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Dr. Robert E. Belford
Since 1996 the CCCE has organized five intercollegiate OnLine Chemistry Courses or OLCCs. These have enabled colleges and universities to provide classes to their students that would not normally have been offered. In contrast to a MOOC, an OLCC is really a hybrid course involving two types of faculty; local facilitators (instructors of record who meet face-to-face with students) and online guest lecturers (subject domain experts, who may not be educators). We are currently organizing an OLCC in Cheminformatics and are seeking teaching faculty who would like to offer this course. This paper will describe the OLCC, and why we feel it is important to develop one in Cheminformatics.
The first phase of this project involves the use of participatory web tools to bring together teaching faculty with professional cheminformaticians and chemical librarians to identify missing cheminformatics/information science skill sets in the curriculum. We will then collaboratively create a course curriculum to address these competencies, and generate Teaching and Learning Objects (TLOs) that can also be used both inside and outside of the course to address said competencies. We are creating a Web 2.0 content management strategy designed to allow schools to customize the material presented to their students as they interact with the cheminformatic lecturers. This is an international project involving multiple institutions and chemical societies. This project targets the needs of undergraduate students, but graduate classes are welcome. We are actively seeking input from teaching faculty in PUIs (Primary Undergraduate Institutions), and further information can be obtained at the Cheminformatics OLCC development site, http://olcc.ccce.us/
An OLCC, OnLine Chemistry Course, is a collaboratively taught hybrid (online/face-to-face) intercollegiate course enabling academic institutions to offer their students a class in a chemistry subject area where there may be inadequate resources and expertise to otherwise offer. The CCCE has been organizing OLCCs since 1996 and we are currently seeking faculty who would like to participate in a Cheminformatics OLCC. This project is not limited to schools within the US, and although we are seeking to address needs within the undergraduate curriculum, graduate level classes are welcome. In this paper we are going to approach several different questions. What is an OLCC and what are the issues we are tackling with respect to online collaborative intercollegiate teaching, learning and curriculum development? And, why an OLCC in cheminformatics? Our development site is http://olcc.ccce.us/, and please contact the authors if you are interested in participating in this project.
Why would a chemistry faculty member who teaches undergraduate students and is not formally trained in cheminformatics want to teach a course in cheminformatics? Part of the answer to this question deals with the evolving nature of today’s digital information landscape, the emergence of e-science, and the role cheminformatics will play in the practice of traditional science in the 21st century. The web has superseded the traditional library as our primary source of information and yet like the traditional library, today’s web is fundamentally document-centric. That is, the major interface for obtaining information over the web is a web-page, like this page that you are now reading, and which could be bound in a book and placed in a traditional library. All this is logical, as we effectively practice science in a document-centric world of communication. But is this the only way to use the web in the practice of science? Clearly there is a role for data-centric interfaces and emergent e-science technologies.
Few academic institutions are equipped today to teach the latest and most advanced cheminformatics techniques, even though many are employed in the chemical industries, and it would be an asset for our students to have skills and cognizance of these technologies when they graduate and seek gainful employment. Sure they can gain much of this vital training after graduation, but we need to ask ourselves, are we providing our students with the most useful education possible? We need to ask, is it important for our students to understand data standards? To understand and utilize electronic lab notebooks, smart spreadsheets, web APIs and mobile devices? To be able to perform science in a world where software agents interact with each other and databases to instantly provide scientists with the information most germane to the task on hand? Is something missing in today’s undergraduate curriculum? These are questions we need to ask and discuss in an honest and open manner.
Our objective in this project is to bring together academic and non-academic chemists, educators, librarians and cheminformaticians to develop a curriculum that can help us provide our students with the best skills in, and cognitions of, this new and evolving information landscape. But also, we are at a very challenging time in education, as our students are growing up in a world where they natively use cognitive artifacts that are foreign to many of our faculty. In 2009, Julie Evans of Project Tomorrow identified a new type of student in their “Speak Up” data set (which today represents data from over 3 million K-12 students, educators and parents)1. These were middle school digital native “free agent learners”2, kids who were using ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) to develop new problem solving schema outside of the traditional curriculum. These kids who grew up in a mobile device driven world of instant communication and information are now beginning to enroll in our colleges and universities, and are bringing to the classroom a new set of skills and expectations the traditional curriculum may not be prepared to handle.
The Cheminformatics OLCC is in essence an experiment in curriculum development and dissemination, and if successful, will not only provide faculty and students with skills that will be of value in this evolving information landscape, but also provide specific modules that can introduce modern cheminformatic techniques into the traditional areas of chemistry. So it is vital that we have chemists who teach organic, inorganic, physical, analytical and biochemistry facilitate classes of this course at their home institutions, and collaboratively develop Teaching and Learning Objects (TLOs) that can be used outside of the OLCC and in their traditional classes.
OLCCs: A Brief History
OLCCs are intercollegiate courses hosted by the ACS DivCHED CCCE. To date, there have been five OLCCs with the first being held in the Spring of 1996, and the last in the Fall of 2004. Unfortunately, we have lost access to the content of all but the Fall 2004 OLCC, which has been preserved by Scott Van Bramer at Weidner3. We do have an early Spring 1996 CCCE Newsletter article on the first OLCC written by Donald Rosenthal.4 To date, OLCCs were held at the following times on the following topics:
Being an intercollegiate course an OLCC involves multiple classes at multiple institutions with students interacting with both multiple online lectures and local faculty, and to avoid confusion we need to define some terminology that we will use in this paper and discussion.
Eight schools participated in the Fall 2004 OLCC on chemical hygiene (fig. 1), including the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where Bob Belford, co-author of this paper was a facilitator. Each week the students would interact with a new lecturer in much the same format a ConfChem was run. The lecturer would post a paper that would be discussed over a listserv. For the OLCC there were two listservs, OLCC-FAC for the faculty, and OLCC-STU for both students and faculty. Figure 2 shows the lecture topics for the third and fourth weeks of the course, when George Wahl and Jay Young respectively interacted with students from all 8 campuses on the topics of “Exposure to Chemicals” and an “Introduction to Toxicology”. Just as in a ConfChem, multiple experts could participate in the discussion. This provided the students with a rich exposure to content that Belford could not have offered if he attempted to teach this course on his own.
Fig.1 List of schools offering a class in the 2004 OLCC
Fig. 2 Topics of the Fall 2004 OLCC syllabus on Chemical Health and Safety
Classroom Issues for an OLCC
One of the biggest classroom challenges for an OLCC results from the dynamics of collaborative teaching involving guest lecturers. In a normal classroom you have two basic types of human interactions, student-student and student-teacher. As the class progresses through the semester the student-teacher interactions become refined as they become conditioned to each other, and come to understand their respective needs and expectations. When a guest lecturer is invited to a classroom this prior experience is missing and often [read hopefully] the first question asked is “tell me about your students”. That is, the guest lecturer needs to identify the students’ background knowledge and predispositions, and then create content appropriate to their needs and abilities. How can that be done in an OLCC when each class has a unique set of students, with different needs, different background knowledge and different expectations?
This is one of the challenges this project is tackling, and we are creating what could effectively be called an intercollegiate course management system that enables different classes to teach the same course with different content. Just as the old OLCCs followed the ConfChem model, so will the new one. Each class will have their own homepage created in a similar manner to how Confchem conferences are created. This will be done through taxonomies the same way this Newsletter is distinguished from last year’s Newsletter, (described in the next article of this Newsletter, “The Twentieth Anniversary of ConfChem Online Conferences: Past, Present and Future”). That is, this project will create multiple TLOs (Teaching and Learning Objects) that through class-based taxonomies and content tagging allow the facilitators customize the content of their individual class homepage to the needs of their students. Each TLO will be discussed like a ConfChem paper is discussed, and if multiple facilitators tag the same TLO, there will be intercollegiate student-student interactions across multiple institutions.
Assessment of student learning is another challenge for the OLCC model. Students are conditioned to be examined by the person providing the lecture, and teachers are conditioned to presenting the material they expect their students to know, and provide emphasis in line with their expectations. Although the students meet face-to-face on a weekly basis with the facilitator, the person delivering the course content (lecturer) is not the person responsible for the grades. This is further complicated when there are different lecturers each week, all teaching to multiple classes at different schools. This is not a case of “lecturing to the exam”, but facilitators need control over the lecture content if they are expected to provide the grades. During the development phase when lecturers interact with facilitators to create TLOs, effort needs to be done on generating assessment material like ancillary test item files that both facilitators and lecturers can contribute to, and pool across campuses. But there is more.
In many ways OLCC’s are ideal for project-based learning and assessment, where the external lecturers can function as mentors with respect to student projects and assignments. During the 2004 OLCC on Chemical Hygiene students at UALR went into their research labs and identified activities for which they had no SOPs (Standard/Safe Operating Procedures), and then developed them as part of the course. They had the expertise of the lecturers to consult in their fulfillment of the project, and today, many of those SOPs are incorporated into the department’s Chemical Hygiene Plan. Cheminformatics is ideal subject for project-based learning and assessment.
Three Phases of the Cheminformatics OLCC
Phase 1: Curriculum Content Development
The initial curriculum development phase is expected to take 6-8 months. Lecturers will generate lesson plans and post modules in essentially the same way they did in the old OLCCs. These will be posted on a private development site and only available to faculty associated with the project. Facilitators and lectures will then discuss these lesson plans much the same way we are discussing this paper, with the idea of generating multiple, single concept Teaching and Learning Objects (TLOs) based on those discussions. These are what we are calling Derivative TLOs, being derived from phase 1 lecturer-facilitator interactions. Figure 3 provides a flow chart for this process.
One model we are considering for generating TLOs is a short video type “show and tell” screen capture interview. Consider an initial module on the representation of chemicals on computers with a section on InChI (topic of paper 3 in this Newsletter). One facilitator states the material on the InChI layers is too complicated and we need a simpler version, while another states there is not enough and we need to expand that section. Yet another wants to relate this to a specific type of compound central to an organic class, while another wants to relate it to a specific type of compound related to an analytical class. And another needs…. We could then generate multiple derivative TLOs, derived on the various needs of these facilitators. Once created, any facilitator can tag them and use them in their class. This enables all classes to customize the course to the needs of their students and institutions.
Phase 1 of the project clearly has components of an online faculty workshop, where faculty who are not experts in Cheminformatics interact with cheminformaticians and other information experts to create the curriculum content. This is not only giving faculty exposure to advanced cheminformatic techniques, but it is also giving them a form of ownership to the material they will use in the classroom, which is very important for adaption. There is also another aspect that we are trying to develop, and that is the “repurposablility” of the TLOs. We realize that many PUIs (Primary Undergraduate Institutions) will not be able to continue to offer a course in Cheminformatics once the OLCC is over, and thus it is important that these can be used in other courses. So we are seeking facilitators who teach the traditional core chemistry subjects (analytical, organic….) and as they interact with the cheminformaticians, to try and develop cheminformatic TLOs that can also be repurposed into the classes they normally teach.
Fig. 3 Flow chart showing interdisciplinary lecturer/facilitator interactions in the development of TLOs.
Phase 2: Curriculum Dissemination
We intend to offer the class twice, with a year between sessions to revise the modules, develop new TLOs and learn from our experiences. We also hope the course will attract more schools the second time around, and want to give new faculty the opportunity to participate in the phase 1 aspect.
As different schools have different academic calendars the first and last modules will be of variable length, depending on each school’s calendar, with the middle modules all synchronized to a common schedule. The first module will be on chemical literacy and involve activities with the local library, while the final module will be a class dependent final project, like creating a smart spreadsheet for a laboratory notebook. The following bullet list outlines the basic structure of the intercollegiate course dissemination during the synchronized component of the course.
Phase 3: Repurposable Archives
All TLOs will be open access with creative commons licenses that will allow others to repurpose them for needs outside of the OLCC. Our organizing committee includes members involved with the development of the XCITR (eXplore Chemical Information Teaching Resources) resource, that is now hosted by the RSC and was jointly created by ACS CINF and the GDCh CIC. This is an ideal repository for both TLOs and some project-based student assignments, where students would work with their local librarian to create tutorials on resources within their schools that could be of value to both future students and other users of those resources.
The organizing committee also has membership from the CHEMWIKI project at UC-Davis that is part of the STEMWiki Hyperlibrary project. CHEMWIKI currently receives 2.4 million pageviews per month and is developing a core Cheminformatics section. Their involvement not only ensures visibility of the archives, but also offers additional options for hosting the course in the event that scale-up issues occur. Although we are creating our own course management system within the Drupal content environment the DivCHED hosts or site on, we need to ensure that this strategy can be transferred to other platforms, like the CHEMWIKI.
With respect to the CCCE’s own archives, we will preserve the OLCC in the same site where we host the ConfChem and Newsletter archives, which are reported on the next article of this Newsletter, The Twentieth Anniversary of ConfChem Online Conferences: Past, Present and Future. Note that in the ensuing article we introduce the future open-tag capabilities for our ConfChem and Newsletter articles, and these will also be used during the OLCC. This will allow students, lecturers and facilitators the ability to tag the content as they take the course and generate an additional taxonomy, a folksonomy. This folksonomy can then use the collective intelligence of the course participants to relate and extract TLOs from different sections of the course that were taught by different lecturers. This can potentially bring forth new relationships from within the curriculum content.
Why an OLCC in Cheminformatics?
For students to learn the skills they need to excel as chemists they not only need to know the foundations and lab skills traditionally held central to the science, they also need to know how to communicate the results of their work, how to acquire and review the results of others' work, and increasingly how to use computational and informatics techniques as part of their scientific discovery process. Over the past several decades advances in Cheminformatics have been so rapid that the traditional undergraduate curriculum has not kept up, and it will be a significant competitive asset for our students to be cognizant of these new technologies when they graduate.
Cheminformatics is defined as the field of study of all aspects of the representation, management, integration, interchange, analysis and modeling of chemical and related biological information on computers. Extending chemical literacy skills with cheminformatic techniques can directly impact the success of practicing chemists. Acknowledging that this computational discipline encompasses a wide range of subjects, we seek to define a subset of the field, that we consider essential knowledge for the graduating 21st century chemist.
We are putting together an organizing committee of cheminformaticians, undergraduate chemical educators, practicing chemists and librarians to identify the components of cheminformatics that can be considered critical knowledge for graduating chemistry students. This committee is tasked with developing the course syllabus. Please contact the authors if you are interesting in contributing to this charge.
The initial modules will involve the local libraries and address competencies outlined in the Wikibook; Information Competencies for Chemistry Undergraduates: the elements of information literacy of the Chemistry Division of the Special Libraries Association and the ACS Division of Chemical Information. The amount of time a class spends in this module is contingent on their academic calendar. Schools that start the semester earlier will spend more time than those that start later. After all schools have spent at least a minimum of two weeks on this module we will start the synchronized lectures on cheminformatics. Cheminformatic topics and competencies the organizing committee is evaluating with respect to added value in the undergraduate curriculum include:
This work is supported by NSF TUES grant 1140485, and any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.
1 http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pr/SU12_June_PR.html (last accessed October 22, 2013)
2 http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/ComingToCampus.html (last accessed October 22, 2013)
3 http://science.widener.edu/svb/olcc_safety/ (last accessed October 22, 2013)
4 http://www.ccce.divched.org/sites/www.ccce.divched.org/files/cccenls1996.pdf , p. 15 (last accessed October