng in between,
the one who seeks a career change,
the one who has suffered from a job
related injury and is on a Worker's Compensation
vocational rehabilitation program .
Students with such diversified backgrounds vary not only in their academic skills, but also in
their studying skills. Most of the students who enroll in the ETE program go on to complete a
year diploma at BCIT. The ETE program is critical for building th
e confidence in academic
skills required for success in their academic and professional lives.
2.2 CHEM 0010
Introductory Applied Chemistry
CHEM 0010 is a 15 weeks course. Each week includes:
1 hour lectures/week,
2 hour lab/week,
1 hour tutorial/week.
2.3 The Evolution of the CHEM 0010 Web
based Study Guide
The development of the Web
based study guide began in the summer of 1996, concurrently as
the course was taught in that term. Students were given Interne
t access on campus and the use of
the study guide was left entirely on their own.
Over the years, the overall design of the study guide remained unchanged. In the summer of
1996, the features that were available were:
1. Content Pages
active Practice Problems
3. Hypertext Glossary
4. Navigational Tool Bar
By 1997, the Web
based study guide was incorporated into the course as a CMC
Mediated Communication) component supplementing tradition classroom
face delivery. Scheduled tutorials were conducted in a computer lab using the study
a weekly studying/review tool.
Two new features were added.
6. A Student Center
(A space for contribution of student work and access of marks.)
3. Study Guide Design
3.1 The Design Objectives
ctively teach a group of students with a varied background, the avenue of using of
Mediated Communication (CMC) as an adjunct to the traditional face
was explored. The investigation on the effectiveness of using the World Wide Web
educational tool began two years ago when a personal project to develop a CHEM 0010
based Study Guide was piloted. This work resulted in several subsequent Web
projects, which received funding by the Institute.
The goals of the Web
Study Guide was to enable students to:
have a 24
line tutoring service to CHEM 0010,
improve on their studying habit through user
going informal self
assessment of their chemistry skills, and
the specific problem areas of the course.
In the end, the users of the Study Guide should benefit from:
the ease to retrieve course material,
initiated interactive learning environment,
the ease of navigation within the site, and
the richness of content which serves to entice their return to the Study Guide.
3.2 Design Considerations
3.2.1 Campus Computers
The availability of reliable access to a network of computers was crucial to the project. BCIT
this infrastructure of network computers. A server computer that is connected to the
hours a day was selected to be the home for the web page files for the study guide.
For the duration of the course, BCIT provided students with free access to
the Internet on
campus. Computer labs were available to students 7 days a week. In addition to the facilities
provided on campus, some students have access to the Internet through subscribing to an Internet
Computers that were available
to students on campus were 486/66 or Pentium/75
operating systems were Windows 3.1 for the 486 computers and Win95 for the Pentium
computers. Students who had computers at home also varied from 486 computers running on
Windows 3.1 to Pentium comput
ers running on Win95. Nevertheless, one point to keep in mind
is that for the home users of the study guide, they were all limited to the speed of the dial
modem, which was 28.8 kbps at best. As a result, graphics were kept to a minimum, and mainly
the purpose of:
making the site pleasing to the users,
illustrating concepts visually.
Recently all the computer labs on campus have been upgraded to Pentium/166 workstations running on Win95.
3.2.2 Computer Literacy Expectations
The CHEM 0010 Web
based study guide is intended for use as a tool to supplement face
instruction. It is expected that students who enroll in CHEM 0010 will have computer knowledge
varying from the tentativ
e novices to expert power users. In order for everyone to be comfortable
with the new technology, the study guide was developed with no expectation of students having
prior computer training.
With this assumption, each term begins with a lecture period de
voted for giving basic
instructions for students to log on to the campus computers, open up and use the Web browser to
navigate and explore the study guide. Information in the study guide is presented in a narrative
tone, organized in logical units such th
at it is intuitive for students to pursue their interests by
clicking on the hyperlinks.
3.3 Dynamic and Interactive Web Site
In order to achieve the goal of self
paced learning, the study guide was always presented to the
in its entirety. To promote user
initiated learning, a flexible, dynamic and interactive
Web site is needed.
3.3.1 Web Site Structure
A structure that poses the fewest restrictions on the pattern of information retrieval is a Web
organizational structure (figure 1).
like Organizational Structure
This organizational structure organizes the study guide's five main components,
and a set of "Chemist's Tools",
such that retrieval of the components and tools can be accessed anywhere from within the site.
3.3.2 A Dynamic and Interactive Site
Web site is generated with the use of a combination of techniques:
Web page frame
This organizes the five components of the study guide and the Chemist's Tools into a Web site
that is practical, interactive and easy to use. Navigational buttons are built in to the study guide
dents to retrieve information in the sequence that is user initiated.
Web site is a site that has the ability to publish timely and useful information "on the
fly". In other words, the HTML (HyperText Markup Language) documents in the site are n
static documents. Rather, the pages on the site are dynamically generated on the web to precisely
meet the specific needs of the users. The technique to achieve dynamically generated HTML
Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programming.
4. Study Guide Features
4.1 Interactive Content Pages
4.1.1 The Home Page
The CHEM 0010 "home" page is the point of entry into the Web pages of the study guide. It
clearly states the purpose for creating the CHEM 0010 Web
based Study Guide. Students and
visitors to the site are greeted with a short welcome message, some navigational tips, and a brief
acknowledgement of the people who assisted in putting together the Web site.
To the students, the home page is where they c
an locate course information:
the course outline,
the adopted textbook,
the course evaluation scheme,
To all who visit the Web site, they are given an opportunity to:
assess their chemistry skills with an on
line chemistry assessment test,
fill in a short questionnaire to comment on the usefulness the Web site.
The Home Page hyperlinks to the pages of the CHEM 0010 Web
based study guide.
4.1.2 Course Content/Glossary
The content of CHEM 0010 is organized into modular units of information. Each content page
clearly states the topics that students should learn, followed by related information about the
topics. Keywords in the content pages are linked to the glossary page
s by hypertexts and HTML
(HyperText Markup Language) frames. HTML frames effectively refresh only a portion of the
screen. This enables the reader to "pop over" to the glossary page without leaving the current
content page. Readers appreciate this function
ality as it makes navigation within the site more
Using hypertext as the method of presentation, the reader can deviate from the sequential
organization of the page to pursue a thread of the content on his or her own. This makes
hypertext a p
owerful tool for learning. It opens up an active exploration environment for the
reader such that information retrieval is user initiated. The reader builds on his or her knowledge
of the topic and has the resources, guidance and assistance to learn.
4.1.3 Problem Session
The practice problems in the study
guide are designed as a self
assessment tool for the students.
It is organized into the same modular units as the course content pages such that students can
quickly identify the topics that present difficulties. With the use of Client
swers submitted from multiple
choice and fill
blank type questions activate a dialogue
window for evaluation (figure 2).
All other questions in the study guide
have accompanying interactive buttons to access hints and
component in a Web site
for the purpose of drill and practice. However, some limitations, as will
be discussed in Section 4.2, are inherent with Client
4.1.4 Tool Bar
A systematic approach to page design simplifies navigation in the study guide.
button bar, as shown in figure 3, which appears at the bottom of the browser screen, provides a
consistent user interface. The labels on the buttons are the visual cues for the users to click and
explore the areas of interest.
The navigational buttons that appear in the CHEM 0010 Web
based study guide.
The Periodic Table in the tool bar is a client
side image map. Each element on the Periodic Table
is a "live" link to provide students handy information about the element. This feature is visually
appealing as well as effective.
4.2 Dynamic On
avaScript, can enhance the interactivity of a Web page, there are
n a student accesses the interactive practice problems documents in the study guide, the
entire HTML document is downloaded to the student's browser. At this point, there is no
prevention of student accessing the answers to the problems by deciphering the
One way to alleviate the problem of non
secured code is to let the web server computer get the
submitted answers from the users and manipulate it via a CGI (Common Gateway Interface)
program. Through the use of CGI, the graded assignment
s are returned to the students
dynamically, or "on
fly". This feature of the study guide is referred to as dynamic on
Today, there are many programs written specifically for on
line assessment, on
line testing appl
ications   . The CGI program that the CHEM 0010 Web
study guide uses,
, is written by the author, .
is unique in that it is
used in tandem with the dynamic display of student marks. Access to on
line testing in the
based study guide is via the "Access Assignments" button on the navigational button bar.
4.3 Dynamic Display of Marks
The dynamic display of student marks in a Web site allows students to get up
information of the student's performance in the course, as well as a comparison of his or her
course standing to the rest of the class.
This feature in the study guide is
achieved with the use of a CGI program,
, that is
written by the author . The program returns a histogram display of mark distribution of the
class on the Web browser, as well as the individual's score on each assignment or test.
When used in tandem with on
dynamically returns the distribution of
marks for the on
line test as
the test is submitted on
line for grading. Figure 4 shows a sample of
the graphical display of marks for an on
line assignment. Access to the display of marks is via
the "Student Center" button on the navigational button bar in the study guide.
A sample of graphical display of marks for an on
5. Student Response to the Use of CMC in CHEM 0010
5.1. Results of Student Evaluation
In total, 25 students participated in using the Web
based in conjunction with the traditi
based combined course offering of CHEM 0010. For all of these students, this was their
first time experience with using the Internet to supplement to a lecture
based course. The
following is a summary of the responses of the student evaluation
of the CHEM 0010 Web
In the summer of 1996, 13% of the class had their own personal Internet access.
In the winter of 1997, 50% of the class had their own personal Internet access.
In the summer of
1997, 64% of the class had their own personal Internet access.
All the students found the study guide
very easy to use, and
very easy to navigate.
The frequency that the students logged on to the Web
based study guide is:
less than once a week,
3 times a week,
5 times a week,
only prior to a test.
The duration that the students spend working through the
less than 1 hour a week,
3 hours a week,
5 hours a week,
only prior to a test.
94% of the students found the on
line testing component of the study guide helpful in
identifying the problem areas of the course.
All the students found the hints that accompany the questions in the on
component useful in guiding them to
the correct answer.
All the students would like to see more of this type of Web
based study guide used in
conjunction with other courses.
92% of the students felt that computer assisted learning helped with this Chemistry
91% of the students thought that access to the Web
based study guide via a modem
89% of the students thought that access to the Web
based study guide via a modem
was 75% reliable.
5.1.4 Student Likes
When asked the fe
atures that they liked most about the Web
based study guide, the
following points were mentioned.
Easy to use.
Everything is right in front of you (i.e. course content, glossary, periodic table).
To access your marks and problems.
problems and hints provided.
Easy access. I could access a study guide at any time.
Ability to zero in on topics.
It's fun and gives the student a different approach rather than using a textbook.
Links to other sites are helpful.
ion and quality of information.
It is more interesting than attending a lecture.
I can access at home when ill.
5.1.5 Student Dislikes
When asked the features that they disliked about the Web
based study guide, the
following points were mentioned.
Don't have Internet access from home.
Problems with logon to campus computers sometimes (i.e. logging on takes too
Having to take out my book and read a section.
Print too small.
Inaccessibility at times, and some instances the lengthy downloading time.
Forgetting to close the pop
up windows and they hide behind the active window
in Windows 3.1.
There is a continuous growing increase of students having their own access to the Internet as the
Internet has become recognized as a technology of information sharing. The use of Web
technology as an educational tool is being
greeted with overwhelming acceptance. In particular,
students find this new educational technology tool easy to use and increases self
hour accessibility to the course is a definite advantage, and all of the students believe that the
based study guide is a helpful tool for their studies.
The majority of the students log on to the Web
based study guide 2 to 3 times a week, and on
average, for about 1 hour in duration. The reliability of accessing the study guide seems to be
on three factors. In order of increasing reliability, the factors, which temporarily
prevent access to the study guide, are:
Internet traffic, which is dependent on the time of day,
the students' personal Internet Service Provider, and
way of the BCIT campus network.
The majority of the students think that accessing the study guide via a modem is acceptable. The
graphic files in the study guide do not seem to be contributing noticeably to long downloading
The features of the Web
based study guide that are well
the instant evaluation of the submitted questions,
the hints returned to the students,
the dynamic mark display on each submitted assignment,
the ability to check up
date course standing and the class average.
Introducing the Internet as a new educational technology to complement traditional lecture
course delivery is proving to be
beneficial to the students time and time again. While this paper
describes the success of using a Web
based study guide in teaching Chemistry, the concept can
be taken to help supplement any traditional face
face course. The key is to create a Web site
easy to navigate,
dynamic so that it can provide feedback to the students.
From my experience in introducing a Web
based study guide to teach CHEM 0010, there must
be a commitment on the faculty to
invest in the time to design the Web site, and develop the
materials and the instructional interactions that will take place in this new environment. There
are a few points to keep in mind.
The building up of a Web site is a gradual process.
d of striving for a complete finished product to present to the students, set realistic
and sensible goals and allow the site to evolve by adding on the components one at a
Be aware of the limits of the tools that are selected for the tasks.
Let student feedback be a continual guidance in the development of the Web site.
As with the use of any new and emerging educational technology, the faculty must be at ease
with any of the on
line (i.e. e
mail, mailing lists, computer conferencing), Web
media (i.e. audio/video presentations) tools that he or she chooses. The ultimate goal is to
incorporate the tools seamlessly so that the technology becomes transparent. When a trouble
environment is achieved, students can focus solely o
n the academic tasks at hand. With the
appropriate support, the transition to using the Internet as an educational tool can be very
As a final thought, I believe that, when properly implemented, the use of Computer
Communication in teac
hing and learning can help students achieve higher levels of academic
7. Future Work
There are several activities that are planned for the near future.
In the next offering of CHEM 0010, computer conferencing  will be added to the
based study guide. The objective is to create an environment that promotes
asynchronous cooperative learning and provide a forum for open discussion.
To ensure reliable access to the Web
based study guide, the entire Web site will be made
e on a CD
ROM for local access on the clients' computers. This will eliminate:
long downloading time of large text and picture files,
long connection time on the Internet, and at the same time, reduces Internet
As a result, connection time will only be required for:
submission of on
line tests, and
following hyperlinks to other interesting Web sites on the World Wide Web.
Finally, with the growing availability of faster desktop computers, more interac
applications using Java will be incorporated into the study guide to provide
demonstrations of Chemistry concepts.
 Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia Rehabilitation Services
HyperText Markup Language (HTML)
Understanding pages and frames
developed scripting l
anguage derived from Java
Common Gateway Interface
The Review Automated Generation System (RAGS)
How Does It Work?"
Dynamic Display of Marks
Web Conferences using O'Reilly WebBoard
The author would like to thank the following people who have contributed in many ways in
making the CHEM 0010 Web
based study guide available for
Dr. Ken Fong
National Research Council of Canada
BCIT, Computing System Technology
BCIT Computer Resources Department
Dr. Griff Richards
BCIT, Coordinator of On
BCIT Chemistry Department
Dr. Ken Takagaki
Dean of School of Computing and Academic Studies
BCIT, Associate Dean of School of Computing and Academic Studies
BCIT, Vice President of Education
BCIT, Director of Learning Resources Unit
BCIT Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) Project Team
1. BCIT Instructional Enhancement Grant (Jan 1997 to Sept 1997)
line Chemistry Resource Center"
created to establish a base
line knowledge of Chemistry tha
t is required for first year
Chemistry at BCIT.
2. BCIT Learning Enhancement Grant (current grant)
"BCIT Chemistry Resource Web Suite CD
To enhance and facilitate the
accessibility of the On
line Chemistry Resource Center, the entire
and many more "value
added" attractions will be made available on a CD
3. BCIT CMC Project Grant (current grant)
Development of "Web
based CMC Tools"
urse development at BCIT.