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bullet  Chemistry - Integrating IT in chemistry teaching

David Crout, Chemistry

Modern degree courses in chemistry contain masses of complex material. There are still many advantages in using the "chalk-and-talk" method of lecturing, but at the same time there is an increasing role for IT. A good example is the teaching of enzymology and the structure and function of biomolecules. Illustration of the complex structures of proteins, for example, cannot be done by drawing on a blackboard and handouts give only a two-dimensional impression. However, available software packages such as RasMol, a molecular graphics molecule viewer, make it possible to produce views of proteins based on the 3-D structures obtained by X-ray crystallography. Incorporated into a presentation package such as PowerPoint, these views, shown during lectures using computer projection (e.g. the built-in facilities of several lecture theatres make the subject really come alive. Important features can be highlighted using a variety of representations of individual parts of the protein and the use of colour adds a whole new dimension.

The students themselves have access to the same software on the campus network and can explore the structures themselves, adding greatly to their appreciation of the points being made during lectures.

This is an approach currently being used in Chemistry along with plans to make the powerpoint lectures available for viewing via the web. There are many and obvious advantages. The costly and cumbersome method of using handouts of complex structures is avoided; handouts are replaced by greatly superior molecular graphics representations. Students can review the material as often as they wish and in their own time. Subtle structural features can be illustrated in a manner not possible with any other method of presentation.

The use of PowerPoint limits presentations to a linear structure. The ambition would be to develop the material for a web environment so that branching would be possible by creating links to subsets and extensions of the material. For example, in the teaching of enzymology, it is necessary to cover enzyme kinetics. This requires a certain level of algebra. Students with an adequate background in mathematics would take this in their stride. However, for students without the required background, or for others uncertain of their ability to cope without some revision, a link to a unit covering the basic algebra required and containing pointers to other supporting material, would introduce a highly desirable degree of flexibility.

It is planned to deliver via the web, on an experimental basis, a whole ten-lecture course. The lectures might also be given in the traditional way and the presentation version made available afterwards. Alternatively, the students might be asked to work through the course using the computer version and then be offered parallel workshops in which the material could be discussed, amplified, and, if necessary, clarified. The choice between these possibilities will have to be carefully made and the whole approach will be subjected to both coarse and fine tuning in the light of experience.

ETS note:

In order to assess a student's competence in areas of required background for the course, I would recommend the use of computer-based objective tests from which the student would receive immediate feedback and know whether to go through the additional support units.

If the lecturing contact time were reduced by providing the module via a web-based resource, it is certainly a good idea to plan support workshops to delve into the material deeper and clarify any problem areas the students are having. Computer-based tests could also be used by the students and the tutors to monitor the level of understanding and competence to problem-solve.

The use of an electronic discussion group would bring a collaborative learning element into the course or allow assignments to be worked through as a team project via exchange of ideas and problem areas in an electronic debate.

bullet  Warwick IT-based Teaching Innovations (WITTI) Ref: 5

Victor Perkins, Film and Television Studies

The Multimedia Centre at Warwick University offers a facility for capturing still images from videotapes of movies and TV programmes. In the Film & Television Studies Department we are beginning to explore the opportunities that this facility creates for research and teaching.

In terms of study, we appreciate the ability to achieve a precisely timed freeze-frame that can be held as long as one wishes without risk of damage to the video. This gives us a facility for analytical scrutiny like that offered by the use of film on an editing table, but extended to the complete range of material that is available on video rather than restricted to expensively hired movies on 16 or 35mm film. It means that one can halt the film at any point so as, for example, to inspect the structure of the image, to consider the choice and design of the setting, to think about an actor’s posture or gesture, or to contemplate the relationship between the image and the sound track.

As a teaching aid the facility is proving invaluable because we can achieve a printout of key images to accompany lectures and stimulate seminar discussion. The dynamic transformation of the image can be demonstrated by presenting a succession of frames from within a single shot; editing patterns can be made clear by capturing frames that represent each successive shot; and time structures may be inspected by using frames from each side of the space-time transitions as an aide-memoire. Relations between word, sound and image can be clearly articulated by presenting an account of dialogue, effects and music alongside the relevant frames.

We have been able to encourage students to prepare handouts with frame illustrations to support their seminar presentations. This is a great incentive to the imaginative and accurate analysis of detail. Most of the movie stills produced for publicity purposes at the time of shooting are very approximate - often misleading - indications of the content of the film. Until now, deriving more representative illustration from the film frames has been an expensive and laborious business. Research and publications in our field should benefit greatly from the new availability of precise records of image and action in film and television texts.

ETS note:

A further step in developing this approach is the plan to put the still image frames and accompanying teaching notes for the film analysis on the web for improved access by the students. Since the University of Warwick has a special licence for recordings from broadcast television and satellite, we can reproduce the images on the web, restricted to Warwick University only, without further copyright problems. Film analyses from pre-recorded video tape would not be possible due to copyright restrictions unless specifically cleared for the educational purpose. A frame template can be viewed under Teaching Resources on the Film and TV Studies web site. You can obtain the username and password (Warwick only) if you email to In the near future, the IP address of all universities within the broadcast television licence scheme can be made automatic access to such sites - CSV are awaiting new software to allow the web server to set this up.

The department of Physics have also used the frame capture technique to produce a series of still images from video film of particle motions for analysis.

bullet Using email lists for student communication

Alyson Stibbard

This term I am using an Email discussion list with two of my first-year mathematics lecture groups at Warwick.

Mathematics is not generally seen as a "talking subject". However, it is my experience that students who talk about their work learn it faster, understand it better and enjoy it more. They also make friends along the way. For these reasons I try to encourage a lot of discussion within my courses.

In November, a visiting IT specialist from Arizona, called David Lovelock, suggested in one of his workshops that Email was an obvious medium for fostering such discussion. Given that almost all students at Warwick now use and play with Email, and being an Email addict myself, I decided to adopt this idea and ask Computing Services ( to make me a "discussion list".

Each student who chooses to signs up to this list, which is then given a class address, can then send messages to the rest of the class. Replies can be sent to the whole group or just back to the sender.

I have suggested to students that they use the list for discussion of the homework problems, sorting out things in the lecture notes that they don't understand, asking and answering each others' questions, and generally talking about the course. I also hope that it will become a social vehicle, and that parties, outings and meetings will get planned and talked about as well.

I have deliberately left myself off the list, so that students can say dreadful things about me and the course without embarrassment. (They can of course reach me using my own Email address.) This means I don't have a direct way of knowing whether or how the list is being used - but I do know that it is an available resource. And, importantly, I can use the list address myself to get information to the students quickly.

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