Deconstructing a Puzzle Using Writing and Technology

Author Information
Ginger Shultz, Grace Winschel, Renata Everett
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Michigan
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The Voicethread discussion board was used in combination with tutorials created by JING to supplement learning of spectroscopy in a large enrollment organic chemistry laboratory course. Voicethread is proposed as an effective tool for the teaching and learning of spectroscopy, because it is visually based and allows students to communicate while synthesizing multiple pieces of visual information. Both technologies were implemented on a large scale and their effectiveness was assessed using analytics, surveys, exam results, and a specially designed pre/post term knowledge probe.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Spectroscopy learning objects using the Voicethread discussion board and JING tutorials were implemented in a portion of an organic chemistry laboratory course fall and winter terms of the 2011-2012 academic year. The effectivness of these tools was evaluated by comparison of participating and non-participating students. Several measures were used including a pre/post-term spectroscopy survey; a low-stakes spectroscopy problem given pre/post term, which students would solve and write about; analytics, which were used to monitor the usage of the tools during the term; and exam performance on individual spectroscopy questions.

The outcomes and response to the online spectroscopy learning objects were largely positive. Voicethread enabled peer-group discussions that were particularly interesting, because the discussion board framework facilitated very creative student responses. Using the Voicethread site students responded to a particular aspect of a spectroscopy problem, using video, audio, or by writing. Students could also view, and respond to, the answers of other students. Example student responses, which will be highlighted during the session, illustrate the potential of the technology for this and other courses.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Voicethread based spectroscopy problems were implemented on a small and large scale in a large enrollment course.  Data was collected for participating and nonparticipating students for comparison.

Analytics indicate that students visited the Voicethread site and JING tutorials repeatedly throughout the term, especially prior to exams.

>300 students surveyed rated both Voicethread and the JING tutorial as more useful as a study resource than the course text.

Graduate student instructors indicated that students who used the methods engaged in discussion of spectroscopy earlier and more often than students who didn't.

Participating students showed a marked difference in their written explanations of their problem solving process over the course of the term and as compared to nonparticipating students.

The primary course instructor viewed individual comments and responses to spectroscopy problems, illustrating muddy points and misconceptions which could be addressed later in lecture.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Access - This work is liscenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Copyright 2012.

Faculty Satisfaction - Instructors indicated a  marked improvement in student discussion and engagement in spectroscopy problems during class. The primary instructor viewed student posts and used them in lecture discussions.

Learning Effectiveness - Effectiveness as evaluated using anumber of different measures including surveys, analytics, exam results, and a specially designed writing based tool.

Scale - Learning objects were implemented on both a small (~50 students) and a large scale (~250 students). Organization and implementation of Voicethread on a larger scale presented unique challenges which will be of interest to educators from institutions with large introductory courses.

Student Satisfaction - Student satisfaction was evaluated by surveys, which illustrate a preference for both learning objects over the course text for learning spectroscopy. Analytics indicate that students revisited both repeatedly during the term especially before exams.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Access to internet and computers is required. Students can respond by text, however audio and video responses requrie microphone and camera equipment.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

The site can be access for free when fewer students (~50) participate. A special site license was obtained when the site was used with greater numbers of students (~250).

References, supporting documents: 

A sample student discussion on Voicethread is available at

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Dr. Ginger Shultz
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