Loranna K. Kitchen and Dr. Edward E. Green, Instructional Psychology and Technology
Advances in computer technology have affected many parts of our lives. The field of education is no exception. Increasingly, technology is used in schools to enhance students’ learning. Computer based learning programs offer students an opportunity for self-directed study to complement the instruction they receive in class. Teachers may also use educational technology in the classroom to more effectively teach students who respond to a wide variety of learning styles. With so many products on the market, both teachers and students need to know how to decide which products can help them in their teaching and learning. They must then determine how to implement this technology to gain the maximum benefit.
Two faculty members of the BYU Chemistry department, Professors Steven A. Fleming and Paul B. Savage, have recently developed an interactive CD-ROM of three dimensional animations of organic reaction mechanisms for use in teaching undergraduate organic chemistry courses. These reactions are presented from varied perspectives including ball and stick forms and space filling models. Each form can also be viewed with or without molecular orbitals. These three-dimensional animations help students visualize otherwise abstract ideas and teach them not only what happens in a particular reaction, but also why the reaction proceeds in a certain manner. The CD-ROM was developed to supplement a textbook written by Maitland Jones, a professor of chemistry at Princeton University. Professor Jones focuses on using molecular orbital theory to teach organic reactions. He is one of few in his field to use this approach extensively. Although learning molecular orbital theory is initially difficult, a student’s total understanding of organic chemistry grows as he or she learns from this perspective. Molecular orbital theory creates a framework of principles that students can build upon to more fully comprehend what they are learning and build on in the future. Organic chemistry professors at BYU have adopted this approach. A more recent version of the CD-ROM has been developed independent of the textbook.
While it is believed that an interactive CD-ROM of this type will enhance students’ abilities to understand organic reactions, this conclusion has not been extensively documented. I proposed to use research to confirm this hypothesis by showing that use of the CD-ROM in the classroom and on an individual basis correlates directly with a student’s ability to grasp the concepts that govern organic reactions. I also planned to determine how students can most effectively apply this tool to gain the greatest educational benefit. When fully analyzed, the information I gathered will also help teachers to know how they can use the CD-ROM in their classrooms to better teach difficult concepts to a diverse student population. It will help BYU faculty to know how best to apply this technology in their own classrooms to improve their teaching. Moreover, it will aid them in sharing this technology for use by teachers and students of chemistry both outside of BYU and at many educational levels.
Three sections of organic chemistry were involved in this study over the course of two semesters. The two semesters covered chemistry 351 and 352, the first two semesters of organic chemistry offered at BYU. A different professor taught each section, and one of the three sections was for chemistry majors only. During the semester, two sections, including the majors only section, used the CD-ROM in class while one section did not. Students from all sections had the option of purchasing the CD-ROM to use on their own. This resulted in four basic groups: 1) those who used the CD-ROM extensively both in class and out, 2) those who used the CD-ROM in class alone, 3) those who used the CD-ROM out of class, but had limited to no exposure to it in class, and 4) those who did not use the CD-ROM out of class and had limited to no exposure to it in class.
The data I used to test the hypotheses came from four main data sources. First, I created a time and use log on which students recorded how much time they spent with the CD-ROM on their own, which reactions they viewed, and any comments they had about the program and its usefulness. Second, I administered a learning orientation questionnaire based on research done by Margaret Martinez (1998) in the Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology. Third, I worked with the professors who taught each section to develop an exam question that would test a concept taught both in class and on the CD-ROM in order to determine if use of the CDROM increased students’ understanding of the concept. These three data sets were gathered during the first semester. For the fourth data source, I produced an attitudinal survey to discover students’ perceptions of organic chemistry based on their use of the CD-ROM. This survey was given near the end of the second semester. The first question used a Likert-type rating scale on which students rated their learning of organic chemistry on a range from strict memorization to more thorough understanding of concepts. The next multiple choice questions asked students to describe their initial perception of organic chemistry and then to tell whether or not that perception had changed over the course of the semester. The final question asked students about their use of the CD-ROM.
Results and Conclusions
Data from all data sources has been gathered and recorded. The data from the exam question for all sections and the data from the time and use log for the majors only section has been analyzed. In the majors only section, 23.8% of students received full credit on the exam question. The class average on the question was 48%. In the other section that used the CDROM in class, 12.4% of students received full credit, and the class average was 67.1%. Only 4.7% of students received full credit in the section that did not use the CD-ROM, and the class average was 17.6%. In the majors only section, no correlation was found between the amount of time spent using the CD-ROM and the performance on the test question. The majority of students commented that the CD-ROM was helpful in expanding their understanding of concepts in organic chemistry. The data that have been analyzed do support the hypothesis that the CD-ROM does increase students’ understanding of at least some concepts of organic chemistry. Further data analysis will show whether or not the amount of time spent after initial exposure to the CD-ROM affects students’ understanding of concepts. It will also indicate if use of the CD-ROM can improve students’ perceptions of organic chemistry.
- Martinez, M. (1998) . IP&T Measurement Project. Unpublished manuscript, Brigham Young University