Chemistry practical work is integral to chemistry education. Laboratory sessions make chemical equations come alive, allowing students to see, and sometimes smell, taste or feel, the outcomes of these interactions.

Current technology cannot replicate this learning experience. However, online courseware can facilitate the conduct of practicals.

Dr Adrian Michael Lee, from the Department of Chemistry, noticed that chemistry students were generally unprepared for laboratory sessions. Students were not familiar with the techniques used as well as the skills the chemistry involved. Moreover, most depend entirely on the laboratory briefing instead of reading the practical sheet.

Having seen how Bristol University used an online solution to tackle similar problems, Dr Lee approached CIT to create online courseware which would make laboratory preparation interesting, interactive and thorough.

With Dr Lee’s input, CIT developed the Interactive Chemistry Laboratory Manual (ICLM), online courseware which provides students all the information and instructional resources to perform laboratory experiments. Dr Lee, the subject-matter expert, provided content. CIT designed the courseware, filmed the videos, took the photos and created various interactive elements.

Since the start of AY 2008/09, ICLM has been available online for chemistry students taking certain modules. Students can visit the site before the laboratory session to run through everything that they need to know about the experiment.

As laboratory time is precious, ICLM allows students to familiarize themselves with the experiments before the practical classes. ICLM covers all aspects of the experiments, from safety to preparation, from conducting to report-writing. Instructions, relevant information, data sheets and other materials cover the experiment before, during and after the laboratory session.

The materials are presented in different formats: video clips of laboratory techniques, simulations, virtual instruments, interactive materials, formative and summative tests on material and pre-laboratory safety assessments have all been combined to form a guide that chemistry students can use with ease.

With ICLM, students have one less excuse for not being prepared for chemistry practicals.

CIT has launched an online mindmapping tool for staff and students. This tool, powered by Mindomo, enables you to create mindmaps which can be accessed on the web, embedded in other websites, shared with other users and edited when necessary. An example of an embedded mindmap is shown below.

(The embed should ideally be placed on a page that is at least 550 pixels wide. It is cut short above as the post width is only 450 pixels.)

Many people already use pen and paper mindmaps to take notes, develop ideas and organise thoughts. With the online mindmapping tool, you can continue doing these, with the flexibility of editing and reorganising the mindmap to account for changes and updates.

Using the online mindmapping tool is simple. Go to the online mindmapping tool and login using your NUSNET credentials (username and password without the domain). Click 'New Map'.

From here, you can create a mindmap. It is easier to create the content in the mindmap first, then to format it, especially if the mindmap is complex. The tool allows you to add various graphics and hyperlinks to other parts of the mindmap or to external webpages. Using these features, the online mindmap becomes more dynamic and useful to you and those you share it with.

Please contact Mr for queries regarding the online mindmapping tool.

eLearning Week blog

The first eLearning Week (eLW) in NUS took place in late February at the Communications & New Media Programme, with the support of the Office of Safety, Health and Environment.

CIT’s objectives for the week were to prepare, monitor and test the readiness and ability of our students, staff and systems to cope with an emergency situation where on-campus teaching facilities are unavailable.

To those ends, we facilitated various means of conducting lectures and tutorials online. These included:
• Breeze (Online presentations – slides plus audio)
• Centra (Virtual Classroom)
• Comprehensive use of IVLE, particularly the Chat and Forums
• Podcast lecture
• Instant messaging

Overall, the exercise was successful in meeting its objectives. eLW provided CIT with several learning points, the most important of which are highlighted below:

1. Tool to fit the lecturer
It was vital to allow lecturers to choose tools that they were comfortable with. Early training sessions enabled lecturers to match their perceived level of technological competence to the complexity of the various tools.

While this resulted in a number of lecturers opting not to use Centra after expressing initial interest, the situation could arguably have been worse if lecturers felt tied-in to using tools with steep learning curves.

Recommendations: Continue with tool preview sessions for staff before semester begins, closer collaboration with lecturers to determine their needs.

2. Early preparation vital
Regardless of the tools used, early preparation was of paramount importance. This could be seen from the experiences of various lecturers, particularly several who used Breeze. Partly due to the fact that CIT promotes Breeze as a rapid eLearning content creation tool, several lecturers started preparing their Breeze presentations just prior to eLW. A number experienced technical difficulties, which delayed the publication of their respective lectures online.

Recommendations: Those liaising with lecturers have to provide reminders about preparing early regardless of the tool being used.

3. Expectations need to be managed
From the lecturers’ feedback, it is apparent CIT should have managed lecturers’ expectations in a more comprehensive manner.

Recommendations: The following points need to be reinforced – (1) the eLW scenario involving a limited/full campus quarantine, (2) that quality of lessons/communication will most likely be affected, (3) the relative lack of non-verbal cues for most of the tools, (4) the fact that real-life factors will still come into play for online learning (e.g. students can be late for online learning just as they can be for a class on campus), (5) the technology may fail or be problematic for various reasons (which CIT will do its best to resolve if those situations arise).

4. Student Feedback
There is a lack of student feedback that can be analyzed. This is due, in part, to the lack of a proper feedback mechanism and the simplicity of the questions.

Recommendations: Work with the lecturers to find out what kind of feedback they would like to have. Feedback also has to be garnered from students after each lecturer and tutorial. The liaison should work with their respective lecturers to integrate feedback gathering into their lecture/tutorial. This should also be settled early so that it can be worked into various lectures and tutorials.