Mobile Devices, Augmented Reality, and the Mobile Classroom

Organizers:  Harry E. Pence, State University of New York college at Oneonta, Oneonta, NY 13861, and Antony Williams, ChemSpider, Royal Society of Chemistry, U.S. Office: Wake Forest, NC-27587,

As more and more students are bringing web-enabled mobile devices, like smartphones and tablet computers, into the classroom, it is important to ask how this will change the teaching and learning process. Since most students always carry their smartphones, these devices provide continuous access to web pages, podcasts, videos, and other instructional materials, including during lecture. Mobile devices are also a powerful vehicle for both markered and markerless augmented reality applications. Unfortunately, they also may be a source of distraction. How can teachers maximize the utility of these powerful learning devices, while minimizing the opportunities for students' minds to wander?  This symposium was sponsored by the Committee on Computers in Chemical Education.

One of the symposium organizers, Harry E. Pence, began the symposium by discussing Mobile devices and the future of chemical education.  Pence argued that more than half of the students in many chemistry classrooms now own smartphones and/or tablet computers and that percentage is growing rapidly. Smartphones are now at the place where electronic calculators were a little more than a decade ago; many instructors are focused more of potential abuse of the devices than on the ways they will change the learning process. He listed some of the ways that mobile devices can contribute to chemistry instruction, including online information sources, like ChemSpider, QR codes that make physical objects, even pieces of paper, into smart objects that connect to the Internet, access to podcasts, and videos.  He asked whether chemistry teachers are going to respond to these changes or be dragged into the future by our students.

Cynthia B Powell from Abilene Christian Universitytalked abouta Case study in mobile device usage: Mobile enhanced inquiry-based learning (MEIBL), a collaboration that involved Faculty members at three different institutions. Mobile devices were used to deliver podcasts covering laboratory techniques and conceptual information that provided vital modeling and scaffolding for students working in chemistry and biology laboratories taught with an inquiry-based curriculum. The results indicate that the electronic resources allow students to work more independently and evaluated writing samples indicate an improvement in depth of learning across a semester. Students responded positively to the mobile platform, and ~70% reported that the electronic resources enhanced their academic experience.

Autumn L. Sutherlin, also from Abilene Christian University, discussed her work onBlended biochemistry: Using technology outside of class to better reach students in class.  Sutherlin pointed out that Biochemistry is difficult because it requires not only the memorization, but also the interpretation and evaluation of large amounts of material. She said that technology helped her to introduce constructivist techniques into her Biochemistry I course.   Students did assigned reading followed by Just-in-Time Teaching, including warm-up questions which they responded to online before class. The warm-up questions along with responses to clicker questions followed by Peer Instruction were used to guide class discussion. This helped the instructor identify the areas of content where the students were struggling and to focus in on areas that require higher order thinking skills. In conclusion, she observed that students not only liked peer instruction and just-in-time teaching, but that it also allowed them to perform better on examinations.

Doris I. Lewis, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Suffolk University, discussed The Demise of the Textbook and the Rise of ... Something Else.  Lewis noted that textbook publication and authoring are seeing a rapid transition from a printed format to a variety of electronic platforms. The year 2012 has seen the release of the Apple iPad text platform, a lawsuit against a Boston open-source text company by three major textbook publishers, and the widespread adoption of Blackboard-based online learning systems in colleges and iPad texts in high schools. Science education content creators face an expanding variety of options, with no settled, universal platform yet on the horizon.

The next speaker was Lucille A Benedict fromTheUniversity of Southern Maine, whose presentation was entitled, Integrating student-created videos into research papers. Using multimedia (videos and photos) in education has gained popularity. Students increasingly use this content to supplement study materials; students capture videos and photos, disseminate these on social websites, and generate QR codes embedded with a URL linked to the content. For this project, instrumental analysis students created research papers that included short videos focused on research methods developed during independent research performed in the course. Videos were uploaded to YouTube and accessed from research manuscripts using QR codes. Evaluation of articles and videos was analogous to journal article review; papers that were accepted for publication were incorporated into an online course journal. This project is an extension of published work that had students create videos that were then QR coded and posted to instruments and lab manuals. This project reinforced that having students create a publication increases their engagement and their investment in the finished product.

IM-Chem: The use of instant messaging to improve student performance and personalize large lecture general chemistry courses was the title of a presentation by Derek A Behmke from Bradley UniversityBehmke noted thatprevious research has linked poor student performance with the depersonalized feeling of large lecture courses. At the University of Georgia they have attempted to enhance communication using 26 instant messaging (IM) devices in a large (1500 student) general chemistry course. Teaching assistants monitored the messages from the devices and informed the instructor when there were a lot of questions on a particular topic.  They found that IM-Chem participants had a mean course grade that was 0.14 GPA units higher than non-participants, probably due to the active learning environment created by the IM devices.  Additionally, an overwhelming majority of participants stated that IM-Chem personalized the large lecture setting by providing them with an unintimidating way to ask questions and individualized answers to those questions.

Putting chemistry into the hands of students - chemistry made mobile using resources from the Royal Society of Chemistry, the final paper of the morning session was presented by Antony J Williams of theRoyal Society of Chemistry.The increasing prevalence of mobile devices offers the opportunity to provide chemistry students with easy access to a multitude of resources. As a publisher the RSC provides a myriad of content to chemists including an online database of over 286 million chemical compounds, tools for learning spectroscopy and access to scientific literature and other educational materials. This presentation provided a review of the efforts to make RSC content more mobile and therefore increasingly available to chemists. In particular it discussed their efforts to provide access to chemistry related data of high value to students in the laboratory and included an overview of spectroscopy tools for the review and analysis of various forms of spectroscopy data.

The afternoon session began with a talk entitled, Engaging students in learning through the use of mobile webapps given by Lisa B. Lewis of Albion College.Lewis pointed out that our students are addicted to their mobile devices, and so are we. She suggested that there was a way to take the obsession that students have with mobile devices and harness it for education. Her talk described the efforts to create mobile web applications for the study of chemistry and English using HTML5 and Java. She described some examples of the webapps developed for the study of acids and bases, including the design, format, pedagogy, and coding challenges that were encountered. Students liked these apps because they allowed them to digitally study wherever they were, and felt that the value was equivalent to their online homework program.

Carlo Yuvienco, Polytechnic Institute of New York University gave a presentation entitled, Development of tablet software for learning Lewis dot structures.  Unlike those who argue that electronic devices like cell phones, iPods and touch screen devices are distractions in the classroom, this speaker proposed that students may be better engaged by developing software that effectively uses such devices. He described an iPad-based App that enhances the learning of Lewis dot structures in secondary and post-secondary classrooms. The App prototype he described was developed to overcome the lack of guided structure as well as provide more opportunities for creativity in order to change students from being information consumers to being information producers.

Mobile learning in organic chemistry: Discussion of the student's role in the 21st century classroom was the title of the next paper, given by Mai Yin Tsoi from Georgia Gwinnett College.  Acknowledging that today's students are very different from those of previous generations, she and her colleagues created a student-centered, mobile learning environment in Organic Chemistry with a suite of electronic course materials which include videos, apps, and a social network. This project has been underway for the past three years, and the findings thus far show that students bring a distinct set of needs and skills to the learning environment, which impact their use of the mobile learning materials. Some of these qualities, such as self-efficacy, attitude, and technology expertise, were found to significantly affect whether students use mobile devices for learning Organic Chemistry.

Issam Kobrsi, from The Petroleum Institute in The United Arab Emirates, reported on a program that was designed to train students in organic nomenclature using touch media such as tablets and mobile phones. His presentation was entitled, Learning organic chemistry through gaming, Part I: Nomenclature. The program was designed to train each part of the naming process separately, instead of training all the concepts simultaneously. The first concept was identified as the numbering of the longest chain. The program displays one molecule at a time from a customizable database. Students can then tap the carbon atoms in the proper order using their fingers and receive immediate feedback. Preliminary studies showed that, compared to traditional homework, students can go through many more exercises during the same time than with more traditional methods. In addition, the students were more engaged due to the “video game nature” of the exercise versus the “study nature” of traditional homework.

Alex M Clark,Molecular Materials Informatics of Canada, discussed the current state of the art for mobile apps for chemistry, and their use in an educational context in his paper entitled, Chemical structure diagrams, reactions, and data: Anytime, anywhere.  The creation of chemistry-aware mobile apps presents a significant opportunity to enhance chemical education. Tablets and mobile phones introduce a level of convenience that makes them all but omnipresent. Access to chemistry-oriented learning material is of significant value, and taking it one step further involves providing content-creation capabilities. Being able to create, view, send and receive chemical data, and use it to interact with educational or reference services, makes these devices powerful interactive learning tools.

The final paper, Using HTML5 to build immersive teaching materials, was given by Kevin J Theisen from iChemLabs, LLCTheisen said that mobile devices give students today access to a wealth of technology for interacting with digital information. It can be very enticing to take advantage of these platforms in classrooms. However, the ability to distribute information across the wide range of devices students may possess is a significant problem. This barrier restricts most instructors to distributing text and images, since they simply do not have the time to prepare and format coursework for all the existing devices. HTML5 standards present a simpler approach to distributing dynamic graphics and interactive data across all desktops.

This was an exciting and well-attended symposium, followed by an active discussion of how this group might continue to cooperate on this topic and expand the dialogue beyond the current venue.  The organizers thank all the speakers, as well as the Committee on Computers in Chemical Education for sponsoring the symposium and Cynthia B Powell for moderating one of the sessions. 

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