This project (2018-1-SE01-KA201-039098) has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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National Science Foundation and the Department of Education, Carnegie Mellon University
Online course, Web Site/Portal
17+ years old
The ChemCollective is a digital library of online activities for general chemistry instruction that engages students in more authentic problem-solving activities than those found in most textbooks. The ChemCollective is organized by a group of faculty and staff at Carnegie Mellon who are interested in using, assessing, and creating engaging online activities for chemistry education. A collection of online activities emphasizes the design and interpretation of experiments. This aim is achieved mainly through the ChemCollective “Virtual Lab,” which allows students to design and carry out their own experiments while experiencing representations of chemistry that go beyond what is possible in a physical laboratory. The software is available free of charge to all educators and students. The Virtual Lab works on almost all operating systems. In the virtual lab, the panel on the left is a customizable stockroom of chemical reagents, which may include common reagents or fictional materials that have properties specified by the teacher/instructor. The middle work space provides an area for performing experiments. The right panel provides multiple representations of the contents of the selected solution, including the temperature and pH, and a list of chemical species with amounts shown as moles, grams, or molar concentrations. These quantities are the players in the computational procedures of the course, and so this panel provides an explicit link between the paper-and-pencil calculations of the traditional course and the chemical experiments the student performs on the workbench. The virtual lab can record all student interactions for analysis. Students can review and learn chemistry concepts using virtual labs, simulations, and tutorials. The Virtual activities can be used as pre laboratory assignments and to teach the relation between laboratory procedure and measurement precision. You can then use ChemCollective as the place where students visit to access assignments and run Virtual Lab homework problems. In addition, there are number of scenario-based learning activities that embed chemistry concepts in real-world contexts so as to highlight the utility of chemistry to bigger problems in everyday science. All information how to use the software, customize and share the activities with the user community are available. Of the 117 virtual labs in the current collection, a lot of them were contributed by different groups in the user community. Contributions include both instructional materials and translations to other languages, and they come from instructors at universities, community colleges, and high schools.
Chemistry concepts are abstract and can be difficult to attach to real-world experiences. For this reason, High school chemistry courses focus on a concrete set of problem types that have become canonized in textbooks. These problem types emphasize development of the core notational and computational tools of chemistry. Even though these tools may form the underlying procedural knowledge base from which the “real stuff” can be approached, when taught out of contexts that show their utility or that draw connections to core ideas of science, they can appear disconnected. “Virtual lab” supports new forms of problem-solving, the activities allow students to use their chemistry knowledge in ways that resemble the activities of practicing chemists. In addition, “Virtual lab” provides students immediate feedback that explains the conceptual aspects of their error and allows the student to answer the question again. “Virtual lab” activities also challenge students to move beyond problem-solving strategies that are effective for completing home work but may not support deeper conceptual learning.

My idea is that better conceptual understanding is obtained if chemistry concepts are complemented with design and interpretation of experiments. The goal is not to replace, or even to emulate, the physical laboratory, but to supplement textbook problem-solving by connecting abstract concepts to experiments and real-world applications. Such activities may improve learning and may better help to bring the essence of science into the introductory chemistry classroom. The availability of online interactivity, combined with recent advances in better understanding of how students learn, creates the opportunity to reconceptualize the set of activities in a way that better conveys the power and beauty of chemistry to the large student populations enrolled in our introductory courses.