Sunday, April 13, 2008

ACS Talk on Teaching Chemistry with Second Life

link to ACS Talk on Teaching Chemistry with Second Life

Jean-Claude Bradley: OK. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about Second Life and teaching chemistry. What I would like to do first is step back a little bit. You know, we've been talking about using a lot of different technologies. And sometimes, we have to remember what we are trying to achieve with these technologies. Right? That lets us know whether or not we're wasting our time.

So, I'm just going to take a few minutes to go over what is the roll of the technology teacher. I think that as technology changes, we have to remember that we still have to make chemists. That's our job ultimately, right?

And what does this mean? Well, for me, it means that we are trying to make individuals who are chemically literate at the undergraduate level and competent to create new useful chemical knowledge at the graduate level.

So, any tools that enable us to do that, we should use. Any tools that we are currently using that are no longer effective we shouldn't use. So, what does this mean in terms of actual activities from the teacher? So, how do we actually teach?

We have to do three things. First, we have to select and build our content, then we have to assess and validate the skills and knowledge of the students to know if they learned it or not and third we can help catalyze the learning process.

This is the third one here that I have basically put Second Life into. This is the stuff that you can only do if you have enough time to do it. So, I need to explain how the rest of my course operates to show you how it is possible for me to spend time on this.

So, very quickly, I'm not going to talk at all, or very, very minimally about blogs or wikis or things like that here. I just wanted to give you an idea of the evolution of my course over the past several years.

I teach undergraduate organic chemistry. I started off with, of course, face to face lectures using paper hand outs. Then graduated to using optional screencasts of lectures, which I'm recording this a s a screencast. Then I went to audio podcasting, video podcasting. I started using blogs, wikis, Google video, You Tube, Google co-op.

Finally now, I'm really not even using podcasting in my class because everything's already archived. So, it turns out its far easier to just give the students a zip file and just have them unpack it, because I'm not currently recording lectures. Let me show you why I'm not currently recording my lectures.

This is what a screencast looks like, if you're curious. There's several different formats. You can have flash, this happens to be the m4v format or mp4 on iTunes. The students just basically click this of they can expand the screen and they click play and they can hear me explain the chemistry.

So, it's very, very similar to being in class and watching me doing what I'm doing here, right, just presenting. So, what happened is I actually plotted the attendance in my class over time and observed that in all of my classes the attendance by the end was between 10 to 20 percent.

So, when it ended and I looked at the performance of the students who were still coming to class versus the students who were getting the class material exclusively through screencasts and it was identical. So, that's one of the things that I've stopped doing then is actually lecturing.

Now, instead I just assign the recorded lectures and I do other things with the time, which I'll get into in a second here. OK, so while all this is going on in terms of content and delivery, I'm also changing the way that I'm assessing students.

Obviously, I started with manual grading, then moved on to using WebCT quizzes, voluntary, then making the exams and the tests all mandatory on WebCT. Then, I moved on to doing extra credit assignments using blogs and wikis. Quizzes in first person shooter games like Unreal tournament, quizzes in Second Life, and finally student's assignments in Second Life.

I will obviously focus on the last two, but I will show you a little bit of what these things look like on the way. So, this third part that I was talking about earlier, this learning catalysis what does that mean? Well, sort of by default it's your office hours and email and the time that you're not in class.

Because I now assign my recorded lectures I have time to do things like be present while students do problems, while they watch lectures, while they play games, while they use Second Life. We can talk about the extra credit assignment. I can spend more time on that. I can address technical issues very, very important where they bring their laptop to me and I can actually see what the problem is.

You don't want a situation where you're assigning archived lectures and the student has some kind of technical glitch and they can't do it. That would be a nightmare.

This is what I end up spending my time doing in my workshops.

OK. Student assignments: So, starting with blogging, I don't do blogging anymore, but that's how I started. Basically, I just had them pick something relevant to the class and blog about it, all right, so this was a couple of years ago.

I then moved on to using the wiki. I think, it's a little more useful because you can modify the text and you can see all the different versions. What I do here is I basically have them do an assignment based on my research wiki. We are making anti-malaria compounds. So, they can actually see our lab notebook and they have to make some kind of comments on that on their projects.

We're using J-camp formats for the NMRs, using J-spec to view the NMRs and everything. I obviously, don't have enough time to get into full details about but if you ask me, can wikis be used for education? I think yes, and I've got some pretty good examples I think of having students use them in assignments.

Let's talk about games a little bit. I've been using games for many years, even before WebCT and everything. This is a game that I played a long time ago called Wheel of Orgo, where I start with a starting material and I put a final product and then students take turns trying to come up with steps.

So, they have to put the reagents and they have to put the intermediate. And they get points for having that correct. The idea is, of course, to find a path from the beginning to the end. That's an example of a game. Something where it's the same material, it's just delivered in a different maybe more entertaining format.

Another kind of game that I've used is Unreal Tournament. If you're familiar with that, it's a first person shooter game. There actually is an educational version of the game that doesn't have any weapons.

The way that this one works is you've got these doors and they're just images and they're either correct or they're incorrect. So, if you walk through a correct door, you make it to the next room, if you walk through an incorrect one, you have to start over. You could do races like that.

So there's no injuring or anything like that. Of course on the full version with weapons, there's lots of blood going on. We didn't use that one too, too much, but it certainly was available.

Now, I would probably still be using Unreal Tournament if I hadn't come across Second Life. Second Life actually is a much better infrastructure for doing this kind of thing. Here instead of having rooms, we basically have obelisks. So, if you go on Second Life, and you're going to see lots of pictures here, so you'll get the idea.

This is me, by the way, and this is what I see as I'm moving through the landscape. So, what happens is students click on this obelisk and the same four images pop up that I had in Unreal Tournament. And when they click on it if it's correct they get another set of four questions. If it's incorrect they have to start over.

So, I can actually have many obelisks in a room and I can have many students competing against each other. That's what I refer to as my races, which I do a couple of times per term and I give out prizes. So there's no grades here, it's basically just additional stuff the students can do.

Now that's the stuff that I did. What about if my students are doing anything in Second Life. So, I have had students do some extra-credit work, and one of the things that we have the ability to do now is to actually create molecules, starting from smiles or inchies, and we just talk in Second Life, using the chat box, to these little rezzers that are built to do that.

And here's an example of camphor, showing a pretty complicated example of chirality. So, these molecules are actually much bigger than the size of our Avatars. And you can walk around the molecule, you can fly around it, you can see it in a way that's completely different than you would in a small model, which you're limited to in real life. So, that was a pretty good assignment.

And we can have fun with it here. You can actually fly around on the camphor molecule, and the students can engage in that way. So, this is actually on Nature's Island, called Second Nature.

Right now, what we're doing is we're trying to work on displaying spectra, especially NMR spectra, in Second Life. And I'm working with Andy Lang, and we've almost got it to the point where we can actually talk to the spectrum and have it expand. Again, we're using JCAMP format, and if we can get it to work with JCAMP, we can get it to work for NMR, or IR, or whatever. Because a lot of the equipment can add spectra in those formats.

Other educational things that you can do. Well, you can actually demonstrate docking. So here this is actually the receptor site of enoyl reductase, which is one of the malarial enzymes that we're trying to inhibit. And you just walk up to this molecule, you click it, and it slowly meanders down and fits right into the docking site. And you can walk around it and you can see what's going on. It's actually a little bit hard to see where the hydrogen bonds are, but it's a good exercise nonetheless to try to see it.

Now, if we put the entire enzyme here, we would run out of prims, which are the fundamental units. So, we only put the pocket. But if you want to simplify the enzyme, you can actually create the entire enzyme, but you don't have every atom here. Right? You're just showing it in a simplified mode. Peter Miller has actually been very active with the constructions of proteins in Second Life, and you can go right from the PDB file to this 3D format. All right?

So, things are getting a lot easier for chemists in Second Life. There are more tools, and again, if you can get the PDB, or the inchie, or the smiles, you're in really good shape now for actually just doing these projects.

Other things we can do. Well, we can actually see how chemical reactions happen in 3D. So, here's an example of an amine formation. I've got an aldehide, I have an amine. So you can see the aldehide here, the red oxygen, here's the nitrogen amine. And you actually talk to the chemicals. So you come right up to them and you say, "Next." And you'll see every intermediate pop up.

So, the next one here would be like this, where the nitrogen has moved over and now it's connected to this carbon, and you have a carbinol intermediate. And you can actually see the entire shift. And these are actually chemically realistic, so they minimize so that that's really what they probably do look like. And it looks very different than it does on a piece of paper, right? Where everything's flat. So, I think this is a pretty good exercise. And there's every step. So, there's a couple of intermediates in that amine formation, and if you keep saying, "Next," it will keep going.

Now, as we've been putting molecules on Second Life we've been worried about how people are going to find them. And one of the things that I set up is a wiki: secondlifemolecules.wikispaces.com. And here we basically just put the scriptors, we put the uses, and we put the slurls. The slurl is a link that when you click on it, it will take you to Second Life to that specific location. So, that's a way for Google to index it.

We've got three Periodic Table, again working with Andy Lang for the ACS, we actually did this. You can have faculty offices. This is sort of what my office looks like on Drexel Island. You can put whatever you want there. Here's an example of my lab. So, these are just pictures of my students, there's pictures of our chemicals, you have pictures of the equipment. There are all kinds of things that you can do to explain what you're doing.

But, the one thing that works extremely well on Second Life is posters-and you're going to see some of that at the Sci-Mix Session tonight, if you come. And because you can do some really nice things - you can take your PowerPoint and you can just dump it into this viewer in Second Life. And when you click on it, it changes slides. So, from the standpoint of a learning curve, there's really not much to it. You just give your PowerPoint, boom, you're done. Right? And then you could put these little bells where when you click on it, it will summon the presenter. So, that's what we're going to do tonight at Sci-Mix. We're going to make sure that all the presenters have their little bells working.

We've had conferences. Here's an example of a conference that I organized. The SciFoo Lives On Conference on Nature's Island. And you can see there's lots of people hanging around talking to each other, and we're using the poster boards to give the presentations.

This is ACS Island, if you're not familiar. It actually has the shape of the ACS logo. So, this is the land, and the water here gives it the outline. So, if you see lots of moats and you follow them, that's the reason. It's to have this look.

So, there are just a few screenshots of ACS Island. Here's the headquarters. You can go inside here and get some freebees. Get some lab coats, goggles, whatever. There's an ACS Landmarks. I wasn't familiar with the Landmarks before I started this project, but every year or every couple of years ACS gives these Landmarks, like the foundation of the chemical abstracts, or the discovery of helium, things like that. So, these are pretty neat, you can visit this, click on it, and it will take you to the website.

And here's what the virtual poster area looks like. So, tonight at 8:00 you can come around. So, the posters look pretty familiar, and we've put some molecules here that represent most of the posters. So, for example, the forensics lab talks about methamphetamines, so guess what? There's a molecule there to attract people to come over and look at it.

[laughter]

There's also nanotubes, and Cass actually has a really interesting presentation. Hopefully, you'll be able to attend. This little molecule here I put is called felicene. It actually looks like a cat, and we put in some eyes and some whiskers so you can see it here, but the ears are actually on the top. So, again, very, very interesting what you can do in Second Life.

ACS Island has a resident chemist program where scientists can put up some of their work. In our [indecipherable] lab at Cornell is there. The Rosania Lab-that's Rosania from Michigan-is there. And he basically, put up images from his microscope. So he uses that to have meetings with his students and talk about scientific data. And there's also a geodesic dome, so when ACS does run parties, that's where it will happen. And that's a good place to meet. I don't know if anything tonight is going to happen there, but you can check it out.

And so basically, that's it. I mean, if you want to use wikis, it's a pretty good way to organize content and to interact with students. I didn't have time to go through that, but because of the versioning, you can actually tell students to do things on the wiki and then when they correct it they can remove you comment, but it's all in the versions. So that's a good way to interact. And you can use Second Life to stretch student and teacher imagination.

So, what I'm showing you is just what I thought was interesting and cool to do. There's many things we can do in chemistry and if you have any ideas, just let me know and I can tell you if it's realistic or not. And I guess the bottom line is really, we're not trying to replace one means by another, it's just additional channels. We're communicating the same basic chemistry; it's just, to make it interesting and to get students engaged. That's really the point of it.

And that's it. Thank you.

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