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Cheminformatics OLCC: A CCCE Project in Intercollegiate Teaching and Learning

Robert E. Belford, David J. Wild, Leah R. McEwen and Antony J. Williams

November 4, 2013 - November 6, 2013

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/

Article PDF: 



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:

  1. OLCC I: Spring 1996 - Environmental and Industrial Chemistry.
  2. OLCC II: Spring 1998 - Environmental and Industrial Chemistry.
  3. OLCC 3: Fall 1998 - Pharmaceuticals, Their Discovery, Regulation and Manufacture.
  4. OLCC 4: Spring 2000 - Environmental and Industrial Chemistry.
  5. OLCC 5: Fall 2004 – Chemical Safety: Protecting Ourselves and our Environment

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.

  • Lecturer – Subject domain expert who functions as an online guest lecturer, and teaches to multiple classes.
  • Facilitator – Instructor of record who interacts face-to-face with students and teaches to one class. The facilitator is responsible for grades
  • Course – Intercollegiate course taught at multiple campuses.
  • Class – Unique class of students at a particular campus.

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

  • Curriculum Content Development
  • Curriculum Dissemination
  • Repurposable Archiving


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.

  • Course offers a new topic every week that is taught on multiple campuses (some modules may be longer).
    • Each class has a unique homepage based on the facilitators tagging of the TLOs.
    • All classes have the same schedule and guest lectures, but content is tailored to their needs.

    • Students and facilitators interact with lecturers via social media coupled to the module/TLO comment feature.
      • Follows ConfChem 2.0 model where comments trigger emails.
      • Enables intercollegiate interactions across campuses when multiple facilitators tag the same item.

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:

  • Representation of 2D Structures on computer
  • Characterizing 2D structures with descriptors and fingerprints
  • 2D chemical database searching systems
  • Reaction representation and databases
  • Representation and characterization of 3D chemical structures
  • Chemical structures on the web and in the scholarly literature
  • Representation of data (including crystallographic, spectral and photographic)
  • Description, organization and standardization of data and metadata
  • Smart spreadsheets, electronic notebooks and Web APIs
  • Introduction to semantic web, OWL and RDF schema
  • Introduction to text and data mining
  • Chemical applications of mobile devices
  • Cheminformatics and Green Chemistry
  • Cheminformatics and Chemical Safety

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)
  http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/ComingToCampus.html (last accessed October 22, 2013)
 http://science.widener.edu/svb/olcc_safety/ (last accessed October 22, 2013)
  http://www.ccce.divched.org/sites/www.ccce.divched.org/files/cccenls1996.pdf , p. 15 (last accessed October
    22, 2013)


What is the role of Cheminformatics in the Chemistry Library?

To date, every academic institution that I, my parents, or my kids have attended (as student or faculty), ranging from K-12 to graduate school, had a library. To me personally, the word “library” conjures up the thought of books, simple speaking, in my mind, a library is a place for books.  I am not alone either, and it makes news when schools open up libraries without books. What is the role of cheminformatics in the modern academic library, and will libraries evolve to include support for non-document centric modes of information communication and representation?  


Now along this vein there are sort of two things I am hoping the Cheminformatics OLCC can help do.  The first is that the resources our libraries can offer their students are contingent on their institution's budgets, and a typical community college is not able to offer its students what an institution like Stanford or Harvard can. I am hoping that in this course, librarians interacting with students, cheminformaticians, faculty and other librarians (representing this broad spectrum of institutions) can mesh out new resources that could be available to all of our students, including those of the high school and community college. The second thing is that bringing cheminformatics into the chemistry curriculum  could change the fundamental paradigm of how students and faculty use their library. What I am trying to say is that I do not think all schools have the need or resources to offer future courses in cheminformatics, but they all have libraries, and integrating the library into the Cheminformatics OLCC could be a way of providing future access to these valued and evolving resources.  This brings us back to my initial question, what is the role of cheminformatics in the chemistry library?

What is the role of the modern library in chemical education?

There is another angle that I believe needs to be brought into this discussion, and that is the role of the academic library in this new information landscape. From the days of my youth to the present, I have found librarians to be the most wonderful of people, always willing and eager to help others in their pursuit of knowledge and information. But today, how many of our students really know their librarian? How many students go beyond Google and Wikipedia? What is the role of cheminformatics in the modern science library? How is the academic library evolving so it can better support the needs of our faculty and students of chemistry in this new information landscape?

Making MOE accessible in Academia


I just wanted to drop a comment in here about Molecular Operating Environment (MOE) - a comprehensive, user friendly, computer- aided molecular design platform that is available to academic institutions. http://www.chemcomp.com/MOE-Molecular_Operating_Environment.htm

We have an especially attractive package for teaching large groups of students that may be of interest. If you are interested in finding out more about MOE and our teaching licenses program, please contact me at pkamya@chemcomp.com.

Thanks very much!


Thanks Petrina, this sounds

Thanks Petrina, this sounds interesting. Is the teaching package free? One of the problems I have is that companies want to charge me for an academic license for software even if it is used just in teaching, not research, but this is not feasible as there is no budget in universities for software for teaching, and anyway it is rather like free advertising for the companies - training the next generation of industry practitioners in using the software. 

Coping with diverse student backgrounds

Many of us would like to see our students gain a better understanding of cheminformatics.  The sort of courses that Bob wishes to develop, and other courses already in existence, are useful steps towards this goal.

I'd like to hear from those who have courses that are already operating. How do you deal with the very different backgrounds and abilities that students in your courses may have?

I'd like to think that any (presumably upper-level) cheminformatics course would not be merely hand-waving and descriptive, but delve into some of the logic, and even the mathematics, that underlie the analysis of large data pools. However, if the math is added at a level comprehensible to everyone, the better mathematicians will be bored, while if they are challenged, the less able mathematicians will be lost.

How should we deal with this? A bland, non-mathematical course would be accessible to all, but will such a course equip the average student to use the techniques, or merely to recognise them?

Hugh Cartwright

Student academic diversity

So you can actually look at the materials and assignments we use at IU at http://i571.wikispaces.com (graduate).

We made the decision not to require programming skills, but we do require students to do "hands on" projects with datasets, R, etc. This is a challenge for some of the students with less computation background, but it does help them build very practical skills.

Getting the right balance between accessibility to students with different backgrounds, and enabling good, deep practical, hands-on training is an ongoing experiment. I have previously taught this course as a "bland, non-technical" course and although it was OK I felt like it just wansn't properly equipping the students properly - as you say, they can recognize but not use techniques. I think we're somewhere close to a good balance now.

Another issue is getting access to tools - it's frustratingly hard to get academic licenses for free - even for teaching - so we can't train students in tools from Accelrys, Schrodinger, etc - although this is balanced by an increase in availabilty of open source and free tools - CDK, OpenBabel, R, etc

Indiana University Resources

For those who are interested in how some of this is playing out in our work at IU, here are some links that might be interesting. I'm running online / flipped courses there this semester (cheminformatics) and next semester (data science) and hope to learn a lot from those for our OLCC!

Learncheminformatics - links to online class materials and so on: http://learncheminformatics.com

Introductory Cheminformatics Graduate Course (online/flipped): http://i571.wikispaces.com

Data Science in Drug Discovery, Health and Translational Medicine Undergrad/Graduate course (online/flipped): http://dsdht.wikispaces.com

Note we are using very "basic" technologies - wikis, Youtube, Google Groups. This worries me a bit - what happens if Wikispaces disappears, for instance? - but it works, and seems far less complicated that trying to use some of the "all in one" online solutions like Google Coursebuilder and Blackboard. 

Target audience for OLCC

I am confused about the audience for Cheminformatics OLCC.

Prof. Wild's course at IU lists these Prerequisites:

Students should have a good foundational knowledge of data science tools, including familiarity with the R statistical package, and some experience with machine learning. Ability to program and some background in a healthcare field are desirable but not essential.

The information about Prof. Wild's book on the Lulu site also states that the book is aimed at life scientists and computer scientists in both industry and academia who need a rapid, flexible introduction to this field.

Is this also the expected background of students for the Cheminformatics OLCC?




Very good question. I should

Very good question. I should point out that almost all the students for our IU courses (I571, etc) are graduates - usually in an informatics related area like bioinformatics or complex systems. We also have quite a few pharma industry professionals taking the courses.

The audience for the OLCC is quite different - chemistry undergraduates - and the purpose is to expose them to the most critical computational techniques they need as they enter the workforce (or academia). 

This means the way we teach it, and possibly the content too, is quite different. For example, for teaching the *discipline* of cheminformatics, representaion of chemical structure information in central. However, this is not necessarily "actionable" knowledge for undergraduates. 

What should be in the syllabus is quite a big topic of discussion at the moment. 

The good news though is that so long as we have sufficient material, facilitators can create courses that meet the needs of their students. TLO's come with the idea of redundancy - we can have multiple ways to teach the same material



No chemistry prerequisites for th IU course, Prof. Wild?...

...  Or they are assumed?


Correct, no chemistry

Correct, no chemistry prerequisites, as we have biologists, etc. A basic knowledge of atomic structure is assumed, and also that students will back learn any chemistry necessary. Since there is very little reaction chemistry in the course, I don't want to exclude people for not having an org chem background. Again, this is one of those sliding scale things with no clear ideal point. 

More the reason that...

  1. ... the background of the students
  2. ...and the prerequisites for the Cheminformatics OLCC

must be specified keeping in mind

  1. its objectives,
  2. the teaching time available in a typical semester 
  3. availability of teachers and facilitators
  4. and the experimental nature of the teaching paradigm.

The curriculum definition can be taken up once these are in place.

All along I have assumed that it is meant for students who have had at least two years of chemistry after high school and have also taken some abstract mathematics courses, and have a fair idea of computer and web tools. I did not visualize that the students would know much statistics or the use of a package like R.

"For students to learn the skills they need to excel as chemists " is how the section "Why an OLCC in Cheminformatics? " in the lead paper begins. Can this be used as the basis for defining the academic parameters for this course?



Could it be fruitful to also consider the differences...

...between (in addition to the self-taught online course)

  1. a "teacher" using a "standard textbook" tuned to a set syllabus and pathway
  2. a "facilitator" using a standardized online course tuned to "the same" set syllabus and pathway?

(The "same" in (2): Is it expected to be?)


Who of the above has a higher degree of freedom?

Where would the variation be more? Across different teachers as in (1) or across different facilitators as in (2)?

How uniform would be the grading across institutions in (1)? Would the corresponding variation in (2) be less or more?

I feel we should not compare grading against only the "online" course, but also against the traditional teacher led course.

Thanks, Prof. Belford and co-authors for a fairly comprehensive document. I suggest that all co-authors should also initiate questions, even if it might be against norms,  where they feel a particular point is not getting attention



The role of the faciliataor

So in my view the facilitator has the "highest" level role here, of forming real courses out of TLO's, other materials and social networks. Without the facilitator, there is a many-many relationship of materials and lecturers to students, but the facilitator takes the role of a single point of order. It will be interesting to see how this works out, but from a students' perspective, I think this will be more like a "flipped classroom" than an online class - the difference with the "traditional" flipped classroom (such that there is such a thing) is there will also be the option for the discussion part to involve a wider group than those in the class at a single institution (including lecturers and other students)

I am currently running a graduate cheminformatics class at Indiana University that works as a flipped classroom for ~10 local students taking the course for credit, but we've also opened it up to ~60 other students "auditing" the class online - with privileges to use the materials and discuss in an online forum, but not to be graded. The interesting thing is that the credit students seem to be getting a much richer experience by the involvement of the larger number of external students

your experience will be valuable for many others

The idea is innovative and I am sure that many "global" courses will learn from your experience. The design of the modules in a cooperative way must be inspiring! The modules have to be good!

As I read, some ideas came to my mind:

I think that there is another type of interaction which is important in this format: the expert-expert or teacher-teacher interaction which you don't have usually in a common class.

I think that today’s web is fundamentally document-centric, but not only, and we should develop courses based on your format, but which rely more on video conferences (saved for other to view or to see them again) and less on texts.

I agree that the role of the facilitator is crucial, I am happy to see that in order to learn better human face to face interactions are better than other types of interactions.




You mention that assessment is a challenge. How would you compare the challenge of assessment in an online or hybrid course to that in a traditional classroom?

Assessment in hybrid, online and traditional classrooms

This is a very good question Kelly, and something I am hoping for input on. The dynamics of a hybrid course are different than an online course.  In an online course, I would assume the most obvious challenge is verification of who is doing the work, and the traditional type of exam would need to be proctored.  That is not a problem with a hybrid course, where the facilitator is present and meets face-to-face with the students.

I would say the biggest challenge for a hybrid course like an OLCC stems from the fact that it is a type of collaborative teaching, where the person delivering the course content (lecturer) is not the person awarding the grade (facilitator). If you ask, who is the teacher?  The initial response is probably the lecturer, but on deeper consideration, as far as students are concerned, it is the person giving the grade – the facilitator.  How do you fine-tune this so the lecturer and facilitator walk in “lock-step”, presenting students with a “seamless” presentation so that what they are tested on truly reflects what was lectured? This really is a challenge in an OLCC, where each week there are new lecturers, all of whom are interacting with students from multiple campuses.  I do not believe this assessment issue is a problem in the traditional or online course, where the person presenting the course material is usually the person assessing student learning.

The first phase of the project presents our current strategy to tackle this, where  through the use of participatory web technologies the lecturers work with facilitators to create TLOs, that can be customized to each class’s needs.

The other very important aspect we need to consider is a paradigm shift from the traditional lecture followed by an exam on the content lectured. The Cheminformatics OLCC is ideal for project based learning, and there is a lot of room for creativity.

Does anyone else on the list have experience with collaborative teaching and learning? With project-based teaching, learning and assessment? We are just starting to put together the curriculum and welcome all input.



>Does anyone else on the list

>Does anyone else on the list have experience with collaborative teaching and learning? With project-based teaching, learning and assessment? We are just starting to put together the curriculum and welcome all input.

I've co-taught courses in the classroom which have significant chemistry content but a diverse group of students (policy courses that attracted chemistry majors and education majors alike) and found that a the combination of short quizzes and group projects made sense to the class as a whole. The quizzes establish a common language and based on knowledge and the group projects enable peer learning. I suspect that would transfer to the OLCC environment in some modified form...


We are currently working on this for a class this coming spring at IU. The challenge is to make the assignments challenging and interesting for the students, but easy to grade (and in particular, easy to grade consistently). Right now, we are planning two kinds of assignments - lots of small quizzes (multi choice, can be automatically graded), and substantive assignments which require using tools such as R to do some filtering, prediction, etc - but the piece the students get graded on is a final output of using the tools where it is fairly easy to see if they can do it or not.

I think there is an option here for facilitators to create their own assignments, based on class size, level, and so on, and even share these with other facilitators.

I certainly think that having an active social network of faciliators (e.g. on a group forum) is very useful.