What a Week…

A pencil bent into a loop.

Source: http://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/2017/03/15/employees-want-flexible-work/

I had high hopes for this week and while I got a few things accomplished, I wanted to get more accomplished. During the week, I fully grasped that one of the bug keys to instructional design is to be flexible and not freak out when things aren’t going according to schedule.

At the beginning of the semester I had planned to spend this week working on Module 4. I decided on Monday that I needed to change my plan a bit. I have decided to use the OpenStax Chemistry textbook in my course. As soon as I made that decision, I realized that I needed to go back through my introduction module and modules 1-3 in order to remove the references to the old textbook and incorporate the new book. This later meant that I needed to go through the new book and locate the sections of chapters that deal with each of the outcomes covered in each of the modules. Those sections, and references to those sections needed to be added into the modules.

Cartoon of a sick person in bed with a thermometer in their mouth.

Source: http://www.cwa1037.org/sick-of-sick-notes-wayne-mvc-workers-score-big-grievance-victory/

By Wednesday I had completed my update of the course introduction module (including the current iteration of the syllabus) and module 1. Then it happened… we got sick… First my wife started coming down with something Tuesday night. It got bad fast and she could hardly get out of bed Wednesday or Thursday. By Thursday, I was started coming down with it. Friday was a horrible day. I had to teach my class because we have already missed so many days due to weather this term. I took a lot of OTC medication, went in, struggled through my two lectures, went back home, and collapsed back into bed. Today is the first day that I have felt “not horrible” in days.

I’m hoping that this week, I can finished updating modules 2 and 3 for the new textbook, get module 4 completed, and begin evaluating the lab kit. Speaking of the lab kit… I still haven’t received the kits. However, I finally received a UPS tracking number for the package on Friday. Currently, according to the UPS site, my sample lab kit is in Commerce City, Colorado and it is expected to be delivered on Thursday. Maybe I will have a fun unboxing video to include in my blog next week. I’m really looking forward to seeing what is in this kit.

Part of me is frustrated by not getting as much done this week as I had hoped. I keep reminding myself that I need to be flexible. Sometime things happen that we just can’t control.

Module 3 & Open Textbook

Step 3

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/628392954226200392/?lp=true

My goal for this week had only one task: create module 3. However, I also wanted to dig into the lab kit if it came in the mail. Unfortunately, while I was able to get module 3 created, I have not received the sample lab kit yet so I have been unable to evaluate it. That also means that I cannot begin putting the labs into their appropriate course modules since I do not necessarily know what labs are going to work well. Hopefully that portion can be completed soon!

Creation of Module 3

Homer Simpson smacking his head.

Source: http://www.jupiterjenkins.com/oops-4/

The creation of module 3 went about the same as modules 1 and 2. The only problem I ran into during this week was teaching. I am currently teaching this same class face-to-face. In my current class I am covering material that will be in module 4 in my online version. I found myself stumbling a few times while creating module 3 when I accidentally put module 4 topics into module 3. Overall I have been finding it highly useful to be teaching a class while I redevelop it for a new format since I can immediately see what is working and what needs improvement. However, the difficulty has been keeping straight what materials I am developing versus what materials I am teaching. I should hilariously point out that one day in my face-to-face class I started lecturing on material that I was developing for my online course and my students had to point out that we had already covered that. I came clean and explained that I am redeveloping the course for a fully online course. The conversation actually got us a bit off topic as they wanted to know how my online students would be doing things like laboratory experiments.

Open Source Textbook

Chemistry textbook cover.

Source: https://openstax.org/details/books/chemistry

As I mentioned last week, after a discussion with my wife, I have been looking to using an open source textbook for this course to try and keep the student costs down. I have found a book that I like, but it is not designed for this course. The book is designed for General Chemistry which is a full year chemistry course that we teach to science majors. All of the material that my introductory course needs is in this book but there is a lot of extra stuff that intro students do not need. If I were to use the book, I would be picking out specific parts of this book and I would be skipping around a lot. It is certainly possible to do this but I wonder if that would be a problem for my students. What would you all think if you were assigned a textbook and then spent the term skipping around in it? Do you think that would be confusing? In case you would like to see it, here is a link to the book.

Module 2 and More Lab Stuff

Step 2

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/338895940694804789/?lp=true

My goal for this week had two parts:

  1. Creation of module 2 from my face-to-face content
  2. Determine best lab in a box to use

On the whole, the week went very well in terms of productivity.

Creating Module 2

After having created module 1 last week, creating module 2 this week went as expected. I think my expectations were more realistic. It still took time, but it didn’t surprise me this week. Once again, I used the learning outcomes and course content that have been developed for the face-to-face CHE 101 to build the content. Also, once again, I found that there was some material that I teach in my face-to-face course that don’t meet any of the course outcomes so I removed it. It actually made me wonder if I am going to need to go back and reorganize my face-to-face course once I finish creating this online course.

An image of my module 2 in Canvas

Source: My Canvas site for Module 2


I spoke with representatives from both eScience Labs and Carolina Biological this week. Each company is sending me a sample kit. I worked with each company’s rep to determine what labs seem to fit best with my course outcomes. The companies are building those customized kits and will send me one so that I can look through them, play with them, and then determine which works the best for me. Based solely on the lab experiments that they offer, eScience Labs seems to be the front runner at this point. They offer more labs and those labs appear to fit better with my outcomes. I am now waiting on the kit arrivals so that I can see what I like. I will post fun pictures when I start playing with them.

An image with the words: free the textbook.

Source: https://creativecommons.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/free-the-textbook.jpg

I am still concerned about the cost of these kits though. Each of the kits is likely going to cost each student $200. In our face-to-face courses there is a lab fee but it is only $40 so this is considerably more. I have been discussing this cost issue with my wife. For those of you who don’t know here, she’s is a biology professor and she graduated from our Masters of Science in Online Teaching and Instructional Design program last May. She has got me thinking that maybe I should look into utilizing an open textbook. That would remove the textbook cost which is $100-$150. That would likely improve the course’s financial feasibility for many potential students. Do any of you have experience with open textbooks? I have never used one but I do find the idea intriguing.

So, on the whole a good week. I hope things keep progressing this efficiently!

Module 1 and Lab Inquiry

Step 1

Source: http://www.innerlifeskills.com/life-coach-step-by-step-guide/step-1/

My goal for this week had three parts:

  1. Creation of an introductory/orientation module
  2. Creation of module 1 from my face-to-face content
  3. Inquiry into available labs

On the whole, the week went very well in terms of productivity.

Introduction/Orientation Module

A stick figure trying to figure out where to go.

Source: http://career.iresearchnet.com/career-development/orientation/

I knew going into this week that the creation of an introductory module would be one of the easier tasks. I had created an rudimentary orientation module for a previous course in this program. I imported that module into my new Canvas site and then set about modifying it for use in my introductory chemistry course. On the whole, much of what I had created could be used without alteration, but a few things required some tweaking for the tasks and technologies that I now plan to use in this course.

One thing that I have to keep in mind throughout this design process is that I need to keep updating the orientation module as I work to develop all the content modules. For instance, within the orientation module is an overview of the course where specific assignments are listed in specific modules each with specific due dates. I have included these items from module 1 since that is what I developed this week. However, I will need to go back every week and add the materials from the new modules into this document.

Module 1

The creation of a fully online module 1 was a little more time consuming than I had anticipated. I have the material from all the times that I have taught the course face-to-face, but I needed to modify it for efficient online use. I found it useful to first take a look at those topics that I expect my students to learn from the module. What are the major takeaways? I used those expectations as topic pages within module 1. Within those pages is text, videos, and links that all build on that expectation. For instance, in the following figure, the item “The Scientific Method” is a page that contains the text, videos, and links that guide the students to learning about the scientific method. Immediately following that lesson are links to the homework assignment and quiz assignment that deal with the scientific method.

A picture of part of module 1 in my Canvas site.

Source: My Canvas Site for Module 1

This method of creating page lessons is very different than the same content as I present it to my face-to-face student. In my traditional courses, the organization of the material occurs face-to-face in class. While I post a lot of resources in the Canvas sites for my traditional courses, it is organized by chapter in the book rather than topic or lesson. Making this change required quite a bit of reorganization, compilations, and deliberate editing to try and make the best educational lessons I could. In the end I am happy with the result, though, knowing myself, I will likely end up going back and tweaking things as I get new ideas.

Lab Inquiry

Wow, that's a lot.

SOURCE: https://memegenerator.net/instance/65580110

I have started to investigate lab kits for my students. The idea is that the student purchase a kit that contains all the lab equipment and chemicals that they need to carry out specific lab experiments in their homes. They are like those kids science kits that I remember from my childhood except they are more geared towards an educational environment. I have looked into the two different suppliers that I have found: eScience Labs and Carolina Biological. They both offer quality materials. eScience Labs provided 4 different introductory chemistry kits. These different kits have slightly different lab experiments depending on what the instructors needs. The cost of these kits start at $200. Carolina Biological allows the instructor to build specific kits that contain only those labs that the instructor needs. This can lower the cost of the kits but it will still cost the students at least $150 for all the labs I will need.

The cost of these lab kits is a bit worrying. Excluding the cost of the lab kit, my students will need to purchase:

  • Summer Tuition
  • The textbook (~$100)
  • Sapling Learning Access ($40)
Stick figure with hand on chin pondering. Large question mark in background.

Image Source: http://7thwithliza.weebly.com/social-studies/category/essential-questions

By adding in the cost of the lab kit, I worry that I am going to make this course cost prohibitive to some students. I do not like the idea that some students may not be able to take the course because the materials cost to much. What do you all think? Due to its more customizable nature and the lab experiments that they have available, I’m leaning towards using Carolina Biological’s kits but I would be interested in hearing your views.

Introduction to Chemistry: Practicum Plan

A title image showing various chemistry objects.

Source: Self-Created

My Practicum

For a number of years, the chemistry faculty at Lenoir-Rhyne University have been encouraged to create an online chemistry course, specifically our introductory chemistry course (CHE 101). This course, while required for a few majors, serves as a physical science core course option. Having an online option for this course will help the university to potentially develop a fully online undergraduate program. My task for my practicum is to create an online chemistry course based on my years of experience in teaching this course in a face-to-face setting. This course will be offered during the summer of 2018. In order to achieve these goals, the course needs to be fully developed, peer reviewed, and be approved by the school chair and the college dean. All of these tasks need to be completed before the end of this term.

Brief Overview

The course I envision is going to consist of various types of assessment.

Online Discussion

The logo of VoiceThread: the initials vt with voicethread written under it.

Image Source: https://edtech.mst.edu/support/voicethread/

In my face-to-face courses, class discussions are very important in getting the students to think about the course material. In the online environment, discussions are equally important. I intend to use two different platforms for my course discussions. First I intend to use VoiceThread for the major discussion posts. VoiceThread will allow my students to have voice and video discussion with other students (and myself) asynchronously. These discussions will require the student to process the module information and answer a detailed prompt and then comment on their fellow students responses to the same post.

The Twitter blue bird logo.

Image Source: https://twitter.com/billytalentband

The other platform I intend to use is Twitter. Twitter allows for shorter replies to a prompt. These prompts will have less breadth and will be based on more current events in chemistry. These will require the students to process what they have learned and create concise responses. Again, just like the VoiceThread discussion, the students must respond to their fellow classmates. It is my hope that by using current chemistry topics is such a public platform, the students may get into discussions with scientists outside the class, thereby exciting the student’s interest in the field.


Lab gloves on a tablet that says "The Digital Lab"

SOURCE: Annthea Lewis; Shutterstock

One of the biggest difficulties in having online science courses are the laboratory experiments. There are number of approaches to get students to remotely perform experiments. Late Nite Labs provides a fully online, virtual laboratory environment in which students can perform the entire experiment. These experiments are very realistic and can give the students a very detailed experience that is close to hands-on. Several companies offer “labs in a box”. Basically, these companies will sell lab kits to the students who can then perform the physical labs, hands-on, at home. I have discussed these options with my school chair and it has been decided that we should rely on the “labs in a box” option. She felt that students need to have a hands-on lab experience.

Homework Assignments and the Final Exam

As a department, we use Sapling Learning for our homework system. The nature of chemistry homework requires a lot of mathematics. Sapling Learning is a platform that can handle various aspects of mathematics, units, and chemistry in general. The system allows the students to make mistakes and have the system guide the students to correct their mistakes. Sapling Learning will be used for both the course homework assignments as well as the final exam.


Each module will contain conceptual quizzes. These quizzes will test the students knowledge of the course concepts in a conceptual way. These quizzes will be offered in Canvas directly. The questions for these quizzes will be drawn from test banks that I have created in Canvas for my face-to-face course.

Step-Wise Goals

In order to fully create this course so that it can be offered, I have broken things down into a series of weekly goals.

Goal 1 (January 22 – 28)

Prepare Course Introduction Module: I have many of the pieces for this module from previous courses. I need to compile the pieces and make any necessary tweaks.

One-eighth of the Periodic Table of the Elements

Source: Self-Created

Prepare Module 1: I have much of the material for each of the modules from my experience teaching this course face-to-face. The material from the face-to-face courses needs to be compiled and then adapted to the online environment. Videos need to be created for each section of the material. Discussion questions need to be developed for each of the discussion platforms.

Labs: During the first week, I need to contact the companies and get lists of available labs, costs, etc. so that I can develop the lab portion of this course.

Goal 2 (January 29 – February 4)

One-eighth of the Periodic Table of the Elements

Source: Self-Created

Prepare Module 2: The material from the face-to-face courses needs to be compiled and then adapted to the online environment. Videos need to be created for each section of the material. Discussion questions need to be developed for each of the discussion platforms.

Labs: Use the information provided by the lab-in-a-box companies to select the box that I will use. From that, I can select the best labs to go into each module.

Goal 3 (February 5 – 11)

One-eighth of the Periodic Table of the Elements

Source: Self-Created

Prepare Module 3: The material from the face-to-face courses needs to be compiled and then adapted to the online environment. Videos need to be created for each section of the material. Discussion questions need to be developed for each of the discussion platforms.

Goal 4 (February 12 – 18)

One-eighth of the Periodic Table of the Elements

Source: Self-Created

Prepare Module 4: The material from the face-to-face courses needs to be compiled and then adapted to the online environment. Videos need to be created for each section of the material. Discussion questions need to be developed for each of the discussion platforms.

Goal 5 (February 19 – 25)

One-eighth of the Periodic Table of the Elements

Source: Self-Created

Prepare Module 5: The material from the face-to-face courses needs to be compiled and then adapted to the online environment. Videos need to be created for each section of the material. Discussion questions need to be developed for each of the discussion platforms.

Goal 6 (February 26 – March 4)

One-eighth of the Periodic Table of the Elements

Source: Self-Created

Prepare Module 6: The material from the face-to-face courses needs to be compiled and then adapted to the online environment. Videos need to be created for each section of the material. Discussion questions need to be developed for each of the discussion platforms.

Goal 7 (March 5 – 11)

One-eighth of the Periodic Table of the Elements

Source: Self-Created

Prepare Module 7: The material from the face-to-face courses needs to be compiled and then adapted to the online environment. Videos need to be created for each section of the material. Discussion questions need to be developed for each of the discussion platforms.

Goal 8 (March 19 – 25)

One-eighth of the Periodic Table of the Elements

Source: Self-Created

Prepare Module 8: The material from the face-to-face courses needs to be compiled and then adapted to the online environment. Videos need to be created for each section of the material. Discussion questions need to be developed for each of the discussion platforms.

Goal 9 (April 2 – 8)

Have the course peer reviewed. I need to locate a Lenoir-Rhyne faculty member that can review the course against the online course checklist. The reviewer will need to complete the review quickly so that I can move on to get the course approved.

Because this course has never been offered online, it needs to be approved. During this week, I will submit the documents needed to gain that approval, namely the application, the course syllabus, and the results of the peer-review to the school chair.

Goal 10 (April 9 – 22)

It is hoped that during the week, I will be simply scouring the internet looking for additional course resources including videos and simulations. This week will also provide a buffer in case previous weeks goals get delayed. This last goal will also involve my reflection on the process of creating this course as a whole. This reflection will result in a final, reflective blog post covering what worked, what didn’t work, and what I will do differently in the future.

Instructional Design: A Retrospection

A title image showing various chemistry objects.

Source: Self-Created

Throughout the fall semester of 2017, I worked on the development of an introductory chemistry course geared towards the fully online environment. This is the first course that I have designed to be fully online from the beginning. The work I did to develop this course will form the basis of the first fully online introductory chemistry class offered at Lenoir-Rhyne University. I hope to offer this online course for the first time during the summer of 2018.


A cartoon of a "flexible classroom" with questions and ideas written all over the walls.

Source: https://sites.google.com/a/ocde.us/access-edtech-user-support/knowledge-base/flexibleclassroomsprovidingthelearningenvironmentthatkidsneed

One of the big lessons that I learned this semester could be summarized as “be flexible”. Going into the semester, I had a plan for the course. I have taught this course numerous times in a traditional setting. My plan was to create an online course from that same content. While the general content can be translated into the digital realm, I had to learn to be flexible with my organization.

In my traditional courses, as I teach the material I can observe the students and see who’s lost. These observations allow me to elaborate so I can correct any issues. In an online environment, making sure that the students do not become lost is more of a challenge, especially due to the complexity of the material in chemistry. The modules had to be very carefully ordered and structured so that material would be presented in a certain order. It became critically important to design the material so that the students never reached an assignment they were being asked a question that they haven’t learned about yet. In my traditional course, the quizzes and homework assignments are at the end of the chapters so material is never missed. In my online course I decided to break things up. The assignments are smaller and spread throughout the modules so that the students can test their knowledge periodically throughout the module. In order to achieve this I had to move beyond the design that I have used in my traditional courses and break up my material into small, manageable bits. This required me to be flexible in my thinking… moving away from my normal style of teaching this material. Once I had these education bits, I then put them together carefully, layering concept upon concept so that by the end, the students could approach the assignments with confidence. I also set up the course so that the students were forced to work through the material in order so that I could be sure that the material built up properly.

It turns out that while I intended to use the ADDIE model to create this course from the beginning, it took me a while to start actually using it. The ADDIE model is built around this idea of using an analysis of the content that already exist to then develop and modify it to improve the course (or new course). I should have spent more time analyzing what I already had and focusing on ways to alter it. Instead, I spent too long trying to shoehorn traditional content into this online format. Once I got to the real task of altering the material, everything went much smoother. Overall, this was a great reminder of how to actually use the ADDIE model.

Peer Review

A stick figure studying the word "Review" with a big magnifying glass.

Source: https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-review-character-shows-assess-reviewing-evaluate-reviews-showing-image34211637

Peer review also turned out to be a new tool that proved highly useful. Up to this point in my career, I have discussed my course content with other members of my department. I was interested in their take on topics and how to teach those topics. This is the first time that I have had others look at my work who are far outside of my field. At first I was concerned because of the complexity of the material. What I came to understand is that these outside reviewers provide an invaluable resource. While they can’t speak to the material that I am presenting, they can review the overall design and flow of the course. Too often, I got caught up in the weeds, dealing with the minute concepts, so that I ended up with content that didn’t flow well or was simply confusing. Several times I had my reviewers tell me that they didn’t understand where I wanted them to go. I had spent so much time fine tuning the individual content that I never looked at how it worked overall. It was through my reviewers eyes that I began to create an online course that worked. While I came into this course uncertain about the value of outside (non-sciency) people reviewing my courses, this course illustrated how useful they can be in the instructional design process.

I also had an opportunity to review other students materials throughout this term. It was sort of eye opening to see how other instructors approached things. For example, when I created my first splash-page, I didn’t have my name or contact information on it. I had assumed that having it in the syllabus was enough. Then I saw that one of my fellow students had included their information on their splash-page and it looked great and seemed very useful. Additionally, rather than just typing the information into the page, this student had created a small Piktochart of their contact information and embedded that. It looked so much better. While I ended up simply typing my information into the page, it is my intention to create a Piktochart graphic of my contact information for use in my upcoming class. The main reason that I haven’t created it to this point is that I don’t have much in the way of contact information right now. I won’t have an office (or phone number) until the science building reopens in January and I get them assigned to me. It turns out that I got a lot of ideas for my courses from how my fellow students set up their courses.

The Orientation Module

A stick figure trying to figure out where to go.

Source: http://career.iresearchnet.com/career-development/orientation/

One of the things that I will do differently in the next course I create regards the orientation module. Due to the structure of EDU 658, I created the orientation module before I created the content modules. In the future I would reverse that order. When I designed the content, I began with the assessments. As I learned in the instructional design theory course, when you start with the assessment, you get an idea concerning what sort of content you need to provide to your students. In that same respect, in the future I will go from assessments to content and then to orientation. At the beginning of the course, when I created the orientation module, I had an idea of what I wanted to do but as I implemented the content, things changed. In this course I found that as I was building the content I was having to go back and fix the orientation module. It turns out that changing the orientation wasn’t a big deal, the ADDIE design model is all about the cyclic nature of the design process, but creating the orientation module last would save a lot of time in the long run.


Left and right hand putting two jigsaw puzzle pieces together.

Source: https://outlookmag.org/second-half-of-life-conclusion/

I believe that, on the whole, my biggest difficulty turned out to be my familiarity with the material. I knew how I had taught the material in a traditional classroom. I feel like I relied on that past experience too much. I spent too much time trying to build an online course using the techniques I have used in the traditional setting. Once I began building the course with an eye towards not doing what I’ve done before, the content began to flow together better and I had less “what are the students supposed to be doing here” moments. In the future I need to make sure that while I used the same content, I try to ignore how I teach the material face-to-face and look at how I can best utilize the online format to instruct my students.

Do we do our students a disservice in entry-level courses?

A collection of the most important words in a general chemistry course.

SOURCE: https://sites.google.com/a/nebo.edu/denise-villarta/general-hs-chemistry

I have begun wondering whether many higher education programs, including mine, are doing their students a disservice in how we teach the entry-level courses in our programs (general chemistry for me). I’m a physical chemist and I have an analytical chemist and an organic chemist as colleagues. We all have our upper-level courses in which we are the experts but it has occurred to me that we seem to be missing something in our entry-level course.

I’m not sure about all programs, but most of the programs I have ever been around have entry-level courses which are broad in scope, covering topics from all the sub-disciplines. Our general chemistry courses cover broad overview of analytical topics, physical topics, organic topics, etc. The way we teach the class is that one faculty member teaches it. Right now, for instance, I am teaching general chemistry. Our current topic is an aspect of organic chemistry. I’m fully qualified to teach the concept but am I the best? Wouldn’t it be better if the organic chemist teaches a topic that they are the expert on? Are we doing a disservice to our student by not doing this?

Picture of a blue solution in a flask with some organic chemical structures in the background.

SOURCE: https://www.streamingtutors.com/course/organic-chemistry-1/

The problem, of course, is that implementing a course in which profession jump in and out of the course is problematic for a number of reasons. How do we compensate the faculty members fairly? Is is distracting to the students to have different professors from week to week, topic to topic? I’m not sure there is an easy way to rectify this issue. However, I have become more and more sure that if we teach those topic of which we are the experts, we can provide our students with a better educational experience.

Kerbal Space Program… in Education

Over the last few years, I have read numerous stories of using games in the classroom. Having a game that teaches students while they play has a lot of advantages over traditional instruction… the biggest advantage is simply in student interest. Let’s face it, children (as well as adults) love to play games. One might say that playing games is wired into our genes. By encouraging students to play games in which they learn information, we are taking advantage of this seeming innate interest in order to teach. It’s a win for the teachers and a win for the students.

The Kerbal Space Program logo

SOURCE: Kerbal Space Program

I have seen a lot of usage of Minecraft in educational environments, but I wanted to go in a different direction. I am a chemical physicist by training and have taught both chemistry and physics throughout my career. Building things in Minecraft is great… but nothing is cooler than space travel! So many scientists got interested in science through the space program! Enter Kerbal Space Program. Kerbal Space Program (KSP) allows the players to run a space program. Using “simple” rocket parts, the player builds rockets and then launch them. Sometimes the rockets work great and then sometimes…

A rocket in Kerbal Space Program exploding.

SOURCE: Eric Kelly

KSP also allows for users to create mods, just like Minecraft. These mods allow the program to do more than the vanilla, off-the-shelf version. By itself, KSP offers the users great physics details like trust, force, torque, strength, weight, etc. However, in its ordinary version, KSP is not multiplayer capable. That means in classroom setting, multiple students would have to work at a single computer to collaborate. The Dark MultiPlayer mod adds multiplayer functionality to the game allowing for collaboration between students. Using this mod, students can build their own rockets, observe each others rockets, launch together, meet in orbit… all sorts of fun space stuff.

So I set out to try this out with my son who is a gamer. While my son is a gamer he has never played KSP, while I have played it for years (it’s addictive). This allowed me to see how the environment worked as well as sort of play the role of observing instructor. I got to watch him play around with trying to figure out how to get the physics to work. I was able to put together a simple rocket and show him how I used the thrust, weight, impulse, etc. to build a rocket that got off the ground. He was quickly able to first build a simple working rocket and then started add more and more complicated bits.

A comedy graph showing that understanding of orbital mechanics greatly increases after playing Kerbal Space Program.

SOURCE: xkcd

We ended our game with trying to get both our space craft to rendezvous in orbit… this is essentially learning about orbital dynamics. Having played this for years I knew what to do but I let him play for a while. He was able to observe what happened to his orbit when he applied trust in different directions. Even though I have played for years, this was the first time I used the multiplayer mod. That meant I had to suddenly start working with someone else to get our spacecraft to meet. This turned out to be quite difficult. In fact, due to the complexity of orbital rendezvous, we never successfully managed rendezvous in space. However, based on the speed at which we were learning how to manipulate our orbits, I’m sure that if we had kept trying over and over, we would have eventually gotten there.

Overall, I was very pleased with the level of education my son got out of playing this game. For instance, he was able to observe that if he increased his spacecraft’s orbital speed he could increase its orbital altitude. While he hasn’t seen the equations that govern all this, he was able to observe the effect and will have a much better understanding of what the equations mean when he learns them eventually. Clearly using KSP to give students a fun way of observing these fundamental concepts makes for a great educational experience.

Fake or Real? An Analysis


Write a blog post on your own blog reflecting on this experience. How effective were the strategies you used to determine whether the photos, reviews, and quotes were real or fake? How might the strategies you learned in the answers blog post help you in your personal and/or professional life? How might you share these strategies with your current and/or future learners?

I studied the situations brought up in the blog post by Dan Russell. Remarkably I came up with results that were close… in most cases.

Background Knowledge

A fighter aircraft flying low over New York City.

SOURCE: http://searchresearch1.blogspot.com/2015/11/search-challenge-111115-fake-or-real.html

I used my training in the physical sciences to great effect when analyzing the photograph. I very readily picked out the photograph as a fake. It seemed to me early on that the lighting was very wrong. My background in physical science led me immediately look at angles, lighting, etc. and I noticed the problems with the lighting. Using background knowledge seems like a very good tool. As mentioned in the answers, it was also important to not focus on the obvious part of the photograph alone but to take it all in. If you fixate on just the aircraft, you miss the lighting in the rest of the photograph including its color.

I also used my background knowledge as a basis for the quotes. For instance, I used the fact that I know that Jefferson was a scientist and it seemed very likely to me that he would write or speak about scientific discoveries that was consistent with that time period (quote 2). The time period is all wrong for quote 3. Putting gun in the hands of law-abiding citizen and out of the hands of criminals was not a discussion during Jefferson’s time. Guns we predominantly in the hands of hunters and the militia so I easily guessed this was a fake. Knowing a bit about the personality of Jefferson helped with quote 1. Jefferson was an introvert. He was not big on “acting” anything. As such, he never would have said quote 1.

Reviews Problem

A checkbox review document and pen.

SOURCE: http://www.georgesintl.com/hotel-review-websites-reliable/

The hotel reviews gave me problems. I didn’t research those quotes so I simply relied on the wording. The second seemed more real to me. It was a simple expression of what someone experienced at the hotel. To me, the first review seemed fake since it goes far into describing details of the hotel that would be in a brochure. My feeling was that it was written by someone who worked at the hotel. I failed to actually look up these reviews and look into the authors as it stated in the answers post.


I think the overall take away is that using our background knowledge can help a lot in picking fake items out of a lineup. However, we must utilize the digital tools at our disposal so that we don’t get fooled. Clearly my background did not give me any insight into the hotel review and so my analysis was flawed. It is important for everyone to keep in mind what they know and look up what they don’t know.

These types of concepts come up from time to time in chemistry where a students understanding of the world is actually wrong. By physically showing the students what they don’t expect I jar them out of their “box” and get them thinking about the world in a new way.

Hole in the Wall: Am I Really Needed?

A hole in a brick wall.

SOURCE: Tiia Monto

Having been a professor for more than ten years now, the TED talk “Hole in the Wall” by Sugata Mitra, is a bit surprising. I’m not sure why it is surprising though. Throughout my life, I learned a variety of things, especially technology related, just by using them. I haven’t read a manual in too many years to remember. I have always just played with it until I understood how to use it. The fact that it surprised me that children can learn complex topics totally on their own is somewhat strange.

As an educator I feel like I can offer my students something that only a teacher can provide. This talk, and the underlying research, sheds light on a new avenue of teaching… instead of being the traditional teacher who provides knowledge, we can provide encouragement. We give the students a focal goal, “we are going to answer _____” and then provide encouragement to keep the students working. With this background in place, the students can then learn the material, by trial and error on their own by simply playing with the system. Sugata Mitra’s research that was presented in the video shows this working even when the children do have an understanding of the same language.

A student asleep at his desk.

SOURCE: Jto Enríquez

The system works, clearly, but I worry that there is a significant issue: unmotivated students. In all of Sugata Mitra’s research, he never describes how many of the total children in the area participated in his system. I’d be willing to bet that the children in the area who interacted with the system are like me, willing to play until I learn how it works. What about those children who are not interested? Teaching chemistry gives me an interesting perspective on this since I have many students who are very interested in learning… just not interested in learning chemistry. How well would the self-learning system work for these students?

My overall view is that the answer to education in the future is a bit complicated. There needs to be a way to promote self-learning and the self-defined sense of wonder in students, just like what Sugata Mitra found, while at the same time pushing non-motivated students along. All students are motivated to learn about things that interest them, but there are things outside those borders that they need to learn as well. My students who want to be nurses don’t see why they need to learn chemistry but they do. It seems to me, that what we really need is a way of making all the topics interesting enough for students to want to learn. Saying “today we are going to learn about the atom” might not be that exciting. If instead the students cut a piece of paper in half over and over again until it is too small to cut, we can then say “you are made up of particle a thousands of times smaller than that.” That connection could prove exciting and an entry point for students who don’t understand the importance of learning about atoms.