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Getting the project started

Here are a couple of questions I asked myself before I started this project.

1. What’s wrong with a plain old chalkboard to teach chemistry?  

Nothing, if that’s what you learned on.  But today’s students didn’t.  They’ve been “presented to” their entire academic lives using powerpoint, computers, digital whiteboards and plain old whiteboards.  Chalk talks are a bit dry.  Yes, a great lecturer could lecture from inside a cardboard box, without a board, hands tied behind her back and people would be enlightened. But most people aren’t these “great lecturers” we need a little help from visual aids.  Our ability to verbally paint pictures in people’s minds is limited, and this is especially so in chemistry.  I’m painting pictures of things my students have never seen before or things no one has seen with the naked eye.  So I need a little help.

Chalk is simple and it can be very effective, but several centuries of use have shown some drawbacks:  it’s messy (I’m constantly paranoid about chalkprints in inappropriate locations),  there is a large amount time spent facing the board, the background is monochrome black/green, the size of the classroom relative to the chalkboard is constantly increasing and finally chalk is transient.

A digital chalkboard has some advantages (and many issues as well).  I want to explore those, especially those that are unique to the presentation of chemistry using standard digital presentation tools.   I’ll go into those challenges in a future post, they are great, especially in a digital world of standard fonts and drawing palettes. 

2.  Why not stay in my own classroom and teach my own students?  

Why not reach out and help other students? I didn’t think I could do that until  I created my pilot YouTube video on balancing redox reactions in March, 2011.  I'm a little embarassed to show this here, but here it is on my original YouTube Channel:

It was a simple whiteboard capture, no audio and lots of text. I put it up to help my students before a test.  They just didn’t get the process of balancing redox equations and in office hours I spent a week demonstrating this over and over.  So I made a video of it.


In since then the video has been viewed 1604 times in over 32 countries on all major continents.  My class the quarter I created it had 84 students. I don’t think they watched it 19 times each, while they backpacked across the globe over the summer.  So I touched people who needed help on the other side of the  world.  That's pretty amazing!  I’m hooked on the idea expanding this impact.  Both through my own work or with collaborators making their own materials using the help I can provide through this blog.