Embracing course technology
Using technology should enhance instructors’ ability to communicate material to their students. When it doesn’t work, or isn’t intuitive, technology becomes a hindrance to student comprehension and course management. Educators who have experienced these difficulties in the past, or have avoided classroom technology use altogether, might assume adopting in-class or homework technology is a hassle or unnecessary.
Katie Kolbet, a chemistry professor and curriculum developer at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada, is all too familiar with this struggle. “A lot of times I know that [educators] are fearful of new technology, especially those of us who are not digital natives who didn’t grow up with all of this.”
Katie’s classes at Truckee Meadows are populated by a mix of students from different backgrounds and with different needs. Students pursuing nursing, dental hygiene, engineering, education, and many other disciplines come through Katie’s classroom each semester. She was previously using an alternative online homework system with her classes to try and get all her students on the same page, regardless of their chemistry background. However, she and her students were experiencing difficulties, not only with the product’s capabilities but also with the content that was available for the instructors to choose from. “We were looking for content that was more in line with the type of questions we were asking in the classroom.” Then, Katie adjusted her syllabus to include a new platform, Aktiv Chemistry.
Next-generation answer modules and content
For the last four years, Katie has adopted Aktiv Chemistry’s active learning platform in her classroom as well as for online homework. She has experienced none of the issues from her previous platform and is able to create assignments that are a better fit for her students and course. In addition to using Aktiv Chemistry’s extensive question library, Katie authors her own questions and collaborates with Aktiv Chemistry’s team of content creators if she has a more specific need. “The expanding database has been great to give us new questions, new ideas and the content team has been fantastic about responding to ‘Hey, we would love to see questions of this type’ and then creating those questions.” For Katie, the list goes on. “The fact that the library of problems keeps expanding. The fact that we keep seeing new tools and new ways to get students integrated. And of course, the cost to our students. It’s relatively low cost and our students honestly love it.”
Aktiv Chemistry innovates the learning process for students by bringing new ways for students to experience, interact, and visualize chemistry. With first-of-their-kind modules for drawing Lewis Structures, constructing ICE charts, solving dimensional analysis equations through drag-and-drop scaffolded templates, and writing chemical names and equations, Aktiv Chemistry helps students tackle the most important concepts. “You don’t have to think about how to format a chemical equation, you can see how to do it. You don’t have to really spend a lot of time figuring out how to draw a Lewis structure. Things work in real-time. I really love the Lewis structure module. I really love the balancing equations module. I love the nomenclature module.” The way Katie sees it, what’s not to love?
Making chemistry intuitive
What her students truly appreciate is how easy and intuitive the technology is. Gone are the days of needing a manual to understand how online homework works. Katie’s students are able to open the Aktiv Chemistry website on their laptops or download the app on their smartphones, and get directly to work without wasting time on the usual software headaches. “With Aktiv Chemistry, there has been no learning curve. The students come in with a minimal amount of instruction…[and] have been up and running within five to ten minutes. They are getting it right off the bat. Then, they can focus more on the content rather than how to use the tool.”¹
So, what advice would Katie give to other chemistry educators out there eager for something to enhance their students’ experience? “Get in there and play with [Aktiv Chemistry]. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Spend some time acting like a student. ‘What happens if I push this button? What happens if I push that button?’…Play. Push the buttons, see what kind of responses you get, make mistakes, and don’t be afraid when you’re talking with your students to say, ‘Here’s something I learned when I was playing around with it’.” Katie knows that active learning is always key even when she is on the other side of the podium.