Students' Response to the Use of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) for Teaching Chemistry

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Nov 5, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)

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Students' Response to the Use of
Computer
-
Mediated Communication (CMC)
for Teaching Chemistry

Author: Rosamaria Fong

British Columbia Institute of Technology

Chemistry Department

Burnaby, BC V5G 3H2

rfong@bcit.bc.ca

(This paper is available for viewing interactively at:

http://nobel.scas.bcit.bc.ca/chemconf98/index.html
-
ssi
)


1.

Abstract

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
-
going
knowledge of results required for personal and academic growth. The web site was intended to:

1.

provide students 24
-
hour access to the course,

2.

improve students' problem
-
solving skills in chemistry,

3.

give students instant self
-
evaluation with interactive problem assignments, and

4.

identify specific problem areas of chemistry that the students

face.

This ensures student success by building study habits and improving student confidence through
on
-
going self
-
assessment and knowledge of results.

Students' evaluation and response to using the Web
-
based study guide were very positive and
helped sh
ape future endeavors. This paper discusses both educational and technical issues. Web
links are included to illustrate the use of HTML , JavaScript, and Common Gateway Interface
for creating a Web site that is easy to navigate, interactive and dynamic.




URL:
http://nobel.scas.bcit.bc.ca/chemconf98/0010/index.html
-
ssi


(Feel free to browse and test the CHEM 0010 Web
-
based Study Guide)



Table of Contents

1.

Abst
ract

2.

Introduction

2.1

The ETE Program at BCIT


2.2
CHEM 0010
-

Introductory Applied Chemistry



2.3
The Evolution of the CHEM 0010 Web
-
based Study Guide



3.
Study Guide Design



3.1
The Design Objectives



3.2
Design Considerations


3.2.1

Campus Computers

3.2.2

Computer Literacy Expectations


3.3
Dynamic & Interactive Web Site


3.3.1

Web Site Structure

3.3.2

A Dynamic and Interactive Site


4
. Study Guide Features



4.1

In
teractive Content Pages




4.1.1
The Home Page

4.1.2

Course Content/Glossary

4.1.3

Problem Session

4.1.4

Tool Bar


4.2
Dynamic On
-
line Testing



4.3
Dynamic Display of Marks



5.
Student Response

5.1

Results
of Student Evaluation


5.1.1

Access


5.1.2

Usage


5.1.3

Usefulness


5.1.4

Student Likes

5.1.5

Student Dislikes


5.2

Findings


6. Conclusions


7. Future Work


8. References


9. Acknowledgements

2. Introduction


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
chnology.

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 [1].

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
2
-
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:



3
-

1 hour lectures/week,



1
-

2 hour lab/week,
and



1
-

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






2. Inter
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
(Computer
-
Mediated Communication) component supplementing tradition classroom
face
-
to
-
face delivery. Scheduled tutorials were conducted in a computer lab using the study
guide as
a weekly studying/review tool.

Two new features were added.






5. On
-
line Testing






6. A Student Center



(A space for contribution of student work and access of marks.)


3. Study Guide Design


3.1 The Design Objectives

To effe
ctively teach a group of students with a varied background, the avenue of using of
Computer
-
Mediated Communication (CMC) as an adjunct to the traditional face
-
to
-
face delivery
was explored. The investigation on the effectiveness of using the World Wide Web

as an
educational tool began two years ago when a personal project to develop a CHEM 0010
Web
-
based Study Guide was piloted. This work resulted in several subsequent Web
-
based
projects, which received funding by the Institute.

The goals of the Web
-
based
Study Guide was to enable students to:

1.

have a 24
-
hour on
-
line tutoring service to CHEM 0010,

2.

improve on their studying habit through user
-
initiated learning,

3.

conduct on
-
going informal self
-
assessment of their chemistry skills, and

4.

identify
the specific problem areas of the course.

In the end, the users of the Study Guide should benefit from:

1.

the ease to retrieve course material,

2.

the user
-
initiated interactive learning environment,

3.

the ease of navigation within the site, and

4.

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
provided

this infrastructure of network computers. A server computer that is connected to the
Internet 24
-
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
Service Provider.

Computers that were available

to students on campus were 486/66 or Pentium/75
*
. The
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
-
up
modem, which was 28.8 kbps at best. As a result, graphics were kept to a minimum, and mainly
for
the purpose of:

1.

making the site pleasing to the users,

2.

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
-
to
-
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
students

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
-
like
organizational structure (figure 1).


Figure 1
-

CHEM 0010
-

A Web
-
like Organizational Structure



This organizational structure organizes the study guide's five main components,

1.

Cours
e Content

2.

Problem Session

3.

Hypertext Glossary

4.

Student Center

5.

Assignment Pages

and a set of "Chemist's Tools",

1.

Periodic Table

2.

Activity Series

3.

Redox Rules

4.

Solubility Rules

such that retrieval of the components and tools can be accessed anywhere from within the site.


3.3.2 A Dynamic and Interactive Site

An
interactive

Web site is generated with the use of a combination of techniques:



hypertext


[2],



Web page frame


[3], and



JavaScript


[4], [5]

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
for stu
dents to retrieve information in the sequence that is user initiated.

A
dynamic

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
o long
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
pages is



Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programming.


[6
]


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,

and



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
predictable.

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
-
side JavaScript,
an
swers submitted from multiple
-
choice and fill
-
in
-
the
-
blank type questions activate a dialogue
window for evaluation (figure 2).


Figure 2
-

Dialogue windows activated by JavaScript provide interactivity to the site.

All other questions in the study guide
have accompanying interactive buttons to access hints and
answers. Some questions are written using the JavaScript random number generator.

Client
-
side JavaScript is an effective and elegant method for adding an interactive problem
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
-
side JavaScript.



4.1.4 Tool Bar

A systematic approach to page design simplifies navigation in the study guide.

A navigational
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.




Figure 3
-

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
-
line Testing

Although Client
-
side J
avaScript, can enhance the interactivity of a Web page, there are
limitations as to what JavaScript can do. The major limitation with using Client
-
side JavaScript
for generating interactive problems is the user accessibility of the JavaScript scripts.

Whe
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
JavaScript codes.

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
-
the
-
fly". This feature of the study guide is referred to as dynamic on
-
line
testing.

Today, there are many programs written specifically for on
-
line assessment, on
-
line assignment,
or on
-
line testing appl
ications [7] [8] [9]. The CGI program that the CHEM 0010 Web
-
based
study guide uses,
$online.exe
, is written by the author, [10].
$online.exe

is unique in that it is
used in tandem with the dynamic display of student marks. Access to on
-
line testing in the

Web
-
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
-
to
-
date
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,
$marks5.exe
, that is
written by the author [11]. 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
-
line testing,
$marks5.exe

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.

Figure 4
-


A sample of graphical display of marks for an on
-
line assignment.

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
onal
lecture
-
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
-
based
study guide.


5.1.1 Access



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.



5.1.2 Usage



All the students found the study guide



very helpful,



very easy to use, and



very easy to navigate.



The frequency that the students logged on to the Web
-
based study guide is:



12%
-

less than once a week,



64%
-

2
-
3 times a week,



8%
-

4
-
5 times a week,



16%
-

only prior to a test.



The duration that the students spend working through the
problems is:



8%
-

less than 1 hour a week,



68%
-

2
-
3 hours a week,



4%
-

4
-
5 hours a week,



20%
-

only prior to a test.



5.1.3 Usefulness



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
-
line testing
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
course.



91% of the students thought that access to the Web
-
based study guide via a modem
was acceptable.



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.



Range of
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.



Precis
ion and quality of information.



"Interactiveness".



It is more interesting than attending a lecture.



On
-
line assignments.



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
long).



Eyes get
sore.



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.





5.2 Findings

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
-
motivation. The
24
-
hour accessibility to the course is a definite advantage, and all of the students believe that the
Web
-
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
dependent
on three factors. In order of increasing reliability, the factors, which temporarily
prevent access to the study guide, are:

1.

Internet traffic, which is dependent on the time of day,

2.

the students' personal Internet Service Provider, and

3.

the gate
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
time.

The features of the Web
-
based study guide that are well
-
liked are:

1.

the instant evaluation of the submitted questions,

2.

the hints returned to the students,

3.

the dynamic mark display on each submitted assignment,

4.

the ability to check up
-
to
-
date course standing and the class average.

6.
Conclusions

Introducing the Internet as a new educational technology to complement traditional lecture
-
based
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
-
to
-
face course. The key is to create a Web site

that is:

1.

content
-
rich,

2.

easy to navigate,

3.

interactive, and

4.

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.

1.

The building up of a Web site is a gradual process.

2.

Instea
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
time.

3.

Be aware of the limits of the tools that are selected for the tasks.

4.

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
-
b
ased or
Multi
-
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
-
free
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
positive.

As a final thought, I believe that, when properly implemented, the use of Computer
-
Mediated
Communication in teac
hing and learning can help students achieve higher levels of academic
performance.


7. Future Work

There are several activities that are planned for the near future.

1.

In the next offering of CHEM 0010, computer conferencing [12] will be added to the

Web
-
based study guide. The objective is to create an environment that promotes
asynchronous cooperative learning and provide a forum for open discussion.

2.

To ensure reliable access to the Web
-
based study guide, the entire Web site will be made
availabl
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
traffic.

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.

3.

Finally, with the growing availability of faster desktop computers, more interac
tive
applications using Java will be incorporated into the study guide to provide
demonstrations of Chemistry concepts.

8. References

[1] Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia Rehabilitation Services


(http://www.wcb.bc.ca/resmat/rscm/rscm
.htm)

[2] W3C
-

HyperText Markup Language (HTML)


(http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/)

[3]


Netscape
-

Understanding pages and frames


(http://home.netscape.com/eng/mozilla/Gold/handbook/docs/learn.html#C1)

[4] JavaScript, a Netscape
-
developed scripting l
anguage derived from Java


(http://home.netscape.com/eng/mozilla/3.0/handbook/javascript/index.html)


[5]

Netscape
-

JavaScript Resources


(http://developer.netscape.com/library/documentation/jsframe.html)

[6]

Common Gateway Interface


(http
://hoohoo.ncsa.uiuc.edu/cgi/overview.html)

[7]


Online Exercises


(http://math.uc.edu/WWW
-
test/demo/demo.html)

[8]

Quizzes Online


(http://wwwtools.cityu.edu.hk/quiz.htm)

[9]

The Review Automated Generation System (RAGS)


(http://stargate.
jpl.nasa.gov:1084/RAGS/http://stargate.jpl.nasa.gov:1084/RAGS/)

[10]


"On
-
line Testing
-

How Does It Work?"


(http://nobel.scas.bcit.bc.ca/workshop/oltest.htm)

[11]

Dynamic Display of Marks


(http://nobel.scas.bcit.bc.ca/online/demo/demo.
htm)

[12]

Web Conferences using O'Reilly WebBoard


(http://webboard.ora.com)


9. Acknowledgements

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
the students.

Technical Support:

Dr. Ken Fong
-

TRI
UMF, UBC

Nicholas Fong
-

National Research Council of Canada

George Kidd
-

BCIT, Computing System Technology

BCIT Computer Resources Department

Consultation:

Dr. Griff Richards
-

BCIT, Coordinator of On
-
line Learning

Department Support:

Richard Tam
-

BCIT, Chemistry

BCIT Chemistry Department

School Support:

Dr. Ken Takagaki
-

BCIT,

Dean of School of Computing and Academic Studies

Kent Yakel
-

BCIT, Associate Dean of School of Computing and Academic Studies

Institute Support:

Mal Stelck
-

BCIT, Vice President of Education

Dixie Stockmayer
-

BCIT, Director of Learning Resources Unit

BCIT Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) Project Team


Financial Support:

1. BCIT Instructional Enhancement Grant (Jan 1997 to Sept 1997)



An "On
-
line Chemistry Resource Center"
-

(http://nobel.scas.bcit.bc.ca/resource/) was
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
-
ROM"
-

To enhance and facilitate the
accessibility of the On
-
line Chemistry Resource Center, the entire
Resource Center
and many more "value
-
added" attractions will be made available on a CD
-
ROM for
distribution.

3. BCIT CMC Project Grant (current grant)



Development of "Web
-
based CMC Tools"
-

(http://nobel.scas.bcit.bc.ca/) to
facilitate on
-
line co
urse development at BCIT.