Collaboration In Organic Chemistry Laboratory I

There is currently a great deal of interest in using the information sharing capabilities of blogs, wikis, and discussion forums to promote undergraduate learning as well as to facilitate collaboration among scientists. In a recent article in Chemical & Engineering News entitled “Wired for Learning: Teachers are tapping into youths’ digital savvy to take science education into the future,” a science teacher at the Red Lion Area High School, Ben Smith, remarks “Wouldn’t it be great if you could start a lab in Pennsylvania and it finishes in California or in China?” This got me thinking about the collaborative potential of social networking. What could we accomplish if each sophomore organic chemistry section did one or two labs in collaboration with other schools? A low-level collaboration would simply be to compare results of one procedure done the same way at different institutions. The classic example would be the synthesis of some compound with an identity characterization (melting point for solids and refractive index for liquids) and purity analysis (chromatography) We would certainly have a bigger data sets (percent yield for example) with which to do statistical analysis. I have a hunch that we will see some discrepancies between schools. If one school has a consistently higher (or lower) % yield, what is the explanation? In my experience different chromatography analyses of purity tend to give different results. What are the likely impurities? How did they get there? My assertion is that, even at this rather simple level, we could learn from each other and at the same time open our students up to the reality of a wider scientific community.



  1. Posted May 18, 2008 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Yes! And I really believe that this will give the students something to compare themselves against that they will see as ‘fair’ rather than simply what their lecturers tell them about standards. Its one thing for one student to say ‘clearly the synthesis doesn’t work’ but if they can check against other students in other places then a) if it hasn’t worked for everyone else they are validated (and we’ve learnt something) b) if it does then they might pull their socks up or c) if it works some places and not others then we have an interesting question to answer.

  2. steffan
    Posted May 18, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    This might be fun. This might be interesting. Is anything really learned ? So students are good at social networking — are they good at studying and learning the material. I personally do not have time to waste on such rubbish.

  3. Posted May 20, 2008 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    umm Steffan, surely that’s the interesting question? Will the students learn more by interacting with other people doing similar or related things. Or do they learn more by making yet another white solid which then gets stuck in a cupboard and thrown away at the end of term? Will this encourage them to do better at studying and learning the material? Can we use peer group pressure to bring standards up?

    I don’t know. I believe it can work. But I certainly think its worth trying it and finding out.

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