The ChemCollective   NSDL and CMU

ChemCollective DL

1. Introduction

2. Support for collaboration

2.a. Learning technologist

2.a.i. Virtual labs

2.a.ii. Tutorials

2.b. Content expert

2.c. Learning scientist

3. Assessment

3.a. Learning assessment

3.b. Collection assessment

4. Future plans

5. Acknowledgements

6. References

Downloadable PDF version


EX2 lectures

Virtual Lab

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The ChemCollective Digital Library

David Yaron*, Michael Karabinos*, Karen Evans±, Jordi Cuadros‡, Jodi Davenportß, Gaea Leinhardt† and James G. Greeno†

    *Department of Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh PA 15213
    ßDepartment of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
    †Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh PA 15213
    ±Department of Education, Mercyhurst College, Erie PA 16546
    ‡Institut Químic de Sarrià, Via Augusta 390, 08017 Barcelona

The ChemCollective ( is a digital library of activities for introductory college and high school chemistry. The collection includes virtual labs that allow students to design and carry out their own experiments, scenario based learning activities that invite students to apply their knowledge to real world situations, and interactive tutorials that support student problem solving. A central goal in creating this library is to allow community contributions that can interatively improve the materials. One way we have gone about meeting this goal has been to build in support for asynchronous contributions from chemical educators, learning technologists, and learning scientists.

1. Introduction

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 current textbook problems2-7. This is a focused digital library collection that is meant to function as a subportion of the larger national libraries embodied in the ChemDL and NSDL (National Science Digital Library). Our goal is to pursue an expanded vision of a library collection, namely, that of supporting the chemistry educational community in a way that allows us to work together to address some of the educational challenges involved in teaching and learning introductory chemistry.

A primary anticipated benefit is that such a collection can redress one of the major challenges facing educational development projects, that of disseminating educational innovations beyond the research group that developed them. Our premise was that the solution to this dissemination challenge lies not in merely developing new strategies for marketing and delivery. Rather, the "dissemination challenge" is a symptom of a flaw in current development practices that treat materials development and dissemination as a two-step process. This project uses digital library structures to shorten the timescale usually associated with the develop-assess-disseminate-modify cycle by engaging the community in the development process itself. The role of the digital library collection is then not only to make materials available to instructors, but also to empower them to adapt existing materials to their local needs and to create their own materials. A longer term goal is to gather information that can be used to understand how the materials impact student learning.

The materials in the collection fall into the following three broad categories:

  • Virtual labs and java applets that bridge the procedural knowledge of the course with authentic chemistry by, for instance, allowing students to perform experiments that test the results of their calculations or to use their procedural knowledge to design and carry out experiments.

  • Scenario based learning activities that embed such authentic chemistry activities in real world contexts that highlight the utility of chemistry to bigger problems in everyday science or the broader scientific enterprise. Examples include our Mixed Reception murder mystery activity and our Ozone activity for kinetics.

  • Tutorials that combine instruction on key concepts with practice problems that are scaffolded through hints and feedback on student responses. This is a relatively recent addition to the collection prompted by instructor requests for materials that can bring students up to the point where they can engage in the more challenging activities of the above two types. Many of these tutorials were created for use in the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) chemistry course (

Our focus on problem solving activities is motivated by two main considerations. The first consideration relates to dissemination. Most instructors feel personal ownership of their lectures, and physical labs are difficult to modify due to practical and economic constraints. However, instructors typically assign textbook problems as homework. A collection of online homework that substitutes for part of these textbook assignments therefore provides a viable strategy for shifting undergraduate chemical education, a large system with considerable inertia, towards an improved instructional approach. The second consideration is that much of the learning in undergraduate courses occurs in problem solving activities that take place outside of the classroom. Improved problem solving materials can therefore significantly impact students' experiences in the course.

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Last Updated: Sunday, March 30, 2008 @ 01:14:57 pm