Variety in Chemistry Education 2010

Next week I’m off to present an Oral Byte at the Variety in Chemistry Education conference in Loughborough.  Due to a minor scheduling class I’m there on the Thursday then off to London for Science Online London 2010 hideously early on the Friday morning. (I had to rebook my tickets after they published the programme for SOLO10 because the website said a noon start, the programme says a 10 am start – bah humbug advanced non-refundable rail tickets).

An Oral Byte is quite a nice format for a conference – 5 minutes with a maximum of 3 power point slides.  I’ve been working on the power point today – 3 crisp and clear slides, not overloaded with information is quite a challenge and may possibly take longer than a longer presentation to prepare.  I’m presenting the results of a teaching innovation project that we ran last year to improve students’ handling of spectral data.  Actually the project is still running this year as we are still making changes to what we do but the funding was for last year.  Specifically I’m going to be talking about using a tablet PC when teaching basic spectroscopy and as I’ve only got 5 minutes, focussing mainly on NMR.

Here’s the abstract for the oral byte:

“From Lo-Tech to High-Tech: Teaching Spectroscopy with the Writing on the Wall.”

Katherine J. Haxton, Richard J. Darton

Handling spectroscopic information is a key skill for a professional chemical scientist.  Spectroscopy increasingly underpins synthetic and analytical chemistry by providing a means to identify and quantify the products of chemical processes.  Chemistry students therefore increasingly require knowledge of the theory surrounding major modern spectroscopic techniques such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, Infra-red spectroscopy (IR), X-ray Diffraction (XRD), mass spectrometry and elemental analysis (CHN).  In addition to understanding the theoretical basis of such techniques, students must become expert in both generation and interpretation of spectral data.

Give an experienced chemist an NMR spectrum and the first thing they will do is grab a pen to sketch the proposed structure in the corner and work through the interpretation by writing all over it.  Give an undergraduate chemist that NMR spectrum and they may well struggle to work out what to do first to successfully interpret it.  Translating the techniques used by experts in spectral interpretation into the lecture theatre can be a challenging and frustrating task for students and staff alike.  With the move to online laboratory report submission and more web based teaching methods, the teaching of spectroscopic methods needs to make the transition from paper based data to electronic data.

By using a tablet PC, spectra including NMR, IR, UV/Vis and X-ray diffraction patterns, can be displayed to a class and analysed collaboratively.  This demonstrates how experts approach spectroscopy problems, and illustrates clearly how conclusions are supported by evidence (as opposed to seeking the ‘right’ answer).  Annotated spectra (and other lecture materials) are then conveniently provided to the class electronically.

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