Odyssey Electron Sharing – Chemistry ipad App Review

The kind folks at Wavefunction Inc. have supplied me with their full Odyssey general chemistry app suite and I will be reviewing each of these apps throughout the remainder of 2014.

odyssey_electron_sharing

This is the third of these reviews, and I will be discussing the Electron Sharing app which is available for purchase in the app store for $3.99 CAD (https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/odyssey-electron-sharing/id849135421?mt=8)

 

First Impressions:

At first, I was very curious what this app could bring to the table that the previously reviewed VSEPR (http://wordpress.viu.ca/key2chem/2014/07/03/odyssey-vsepr-app-chemistry-ipad-app-review/)  and Polar Bonds (http://wordpress.viu.ca/key2chem/2014/07/28/odyssey-polar-bonds-and-molecules-chemistry-ipad-app-review/)  apps could not. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down, as discussed in my final impressions.

Context:

Most first year general chemistry courses spend time discussing orbitals, electron density and bonding theories. At VIU our CHEM 140 is no exception.

 

The App:

The interface is very similar to the other Odyssey apps previously reviewed. There is a portion where the molecules are featured for manipulation and a portion which lists examples and has tabs for a glossary, some additional comments, and questions.  As well, some guidelines towards how students should approach using the app are given in the OBSERVE! tab.

photo 1

In this app, the molecules are only displayed as nuclei and electron clouds. Molecules can be rotated with a finger swipe, and expanded/shrunk with the pinch of the thumb and index finger. Nuclei can be shown as small spheres, medium-size spheres or the molecule can be shown as a space filling model.

photo 3

 

As well, the internuclear distance, and angle tools which have been featured in the two previously reviewed apps are also available.

photo 2

The main novel feature of this app is that the user may adjust the electron density shown, from very low where almost all (99.9%) of the electrons are enclosed by the isosurface, to very high where only 30% of the electrons are enclosed by the isosurface. There are 30 example molecules that can be examined, and some multiple choice questions are pre-loaded into the app. Similar to the previous apps reviewed, the questions can be scored automatically by the app.

photo 6

Final Impressions:

Ultimately, I believe the goal of this app is to provide students/users with a view of molecules beyond the simple ball and stick model. It does this by focusing on nuclei and electron clouds, and does allow for the manipulation of the electron density shown. However, it seems the other Odyssey apps accomplish this already with electrostatic potential maps etc., and almost all modern textbooks include electron cloud and electrostatic potential diagrams already (granted, they are static in nature).

I do not believe there is enough to this app to justify the $3.99 pricetag, and I think many students would lose interest after a few minutes. This app was a little disappointing after reviewing the previous Odyssey apps.

Odyssey Polar Bonds and Molecules – Chemistry ipad App Review

The kind folks at Wavefunction Inc. have supplied me with their full Odyssey general chemistry app suite and I will be reviewing each of these apps throughout the remainder of summer 2014.

 

This is the second of these reviews, and I will be discussing the Polar Bonds and Molecules App which is available for purchase in the app store for $3.99 CAD (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/odyssey-polar-bonds-molecules/id869677755?mt=8)

odyssey_polar_bonds_and_molecules_icon

First Impressions:

At first, I was a little baffled why this is its own separate app, as there is a polarity function built into the VSEPR app, which was previously reviewed on this blog (http://wordpress.viu.ca/key2chem/2014/07/03/odyssey-vsepr-app-chemistry-ipad-app-review/). However, there are a few additional features built into this app which are not found in the VSEPR app.

 

Context:

Most first year general chemistry courses spend some time discussing chemical bonding, covering topics such as: ionic and covalent bonds, bond polarity, electronegativity, and Lewis structures. At VIU, our CHEM 140 course is no exception and covers electronegativity, determining if bonds are covalent or polar covalent, drawing polarity arrows (dipole moments), and determining net molecular dipoles. The textbook we use has a fair amount of examples and end-of-chapter questions, but these are certainly skills that many students may want to seek additional practice and resources to master.

 

The App:

The interface is very similar to the VSEPR app (previously reviewed). There is a portion where the molecules are featured for manipulation and a portion which lists examples and has tabs for reference data, a glossary, some additional comments, and questions.

photo 1

Molecules can be rotated with a finger swipe, and expanded/shrunk with the pinch of the thumb and index finger. They can be displayed as Ball and Wire, Tube, Ball and Spoke or Space Filling models.

photo 4

One feature that I really like is the ability to show the molecules as electrostatic potential diagrams, which can be enabled/disabled by clicking the “electron density” selection box on the right side just above the list of example molecules.

 

The ruler button allows for the calculation or the bond length, angle, and the dipole moment.

photo 5photo 5

And the dipole moment can be shown using the arrow notation or as a partial charge by clicking the remaining two buttons on the left side window of the app.

photo 2photo 3

In the window on the right side of the app, some examples of the common bond types are available (non-polar covalent, polar covalent and ionic). 25 additional molecules, which are not classified into the three bonding types mentioned, are also available as examples. Some guidelines towards how students should approach using the app are given in the OBSERVE! tab. A table of reference electronegativities is provided under the reference data tab, and a glossary is provided as well under its own separate tab.photo 2

photo 3The comments tab provides some additional technical notes, such as noting how to change the polarity arrow from the common use form (positive end to negative end) to the not-so-commonly used IUPAC (negative end to positive end).

 

The questions which are pre-loaded into the app are multiple choice and are similar to those which appear in the end-of-chapter section of most textbooks and focus on the difference between the bonding types and molecular polarity. These questions would likely get students to open up the example molecules to find the correct answers, and the questions can be scored automatically by the app.

photo 4

Final Impressions:

This app does provide some additional features beyond the VSEPR app, including dipole moment calculation, and questions specific to polarity and types of bonds. Some may wonder why this was made into a seperate app, and not just included with the VSEPR app to make one really great app. I really like the use electrostatic potential diagrams, as I try to show these types of diagrams as much as possible in class.

 

I think a really important learning tool that could be added by the developers would be some way to have students predict the net molecular dipole moment (the direction of the polarity arrow for a molecule with more than one polar covalent bond). Many students struggle with the idea of vector summation and predicting net molecular dipole moment.

 

I will certainly provide a link to this app when we discuss this topic in the fall semester, and hopefully I can get some student feedback.

 

 

Disclosure:

The author received an evaluation copy of the software from Wavefunction Inc., but received no other compensation.

Odyssey VSEPR App – Chemistry ipad App Review

The kind folks at Wavefunction Inc. have supplied me with their full Odyssey general chemistry app suite and I will be reviewing each of these apps throughout the remainder of summer 2014.

 

The first app I have chosen to review is the Odyssey VSEPR Theory app (https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/odyssey-vsepr-theory/id869643629?mt=8), which sells in the app store for $3.99 CAD.

odyssey_vsepr_logo

Some Context:

Like many first year general chemistry courses, at VIU our CHEM 140/150 courses cover the concept of VSEPR theory, and how to determine Lewis structure, molecular shape and polarity. These are fundamental concepts which many students struggle with, perhaps due to the 3D nature of molecular shapes or perhaps due to the vector summation required to determine a net dipole moment. To give students experience with these skills, we have included a “dry lab activity” on Bonding and Structure over the past several years. One aspect of this activity is that students are asked to fill out a table (with the formatting shown below) for eight molecules.

 

Figure 1. CHEM 140 Drylab Table example.

Figure 1. CHEM 140 Drylab Table example.

Traditionally we bring model kits for the students to play around with, and have copies of the textbook available and opened to the relevant chapter. However, when I saw this app I was immediately excited that we could use it to improve this particular dry lab.

 

The App:

The interface is broken into two portions, an area where molecules are featured for manipulation, and an area that features both a table of generic geometries possible (broken down by the number of lone pairs and electron domains) and a bunch of example molecules.

 

Figure 2. VSEPR app 1.

Figure 2. VSEPR app 1.

 

In the molecule manipulation window, you can rotate the molecules in 3D with a swipe of your finger, or expand/shrink them with a pinch of the thumb and index finger. The molecule can be displayed as wire, ball and wire, tube, ball and spoke and space filling models.

Figure 3. Molecule representation options.

Figure 3. Molecule representation options.

 

As well, the lone pairs of the central atom and net molecular dipole moment arrow can be added or removed with a single click to each of the right most buttons. The distance between two atoms can be determined by clicking on the ruler, and selecting the distance option, then selecting the atoms of interest.

Figure 4. Distance and angle from ruler button.

Figure 4. Distance and angle from ruler button.

Figure 5. Distance calculated.

Figure 5. Distance calculated.

 

Similarly, the bond angle between three atoms can also be calculated by clicking on the ruler, and selecting the angle option, then selecting the atoms of interest.

 

Figure 6. Bond angle calculated.

Figure 6. Bond angle calculated.

 

There are questions pre-loaded into the app with multiple choice answers that force the user to work through several of the example molecules.

Figure 7. In app questions.

Figure 7. In app questions.

The responses can be automatically scored in the app, and after trying most of the questions there is the option to view the correct answers.

Figure 8. Question Scoring.

Figure 8. Question Scoring.

 

A glossary is also included, which defines several terms including: axial, dipole, dipole moment, equatorial, ligand, lone pair and VSEPR.

 

Figure 9. Glossary.

Figure 9. Glossary.

Impressions:

Although the app is limited to the “canned examples” included, there are a decent amount and they certainly cover the fundamentals explored in a typical discussion of VSEPR at the first year general chemistry level. I plan to use this app in the fall semester to highlight the 3D nature of molecular shape in my CHEM 140 lecture by hooking up my ipad mini to the project. If we are able to scrounge up a class set of ipads, I could see this replacing or enhancing the current pen-to-paper method used in the dry lab.

 

Disclosure:

The author received an evaluation copy of the software from Wavefunction Inc, but received no other compensation.

The Post-Assessment Reflection (PAR)

As an instructor, it is really frustrating and disappointing when students receive back a marked assessment (Quiz, Test, Report etc.), look at the grade and then shove it directly into the back of their backpack; never to see the light of day again. The hours of careful marking, writing helpful comments or explanations can seem almost a waste.  More importantly, students are ignoring valuable feedback, which may allow them to improve their understanding and their grades on future assessments.

 

To address this problem I have included Post-Assessment Reflections (PAR) in my CHEM 231 and 232 organic chemistry courses for each quiz and test. The PAR is essentially a quiz I have placed in D2L that they can complete on their own time. It asks them specific questions about their performance on the quiz, and what they plan to focus on to improve in future assessments. Questions can be general in nature and reused in subsequent PAR’s, or very targeted and specific to a particular assessment.

 

A typical set of questions for a PAR in CHEM 232 S2014:

Were the types of questions on the quiz what you expected?

With what type(s) of questions did you do well?

With what type(s) of questions can you improve?

What do you plan to do to improve for the next quiz or exam?

Do you have any other comments or questions regarding the material covered in this assessment?

 

I make each PAR available foonly one week (using restriction settings in D2L) after handing back a marked assessment, which encourages students to look over their assessment immediately. This way they can institute changes to their study habits sooner than later. After reading student PAR’s, I try to follow up with those who indicated they want additional materials, or further explanation. I think I surprised a few students, when I emailed them to schedule an office hour appointment or to provide additional study materials the day after they wrote their comments.

 

To motivate students to complete the PAR’s I gave them a total combined weighting equivalent to one of the quizzes in the course (2% of their final grade). ‘Grading’ can be performed manually for short or long answer questions, or you can set D2L to automatically mark multiple choice questions and export the quiz into the grade book. I mark the PAR as ‘Complete’ or ‘Incomplete’ and have found that most students do complete it. However, you can certainly tell that some students put less than a desired amount of effort into their reflections. Some students also try to perform a PAR without actually having shown up to class (or to my office) to receive back their marked assessment. To circumvent this, I inform students that no credit will be given without having their assessment in hand – it is really difficult to reflect on your own performance when the assessment is sitting on the instructor’s desk.

 

Surprisingly some students also see the PAR it as a convenient forum to complain. Perhaps, this is due to the perceived anonymity of writing comments online. The complaints that I have received this year are similar to typical student comments in course evaluations. The complaints range over many topics such as the lecture material, the pacing of the lecture, or the difficulty of the assessments. The most common complaints are often contradictory between students – for instance some expressing that the lecture course is going too fast or too slow, or that a particular assessment was too easy or too hard.

 

Despite the drawbacks listed in the previous two paragraphs, I do feel it is a useful exercise. It encourages students to reflect and take ownership on their studies, and provides valuable regular feedback to me as an instructor.

 

Further information on setting up quizzes or the grade book can be found on the VIUlearn Wiki:

https://mediawiki.viu.ca/wiki/Quizzes

https://mediawiki.viu.ca/wiki/Grades

Writing Examinations

As a newer teaching faculty member, I find one of the most difficult and time consuming parts of my job is writing and marking exams. By comparison, preparing lecture material seems much easier to me. As a subject matter expert, it is natural for me to present my thoughts and viewpoint on the course material in a clear and understandable format. There are also a lot of resources available in the textbook and instructor resources for preparing lectures. This is not the case for writing good quizzes and exams, if you are lucky the previous instructor(s) may have provided their old exams. However, they may have emphasized different viewpoints on the course material. As well, old versions of exams have a habit of ending up in current students hands.

Writing the quiz or test:

When writing a quiz or test there are certain factors I try to consider (in alphabetical order):

–          Clarity of the question: The language used should be clear and understandable, enabling the students to focus their attention on the solution to the problem instead of wondering what the question is asking. Sometimes including what units the answer should be expressed in, or how many points they should include in their explanation can make a question much clearer to the student.

–          Difficulty level:  I find selecting the right mix of questions at the right difficulty levels is one of the most challenging aspects of writing an exam. It is easy to write an exam that everyone aces or that everyone struggles with. Hitting that sweet spot where everyone is challenged and students’ knowledge levels are demonstrated with that perfect Gaussian distribution is difficult. At VIU we use a fairly standard grade scale (see image below), where around a C+ is the average grade.

VIU Grade Scale (http://www.viu.ca/calendar/GeneralInformation/generalregulations.asp#gradevalue)

VIU Grade Scale (http://www.viu.ca/calendar/GeneralInformation/generalregulations.asp#gradevalue)

 

–          Ease of marking: Sometimes spending 30 minutes incorporating ‘ease of marking’ design elements into the exam can save you hours of marking. Mentioned before in ‘Clarity of the question’ including additional instructions can focus student responses and give less extreme answers. I am a big fan of using boxes where students place their final answers. This provides structure and saves time searching about the page for their answer (see image below).

Question Box Example

Question Box Example

–          Level of understanding demonstrated (types of questions): An exam should provide a forum where students can demonstrate more than just their ability to regurgitate information. Unfortunately many students enter my class with study strategies that focus primarily on memorization and regurgitation. I try to incorporate a mixture of multiple choice, short answer and long answer questions. Each of these question types can demonstrate understanding at different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom’s_taxonomy) (See image below).

Modified Bloom's Taxonomy

Modified Bloom’s Taxonomy

–          Time available to the student: A common complaint I receive from some students is that there wasn’t enough time to write the exam. Yet, for the same exam I will have other students hand in the paper twenty to thirty minutes early.  There is no easy answer as to how much material to include and how much time to give students. Some will suggest that multiplying the time it takes you to complete the exam by three or four is a good starting point. Adjusting the number of questions or time allotted is a balancing act, and honestly I probably lean more towards challenging the students for time. The student’s abilities to assess their own knowledge of the material and what the questions require should allow them to prioritize and manage their time. These are important skills to develop, that will pay off outside of the classroom. In the real world, missing deadlines or not completing important tasks can equate to a more serious penalty than a few marks lost.

 

 

How to turn your ipad into a document camera/Teaching chemistry in a room not designed for teaching chemistry (or many other subjects)

This semester I am teaching a fairly large section (for VIU) of 72 students in CHEM 232 (Organic Chemistry II). VIU, like many other colleges and small universities, has only a handful of lecture theatres which can actually accommodate this many students.

VIU Lecture Theatres (from VIU Website)

VIU Lecture Theatres (from VIU Website http://www.viu.ca/technology/general/InClass.asp)

I am teaching in room 203, building 355. It is a lecture theatre which can hold about 105 students, and is organized into three sections (left, centre and right) with tiered theatre seating.  This is a standard arrangement for lecture theatres, and usually works fairly well. However, this particular theatre was not designed with modern teachers in mind. The lecture screen dominates the main viewing area, and there are no permanent writing spaces. A small chalkboard on wheels has been placed in the room (and is usually there, but sometimes gets moved to another adjacent room), but there is insufficient room to place the chalkboard in the main viewing area without placing it at an awkward angle simultaneously blocking the fire exit.

A chemist's rendition of room 203

A chemist’s rendition of room 203

I teach using a hybrid of powerpoint and written examples. I find theory and text are readily absorbed by students via point-by-point powerpoint presentations. However, as one of my graduate school professors once said “Organic Chemistry is done with a pencil in your hand.” Complicated mechanisms and mathematical problems are best approached by talking the students through examples, showing stepwise solutions by hand. This posed a large problem in the room where I teach, which is ill-equipped for this type of teaching. I tried using the portable chalkboard, but could tell students had severe problems seeing. There is an overhead projector in the room, but I find writing on overheads gets smudged easily, and the projector would need to be set up directly in front of my front row students, blocking their view of everything.

 

Student View from Front Left

Student view from front row, left side

Student's view from front centre

Student’s view from front row, centre

Student's view from front right

Student’s view from front row, right side

 

 

 

 

 

 

Student View middle, far left side

Student view middle of class, far left side

Student view back of class, right side

Student view back of class, right side

 

 

 

 

 

 

After discussion with Michael Paskevicius at CIEL, we came up with a solution to the problem that would not break the bank: using my own personal ipad mini as a document camera. Document cameras take up very little space and provide high quality projection of paper, writing, or whatever else you can place beneath them. A typical modern document camera costs ~500$ (eg http://www.epson.ca/cgi-bin/ceStore/jsp/Product.do?sku=V12H377020). However, using the free stage document camera app (https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/stage-interactive-whiteboard/id584574701?mt=8), a lightning to VGA adaptor, an ipad or ipad mini and a stand to support the ipad we can make a portable, good resolution document camera. The student view images above show the document camera in action, but please keep in mind these are low-resolution images taken with student smartphones. I like using the document camera as I can write out examples by hand, on paper. I can print out example questions directly onto the paper, there is no smudging, and I can use cheap, multi-coloured pens. Student response has been very strongly supportive of the change to using the ipad document camera, particularly from the students in the front rows whose views were obscured by the podium, and those in the back corners.

 

ipad support

ipad support

Lightning to VGA Adaptor

Lightning to VGA adaptor

ipad in support with VGA connector running Stage

ipad in support with VGA connector running Stage

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Equipment:

ipad support: ~65$, purchased online by CIEL

Lightning to VGA adaptor: 55$ + GST at VIU bookstore

Stage document camera software: Free (pro version downloaded for 4.99$ as well)

*The Stage software has a professional version available for 4.99$, which allows for video recording, and I plan to test this out further making some video tutorials. However, it could hypothetically be used in class but I would think the usual classroom noises would detract from the audio quality.

 

*I would like to thank my CHEM 232 S2014 students for sharing their images for use in this blog post*

 

Creating Lab Video Demonstrations and Tutorials

I have been making video demonstrations and tutorials to augment the learning experience in both the lecture and lab for the courses that I teach. I have put most of my effort into the laboratory portion of the courses CHEM 140 (General Chemistry I) and CHEM 231(Organic Chemistry I). I chose these courses as they introduce the majority of techniques necessary for the entire year and they have the highest enrollment in the chemistry department. My focus on the laboratory components is based on a common student disconnect between the theory involved, and the actions performed in the lab. I believe presenting laboratory theory and technique in easily accessible, short videos helps students to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

To create these videos, I first went through the lab manuals and made a list of the most important techniques and concepts. These are the places that myself and other instructors have noted students struggled with or performed incorrectly. I then applied for a CIEL LITE grant, and received ~450$ to purchase the equipment necessary to make the videos. Unfortunately, I was unable to purchase any software, but made do with freeware available.

 

The Equipment:

Live action components of the videos were filmed using a JVC 8GB High-Definition Flash Memory Camcorder (GZ-E220BU) (199.99$). This inexpensive lightweight camcorder produced fairly good quality video recording, but had less than ideal audio, memory and battery life. The purchase of a tripod would have likely improved the film quality.

Scan Feb 3, 2014, 9.05 AM-page1

High quality audio voiceovers were recorded using a Blue Microphone SnowBall iCE USB Microphone (78908Q) Model Number: 1974 (99.99$). This is probably my favourite piece of equipment. Plugging directly into my laptop’s USB port, I could immediately record excellent quality audio.

Scan Feb 3, 2014, 9.04 AM-page1

Video annotation was performed using a Wacom Bamboo Capture Pen & Touch Tablet (CTH470M) (99.99$). I found this particular tablet to be very frustrating, as the sensitivity of the device was less than optimal. Stray marks and missed pen strokes made annotation a time consuming chore. I found myself re-writing my annotation several times to achieve a product I was happy with.

Scan Feb 3, 2014, 9.07 AM-page1

The Software:

 Audio Recording and Editing:

 Audio recording and editing was performed using the freeware software Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/). This powerful software is very user friendly and allowed for easy editing of audio. I found audio editing was necessary, as I am definitely not a professional voice actor. I found myself making mistakes, having awkward pauses and saying “umm” all too frequently.

  audacity_toolbar2

Screen Capture:

Screen capture and some light video editing was initially performed using the freeware software Active Presenter (http://atomisystems.com/activepresenter/). This software did a fairly good job of screen capture without a time-limitation or distracting watermark like other freeware software on the market. However, I found it was not optimal for editing of combined audio and video. Unfortunately, near the end of the CHEM 140 set of videos it inexplicably had some major crashes making it unusable. I contacted their user support and tried their recommendations but the software remains unusable to this date.

 

Currently I use the freeware software Jing (http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html) to perform all of my screen capturing. It has a time limitation of 5 minutes/video, produces lower resolution videos than Active Presenter, and has no editing features. However, it has never crashed!

 

Video Editing:

After the inexplicable crashes by Active Presenter I tried other video editing software including Windows Live Movie Maker (version 2011) and Adobe Premiere Elements 9. Windows Live Movie Maker is the more user friendly of the two, but I found it would often produce videos with glitchey pixelation in places. I switched to using Adobe Premiere Elements 9, which came pre-loaded on my HP laptop. It is certainly less user friendly with a higher learning curve of use, but produces higher quality videos without the glitchey pixelation problem of Windows Live Movie Maker.
Video Distribution:

Videos were uploaded to Vancouver Island University’s Kaltura based Video Media Repository (VIUTube – https://viutube.viu.ca/public/category/1_Home). VIUTube can accept most popular video file formats, but is limited to a 2 GB upload maximum. I found I often used .avi files, for their decent quality and mid-level file size. The videos were then embedded into the course’s learning management system Desire2Learn. Students could then access videos from essentially any smart device.

viutube_image

Some thoughts on Textbooks, Open Textbooks and Reviewing for BC Campus

Textbooks are one of the primary resources of instruction for most courses at the university level. They can act as a framework

There are over a dozen Organic Chemistry Textbooks available

There are over a dozen Organic Chemistry Textbooks available

or backbone to the topics addressed in the course by providing explanations, examples, and practice problems to students. An ideal textbook should be well organized and clearly written, at a level that does not confuse or frustrate students with unnecessary jargon, idioms or colloquialisms. In the sciences, and many other fields, there are three or four large publishing companies which dominate the textbook market. They offer professional quality books for almost every university science course offered, written by talented authors. These texts are scrutinized by a team of editors and reviewers and consistently updated with new editions. For the courses that I currently teach, Organic Chemistry I and II, there are over a dozen good quality textbooks that I could have used, each with minor pros and cons.  Unfortunately, these textbooks all share one very negative thing in common, a price tag between 125-200 dollars.

organic with coins

The current textbook with solution manual assigned at VIU costs ~150$

The high price of current edition textbooks can be a large burden on our financially strapped students. A student with a full course-load of five classes per semester, could conceivably pay up to 2000$ per year on textbooks! At British Columbia’s current minimum wage of 10.25$/hour, this would take nearly 195 hours of work to pay for. Many instructors, school districts and universities are now examining the use of Open Textbooks, open-copyright freely available resources, which would cut costs to simply the printing and binding of the books (25-50$ each). BCcampus has been tasked with co-ordinating a project to create or adapt existing open textbooks for the 40 highest enrolled first and second year courses at public post-secondary institutions (http://open.bccampus.ca/about-2/). In the summer of 2013, I was selected to review an existing Organic Chemistry open textbook:  Organic Chemistry With a Biological Emphasis Volume 1 (http://open.bccampus.ca/find-open-textbooks/?uuid=f01f98b4-925d-4e94-bc82-c1d707e6280e&contributor=&keyword=&subject=Chemistry).

Soderberg textbook

Open Textbook Reviewed for BC Campus

For a couple of weeks during the summer, I would take a hard copy of the textbook (provided by BCcampus) with me to the neighbourhood coffee shop to read. I found the text to be written in a clear, understandable voice, but definitely lacked the ‘polish’ or refinement of the professional (for profit) textbooks. While the core of the text was generally good, many little things were lacking like figure numbers, figure quality, typos, number of examples, number and quality of practice problems and lack of instructor resources. In other words, the author Dr. Timothy Soderberg did a great job conveying the majority of the material, but just did not have the resources to fine-tune the rest of the text like a major publishing company could. I have a feeling this is a common problem with open texts, and until there is sufficient funding and time invested to remedy this; many instructors may keep assigning the professional (for profit) textbooks. Personally, I have not switched to the open textbook. Many students find Organic Chemistry I and II are some of the most challenging courses they take, and I believe I should assign and provide only the most clear, and understandable resources that give them the best chances of success. For the moment, that means I will continue to assign our 150$ textbook which covers both courses.

ScreenChomp – Whiteboard App Review

I have been working on video tutorials for general and organic chemistry since the start of 2013.  Recently I have been trying to take advantage of my iPad for this purpose, but found very few good quality screencapture or whiteboard apps. The app I have chosen to review, ScreenChomp for iPad, is in my opinion the best option currently available.

 

ScreenChomp is a free app developed by TechSmith, the same people that have brought us the industry standard screencasting software Camtasia, and the free screencapture program Jing. ScreenChomp is a whiteboard app, which means it can capture drawing and writing on its whiteboard surface, but cannot capture other programs like a screencapture program. It is also able to capture surprisingly good audio, allowing you to chalk talk effectively. You can insert pictures as  the background, allowing for explanation of diagrams or talking through individual powerpoint slides. Once you are finished recording, the video is uploaded to ScreenChomp’s server and can be shared as a link, or tweeted to your followers. The feature that really sets this app apart from its competitors is that you can also download your video file as an .mpeg4 file. This enables you to edit, combine or otherwise modify your video, however you like, in a separate video editing software.

 

The main drawback to using this app is that the pen tools do not allow for optimal fine control, making my already messy writing appear even more childish. At least several colours are available to try to pretty up my writing. For an example of a video made using ScreenChomp, view my ‘Drawing a cyclohexane chair’ tutorial (link below). Video was captured with ScreenChomp, audio with Audacity, editing in Adobe Premiere Elements:

http://wordpress.viu.ca/key2chem/2013/09/05/drawing-a-cyclohexane-chair-conformation/

I recommend using ScreenChomp for quick explanations or chalk talks at ‘low resolution’, but for longer/complex purposes use a pc or mac based screencapture software like camtasia or active presenter.

 

Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Chemistry App Review: ChemDraw for iPad *Update*

A major update has just been released for the ChemDraw app. It seems the folks at PerkinElmer really listened to the feedback they received from users and reviewers because they have addressed most of the major issues I ranted about earlier.

The app has gone from a mediocre novelty to a truly useful product that I can recommend to students or colleagues with a straight face.

Sharing capabilities are now excellent, you can save your drawings as images, .pdf’s or as .cdxml.  Dropbox functionality is now included, and you can even tweet or post on facebook directly (although I don’t foresee myself posting a reaction scheme on facebook very often)

Text can now be placed into your drawings, allowing for the inclusion of reaction conditions. You can even change font, colour and size.

The choice of arrows has been expanded to include most typical arrows like resonance arrows and equilibrium arrows.

The overall style has changed to the industry standard ACS style sheet, but it would be nice if additional styles could be used as well.

Finally, a series of templates has been introduced including bicyclics, Fischer and Newman projections and chair conformations. This new feature is really ideal for students taking introductory organic as they learn about stereochemical relationships and representing organic molecules.

My one remaining complaint: I would really like to have the align and distribute objects options, as they really help to make clear, professional documents. Maybe this will be included in a future update, but as it stands I now recommend this app for both instructors and students.