For Michael Lewis, Associate Professor of Chemistry at SLU, student participation in the classroom is a vital part of the learning process. Now, with a new app called ChemDraw®, which allows students and teachers to draw chemical structures and reactions, Lewis believes that he has found a tool that will allow all of his students to be active, engaged learners.
“You end up with the same few students that come up to the blackboard,” said Lewis, speaking of the students that regularly participated without ChemDraw. “Only students who performed well, learned quickly and weren’t afraid to get the answer wrong would participate.”
With the ChemDraw app, however, Lewis noticed that more students were getting involved.
“Everybody participated, especially when I encouraged them not to put their names on the answers,” he said.
One reason ChemDraw was able to increase class participation was due to the medium through which information was presented. The main purpose of the app is to draw chemical structures and reactions that are available in a mobile, personal setting. ChemDraw brings the blackboard at the front of the class into the lap of the student.
Lewis had been looking for a similar type of app since last spring. At that time, he changed the structure of his Principles of Chemistry II class, having the students learn the material at home and then do practice problems in the classroom. Lewis found this new method of teaching effective, but it didn’t accomplish enough.
“Ultimately, it was still me writing problems at the front with students yelling at me with what to write. I still relied on students raising their hands,” Lewis said about the spring class. Looking for a better way to get more students involved, Lewis opted to use ChemDraw for his summer organic chemistry course.
PerkinElmer, the company that owns ChemDraw, provided Lewis’ entire organic chemistry class with iPads and the ChemDraw app. Lewis would e-mail problems to the class, then display some answers at the front of the class and discuss the problems with the students.
According to Lewis, the app was a success in that summer class due to the increased class participation. Students from his class agreed that the app had the potential to enhance understanding of the material. Joshua Korba, one of the Lewis’ students, found the app very useful when studying with other students.
“I helped one of my friends by sending her a structure I made and explaining how to get to thatcertain step,” he said.
Amanda Vest, another student in the summer course, stated that the app had a lot of potential in the classroom.
“It is a really great tool for when a professor is explaining a new concept,” she said. “You can practice it, in the room, and the professor can gain a really good understanding of how well we understand the concept on the spot.” She added that the class became very interactive when discussing right and wrong answers to the problems that Lewis put up.
Despite these positives, the layout and some of the features needed improvement according to Lewis and his students. In addition, many students believed that room to take notes next to the main screen would be helpful in learning the material. Vest disliked the lack of organization in the way the app saved structures.
PerkinElmer, however, has been working to rectify these problems. The company received feedback from SLU students and Lewis, all of who will be an integral part in the development of ChemDraw. Text boxes have been added in the newest update of the app, and according to Lewis, the notebook idea proposed by students was well received and will be added.
Lewis intends to use ChemDraw in class this spring if it’s available on the web and has undergone appropriate improvements.
Still, he finds that the main strength of the app is that it comes in a medium familiar and interesting to the current generation of students.
“This technology helps us meet our students where they are, and where they are right now is that they are a part of a generation that grew up with technology like tablets and the web being widely available. This is how they consume information, and that is really what education is.”