8th Irish Variety in Chemistry Teaching Meeting

DIT played host to the 8th Irish Variety in Chemistry Teaching meeting, modelled on the very successful UK Variety in Chemistry Education (ViCE) meeting on Thursday May 10th. There was a workshop in the morning covering two aspects of technology in chemistry teaching; using wikis, by Claire McDonnell, who demonstrated how to set up, edit and modify a wiki, along with highlighting the advantages of a wiki for monitoring group work – the ability to be able to track who did what and when. Claire identified this as the most useful aspect of wikis from her perspective in teaching. My own part of the workshop was on podcasting using Audacity, as outlined in the recent article in Education in Chemistry.

The remainder of the day was divided into two themes, Supporting Student Learning, and Broadening the Curriculum; followed by the keynote talk from David McGarvey at Keele.

Supporting Student Learning

There’s no doubt technology is becoming more and more common-place in chemistry education to support student learning. Christine O’Connor (DIT) opened this session describing her implementation of the use of podcasts to support lecture material and annotate worked examples. Her ongoing work involves investigating how students use these resources; some key points were that students liked the audio files with their lecturer’s voice, but they liked having print outs too as they could quickly scan through that material, which they can’t do with audio files.

Simon Collinson (Open University) described his work with Eleanor Crabb on the use of online chat-rooms to run tutorials (using Elluminate). The software allowed for voice, video, drawing and text from both instructors and students. Simon reported that while students liked the chat function, he was worried that with a large group the text box may get distracting. While students liked the idea of a microphone, they were reluctant to use it “on the spot”. Simon’s interested in looking at how providing students with some advance material ahead of the chat-room sessions might help reduce the cognitive burden involved in both being online and thinking about chemistry.

Pat O’Malley (DCU) used Articulate to prepare some pre-lab activities for students. Some clever ideas here included a virtual map of the lab, with Articulate Engage used to annotate the image so that students could navigate around the lab and familiarise themselves with where things were kept. along with videos on various techniques, he had a nice resource on how not to use a pipette, along with the result of a broken pipette meeting with a hand and some red stuff appearing. Pat assured us no students were harmed in the filming. In terms of getting students to use the resources, Pat described how he made some questions very specific to the resources, for example; what label (a) referred to in a particular slide.

Finally in this session was Mike Casey (UCD). Mike described the implementation of a student poster assignment, whereby the student had to take a medicinally relevant drug and make a poster on it, including the chemical structure, 3D structure, annotate functional groups in the drug and illustrate some physical properties. The students had to independently use resources to work out how to draw the structure and prepare the PowerPoint slide so it had a professional feel. What was most impressive was that this assignment was administered to class sizes of up to 450 students, and achieved a 96% completion. This was facilitated by using a lab session to introduce the assignment, and assign lab tutors to help students with queries. Each student gave a 5 minute presentation where the core organic chemistry of the slide could be discussed. It was a really simple, effective strategy, and Mike showed some clever ways of highlighting Ireland’s role in the development of pharmaceuticals.

 Broadening the Curriculum

The second session of the afternoon was on the theme of broadening the curriculum. First up in this category was Tina Overton (Hull) who took us through some of her work on dynamic problem-based learning. The idea is that after presenting students with their problem and context as in a normal PBL scenario (for example, designing a green-campus, costing the impl,emtation of bio-diesel for a bus company), students are given some condition change mid-way through the project—for example: changing costs of materials, changing legislation, a natural event (e.g. earthquake), etc. Students would then have to re-assess the intial information they rquested and see how to adjust their project given the changing conditions. All of this was carefully implemented through well-organised card system, which probably accounted for the fact that students didn’t seem to mind the changing conditions, which they were not expecting. Feedback from students was positive. Tina is making several of these resources available on the RSC’s website later in the year.

Marie Walsh (LIT) spoke about her involvement in the “Chemistry is all around us” project—an evolving network of chemists from around Europe collating resources for chemistry education. The website from the original project is http://www.chemistry-is.eu/and the new project is focussed on three themes: (1) Students’ motivation; (2) Teacher Training; (3) Successful experiences. The new website is being developed at http://projects.pixel-online.org/chemistrynetwork/info/index.php.

Odilla Finlayson (DCU) spoke about integrating research awareness into the curriculum, by getting students to talk to research staff and postgraduate students. The process was organised through a lab-session where students would meet researchers in their teams and find out about their research/process of research, and then report their findings in a group presentation. Students reported that they liked the idea, and were much more aware of the research activities within the School.

Keynote Speaker

David McGarvey (Keele) was the meeting keynote speaker, having won the 2011 RSC Higher Education Teaching Award. David gave a broad ranging talk covering various innovations he has initiated over the last number of years. These included developing context-based spectroscopy labs using sunscreens as a basis. As well as experimentation, the labs involved preparing a poster, completing a simulation on sunscreens depending on location in the world. One of the other novel features about this project was getting students to complete a mock assessment exercise using provided assessment criteria, so that students could really get a feel for how the assessment worked. David’s work on sunscreens is available in full at this Education in Chemistry Article.

Another project described was some impressive work with audio feedback. In the example shown, students had to prepare and deliver a PowerPoint presentation on a lab experiment. Rather than just providing feedback after submission, students were offered interim feedback on their PowerPoint slideshow. This was done using audio feedback, recorded with annotations using a tablet PC on the student’s work. David played a few of the sequences, showing the student’s interim submission, his feedback, and the student’s final submission incorporating the feedback points. It was very impressive, and a nice antidote to the notion that students don’t take feedback on board. Perhaps it might be better as a rule to give feedback on an interim basis rather than at the end? David’s work on audio feedback is available from page 5-9 in the July 2011 issue of New Directions [PDF].

David also managed to find some time to talk about his screencasting work, whereby he uses Camtasia to record screencasts to cover material causing difficulty to students, worked examples, etc. He recommended the use of a table of contents feature to allow easy navigation for students so they could jump to the section they wanted to listen to. David has also used screencasts as a means for feedback, in a collaborative project with Katherine Haxton, also at Keele (see New Directions, July 2011, p 18-21).

Thanks to all for a great day. The presentations will be available on the conference website by end of May.

Activity progress bar in Articulate

activity progress

Sometimes there are several things going on in one Articulate presentation slide and the progress bar (Seekbar) at the bottom is not informative about individual activities occuring in a slide. I wanted to include an activity progress bar to show how long a video was going to take (and give a sense that what was being shown in the video was “live”). I used a wipe animation as shown in the Screenr below.

Pre-Lecture Resources Webinar 26 Jan 2011


I’ll be giving a webinar as part of the fantastic Sligo IT webinar series this Wednesday at lunchtime. You can register and find out more here: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/1135441135. The webinar will cover some of the work I’ve done on my Teaching Fellowship on the area of pre-lecture resources. It’ll be my first webinar – I’m quite nervous about it, but looking forward to the instant interaction of the audience as I give the talk!


This presentation will outline the use of online pre-lecture resources to supporting in-lecture material. The design rationale is to develop a cyclical approach between online resources and lectures, so that the two are mutually dependent. The aim of the resources are to introduce students to some key ideas and terminology prior to the lecture, so that their working memory during the lecture can focus on application
and integration, rather than familiarising with new terminology. These had a short quiz associated with them which was linked to the gradebook in the VLE. Some design principles behind developing these (and any) e-learning resources will be presented, along with implementation strategy and some analysis of the effect of using these resources with my own students.

Articulate: Timed response for game/simulation


I’m interested in creating an interactive simulation around a titration, whereby a student, watching a video of a titration, has to click a button when they see a colour change. I think this should be fairly easy to do in Articulate – I’ve made a Screenr of how I intend to do it (buttons etc are rough and ready for this demo). I’d suggest watching it in full screen/HD:

Podcasting and screencasting for supporting lectures

Podcasting and Screencasting for Supporting Lectures

Prompted by my visit to Edinburgh next week to the “More Effective Lectures” workshop, I have compiled several blog posts and bits and pieces of other writing into a Resource Pack that I hope might be useful to other practitioners entitled: “Podcasting and screencasting for supporting lectures“. The resource is a PDF file and is available at this link: Podcasting and Screencasting for Supporting Lectures or click on the image below. The resource covers:

  • Introduction to the use of podcasts/screencasts in education
  • Overview of the design of e-resources
  • Tips for preparing podcasts and screencasts
  • Tools of the trade: Audacity, Camtasia and Articulate
  • Using SCORM compatibility
  • Publishing a podcast series to iTunes

Iodine Clock – Pre-Lab Activity

This is an Articulate interaction which incorporates video demonstrations the various aspects of the iodine clock experiment and then has a quiz towards the end. This could be used as a pre-lab activity, where students could print out their response to the quiz and bring it to the lab, or alternatively link the quiz to the VLE by SCORM. Click on the image to access the resource:

Funding from NDLR and DIT gratefully acknowledged.

Maths for Chemistry Resources

Published 11th themed resource (along with a few sub resources from these not given below) on my site Maths for Chemistry today. Five more on basic chemistry calculations on the way! It’s amazing how much I’ve learned about Articulate in doing these, and interesting to track my own development ability (slowly improving :) )

11. Titration calculations

10. Basic Statistical Analysis

9. Paired t-test

8. One-sample t-test

7. Mass-mole calculations

6. Completing an F-test

5. Student’s t-test

4. Functions and Calibration Plots

3. Raoult’s Law

2. Logs in chemistry

1. Simultaneous Equations in Chemistry

Button in Articulate

Having watched @elearning‘s Screenr demonstrations on using icons and following on the same theme from before on my toggle switch demo, I was interested in seeing how to use animation in PowerPoint to mimic a button depress. This demonstration shows how a shape over the button on each slide which rapidly disappears (Exit animation) gives the impression of a button press. It needs tweaking but it *could* look good!

Demo 1 shows an example

Demo 2 shows the effect of different fade rates – seems the faster the better!

Adding Articulate Presentation to WordPress.org

Since coming across Articulate a few months ago, I’ve made quite a few presentations and loaded them onto our VLE. But a new project on developing open access resources meant that I needed to host the videos myself. This entry explains how I took my Articulate presentation and loaded it up onto a site I set up. In particular (it took me two days to do what should have been a 5 minute job!), I highlight the pitfalls I came across and how I got around them.

The good news is that once you have everything set up, it should take less than five minutes from publishing Articulate to being live online.

Website Hosting

Outcomes of Website hosting section:

You will have WordPress installed on your site
You will have a redirect ready to set up so that domain.com will redirect to domain.com/wordpress
You will have your site FTP details

I love WordPress and have recently started using WordPress.org to mange a website. My service provider, Blacknight, facilitates automatic installation of WordPress, so I can avoid WordPress’ scary-looking “Famous Five Minute Install”. I installed automatically, and selected a theme, and hey presto, my new site was live. Some issues:

Issue 1:

My website was “http://www.domain.com/” When WordPress is installed, it chooses a URL like “www.domain.com/wordpress”. But I’m greedy and I wanted my WordPress site to come up when I typed just the domain name, without the WordPress. I’ve done this before with another site, just changed the URL in the service provider control panel to “/”. This works, but boy it causes problems!!

The main problem is that this is fine if you are just going to be using the very nice WordPress site admin to upload pictures, etc. But because Articulate presentations involve lots of files and folders, you need to upload them all to the domain server and then link to them from your WordPress site admin page editing. Changing the url to “/” to match with the domain name causes lots of problems. This is a lesson I have learned and will never forget.

  • Keep the URL as “http://www.domain.com/wordpress” or whatever you want the “wordpress” bit to be.
  • To make a redirect to upload later, open Notepad and type in the following (replacing “wordpress” with whatever you decide, then save as “index.php” on your desktop (“index.php” may be different on your host – see below).
<?php header(
'Location: http://www.domain.com/wordpress' ) ;
  • Below, we are going to upload this index.php file to the server, and this will redirect domain.com to domain.com/wordpress

Issue 2:

To move the articulate files from your computer to the host server, you need to ftp them. To do this, you need to get the ftp address. In Blacknight, this is in the Webspace > Website configuration. Note the FTP address (something like 12.34.456.78), the log in and password.

My problem here was that I host two websites on my domain hosting package, and the Webspace was set to the other site. Therefore I was moving files onto my server, putting in what I thought was the correct address in my web browser and getting “File not found”. I hate File not found”!! 22 emails between me and Blacknight later, it turned out that I was uploading files to the wrong webspace. This won’t be a problem if you just have one domain on your server host, but if not, check that you have the right webspace selected. In Blacknight user cp, this is found in Webspace > Webspaces (oh it’s SOOO easy when you know how!!). Get the FTP address as described above and the login and password.

Articulate Presentation

Outcomes of Articulate Presentation section:

You will have your articulate presentation (Web output) published
You will learn the wise ways and use .swf and not .flv

Make your articulate presentation. Publish it for Web delivery. It’s that easy!

In mine, I had embedded videos in my presentation which I made in Camtasia Studio. Because I wanted to upload these to Youtube at a later date, I published them as .flv files. But when I got to the end and put everything on my website, it turned out the my service provider didn’t like .fly (something to do with MIME error, don’t know and don’t care), so I reproduced my videos as .swf format (using very handy batch publish on Camtasia) and republished my Ariculate with these.

David Masterson (Twitter = @elearning), a very helpful Articulatually knowledgable person, pointed me to a nice workaround if you were stuck with .flv files. This is to upload them to Youtube and embed web object: you embed a link “www.youtube.com/v/xyz” where “xyz” is the Youtube video extension, the bit that comes after the “watch?v=” in a Youtube URL- see presentation below for details. This works nicely, although does assume that you are willing/able to upload any and all videos to Youtube. I could have also inserted a web object and linked to hosted .swf files on the server.

Add Articulate Presentation to Your Web Host and Go!

Outcomes of this section:

Set up redirect page
Upload your content to the website
Link through your WP Admin Page Editor

The last thing to do is to upload your redirect page (just have to do this once) and your Articulate presentation. I used Cuteftp, which has a 30 day trial. The Articulate FTP option that comes up at the end of publishing didn’t work for me, maybe I made an error. I used the connection wizard in Cuteftp and entered in the details for my site (remembering the point about webspaces above). Once this comes up, you use it like Windows explorer.

To test out your FTP prowess, remember the index.php file you saved earlier? In the left hand pane of cute ftp, navigate to your desktop. in the right hand pane navigate to your root folder, so you are in your domain window. You will see an index file here – this is index.php for my domain host, it might be different for yours (e.g. index.html) – whatever it is this is what you should save your Notepad file, above, as. Drag and drop the index.php file from your desktop to the server domain.

image of cuteftp window
The CuteFTP window, I have navigated to my root folder of my domain to find my index.php file

The CuteFTP window, I have navigated to my root folder of my domain to find my index.php file

You can test if this works by typing in your URL: www.domain.com – it should redirect immediately to www.domain.com/wordpress, or whatever you set the URL redirect to be in the code above. If it doesn’t you need to retrace your steps. Check very carefully that you have this index file in the root folder of your host server.

Once you have confirmed you are in the correct folder, you are on the home straight:

  • Navigate in the left hand window of cuteftp to where you have your articulate projects saved. Click and drag on the folder you want to copy across (the one that contains the player.html and all the other files) and drag it to the domain window on the right hand side of cute ftp – or copy and paste if you prefer. (You can make a sub-folder if you like to be organised).
  • Navigate to the folder and note down the path to the file player.html. In my case below, it would be: www.mathsforchemistry.info/DMCsimultaneousequations/player.html – this is the link you will be embedding into WordPress.
url link window
Picture of Cuteftp where I have navigated to the file on my host server I want to link in WordPress

Picture of Cuteftp where I have navigated to the file on my host server I want to link in WordPress

You can now leave the world of ftp behind and move into your WP-admin, by logging into that. (Usually http://domain.com/wordpress/wp-login.php). Create a new post (or page) and put in your jargon. Now you want to insert the link. In my page, I screenshot a page from my presentation (using PixClip) and made that the link. Publish and bask in the reflective glory of your new articulate online presentation!!

One final little trick:

When I had done all this, it looks great. The only issue is that the webpage or tab title is that of the articulate presentation. If you called it something sensible, then this is OK, but it is possible to change it to whatever you want:

  • Find the player.html file in the my articulate projects folder of whatever presentation you are looking at,
  • Right-click on player.html and open with Notepad.
  • Scroll down a few lines – you will see “<Title> gobbledygook </Title>”
  • Delete the Gobbledygook and put in whatever you want there. In mine I entered:
Simultaneous Equations for Chemical Analysis | Dr Michael Seery
  • Save this and upload just this player file to the folder with this articulate project using cuteftp.

You can see the results of all my labours at my website – click on the image!

Click to access resource

Future Plans

Looking at things to make the loading of the presentation snazzier – an embedded presentation which expands on clicking. Watch this space!