Ed Tech Vignette: Biochemistry II

Instructor: Diren Pamuk Turner

Department: Chemistry – A&S

Course: Biochemistry II

Technology Used: WordPress (sites.tufts.edu)

How ETS supported this: Working with the instructor ETS helped create a site template that students could use for their web site projects. Once the template was refined and agreed upon ETS then replicated the site for each student group and set the appropriate access permissions.

Tags: WordPress, Chemistry, Biology

What were the learning goals for CHEM-172 final project?

biochemIIStudents are expected to read and analyze the primary research papers in chemistry/biochemistry/molecular biology and synthesize the knowledge to answer “a big question in biochemistry & and human health”. This requires the students to go through the data in literature and understand results of many experimental techniques and then recreate their own data tables, figures and diagrams to illustrate the  important features of a research that best answers the question they posed. In the past, this was done via writing a 15-20 page paper and then presenting it to the audience using PowerPoint. By using WordPress, we were able to combine the submission of the paper and the presentation into one website. Students were able to create news/journal article type of text, which had to be condensed without losing the key concepts, and also incorporate various visual media to support the information they put up on their site. Because the sites were mostly created with plenty of figures, the presentations were done using the pages they had created. It was kind of an “online presentation”, where the students walked us through their website in a 20-25 minute “TedTalk” style presentation.

I think having both the paper and the presentation on the same document (page) made student concentrate on how to present the material in the best way possible by summarizing and using apt figures, instead of just giving a long description in a text (in fact this would happen in a paper submission in the past).

What worked best?

Students were requested to provide feedback to each other’s webpages, by using the comment feature in WordPress. This definitely worked better than having them collect each other’s written papers and provide feedback in time to make necessary changes. The comment feature allowed them to comment on each page, and the author was able to see the comments immediately, which allowed him/her to either respond to the commenter to provide explanation, or edit the page/paragraph to relay the information better. I think I am most happy about how student paid extra attention to each other’s pages and read through to give best recombination possible. Reading through a multimedia rich website might have also made the commenters’ job easier, because it feels less of a “paper assignment’, but more like reading a research review, or a scientific news report. Also since everything is online, the pages remain as living projects and the students are free to further develop their topics if they would like to do so.

What did not work?

When there were several people commenting on the websites, the sites had crashed. this was very unfortunate and created stress among those who were working close to deadlines and dealing with a lot of exams at the same time. Additionally, due to these delays of receiving the comments when sites crashed, the website owners had to keep checking in constantly to see if there are extra comments that came in after the deadline. Lowering the spam restrictions did not help -unfortunately- since there 35 students and they had be writing to at least 3 sites during the reading the period.

Editor’s Note: When ETS was made aware of the “crashing” problem we were able to address it. The site was not actually crashing. The problem was that our anti-spam features were blocking users who triggered our “frequent commenting” threshold that can often be a signature of spambots. We relaxed the trigger criteria somewhat to resolve the issue and created a more user friendly warning page.

Next Steps/Refinements

I would be willing to use this technology again for a similar purpose.  I will be co-teaching a class this spring with Prof.Kumar: Medicinal Chemistry : CHEM157. It is an upper level undergrad/ grad course. The course usually ends with a research review paper on mechanism of action of a drug molecule. However, I think this time we will also ask them to create a webpage.