One such experiment is the Physical Chemistry in Practice WebDVD project currently underway at the Auraria Media Center (AMC) in Denver, Colorado. Serving the Community College of Denver, the Metropolitan State College of Denver (MSCD) and the University of Colorado at Denver (CU-Denver), the AMC offers a full range of media services, as well as consulting services in media design and production, effective media use, distance education, and equipment selection, to facilitate university faculty's instructional needs. The foundation of the four-year project is the happenstance, but symbiotic, collaboration between Peggy O'Neill-Jones, an associate professor of technical communications at MSCD, and Gabriela Weaver, an associate professor of chemistry at Purdue University.
Conceived in 1999 "as a way to provide third- and fourth-year chemistry students with examples of actual, state-of-the-practice laboratory research that utilizes the concepts they are learning in class," Physical Chemistry in Practice began as a prototype DVD featuring two videos of chemistry experiments, as well as supplemental Web content, according to Weaver, who was an assistant professor of chemistry at CU-Denver at the time. Her mission, she says, was to create a teaching tool that "could be used as a classroom media supplement to demonstrate real applications of the science." Weaver also envisioned the DVD as a study aide that students could use at home "to review concepts, read additional material, and work on problems." She also saw it as an extension of laboratory courses, particularly "in locations where the labs are poorly equipped."
Enter O'Neill-Jones, who also serves as director of DVD.learn, the official training center for Sonic Solutions' Creator, Scenarist, Fusion, and DVDit! authoring tools and for InterActual Technologies' Web-connected DVD software and player. As Weaver was embarking on the development of her prototype—which had been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)—O'Neill-Jones was preparing to teach WebDVD courses at DVD.learn and researching ways in which WebDVD "could enhance the teaching and learning process."
"It seems our paths crossed at precisely the right time," O'Neill-Jones recalls. "Through the AMC, Gabriela and I came across each other's projects and realized how much they had in common." After O'Neill-Jones had schooled Weaver in the benefits of WebDVD, the two agreed to collaborate on an expanded project, which the NSF again agreed to fund. The reworked concept is a WebDVD consisting of 10 independent modules that, says Weaver, "together will cover all of the major topics discussed in a traditional physical chemistry course, including thermodynamics, kinetics, quantum mechanics, spectroscopy, and statistical mechanics."
Slated for completion in December 2005, Physical Chemistry in Practice features content developed by Ball State University, Purdue, the University of Northern Colorado, CU-Denver, and MSCD. Weaver is serving as scriptwriter for the scientific content, in conjunction with the scientists showcased in each DVD-Video segment. O'Neill-Jones is authoring the project's WebDVD components using Sonic Creator and InterActual tools.
According to Weaver, the WebDVD's video/animations section, to be taped on-location at various research sites around the world, will showcase research that is being carried out by the field's leading scientists and engineers. "Each research project selected for the DVD has a connection to a topic of social relevance," she explains. "For example, the modules on the original prototype have connections to semiconductor chips and to medical research on brain trauma." The disc's animations component, to be designed and produced at the AMC, "will visually demonstrate specific points and concepts discussed in the videos," Weaver continues. "They will be edited into the video content...and provided on the DVD in an à la carte menu. The theory section will contain HTML- and Java-based material linking the high-level research material in the videos to the concepts students are learning in the classroom. Finally, the interactive problems will be related to the research material in the videos, and will include authentic data from the researchers' work for students to analyze."
But why WebDVD, and why now? For O'Neill-Jones, a 20-year veteran of media production, the technology was a natural choice. "As more and more courses go online, technology has become an integral component of the teaching and learning process," she explains. "One of the areas that needs improvement is the rich media component of online and classroom-delivered education. Streaming media is an inconsistent way to deliver video, audio, and animation because the quality of playback depends upon the user's set-up, bandwidth, and other factors. WebDVD is the way to overcome the bandwidth issues and to ensure consistent media playback. One of the goals of this project will be to gather data and to assess the value of using rich media sources in the classroom and their effect on the learning outcome.
"Education is undergoing an incredible revolution," O'Neill-Jones continues. "The educational model in which the student went to the information is changing to one in which the information comes to the student. Education is no longer time- and place-dependent. With this change comes a need to rethink how the information gets to the student and the quality of the medium that delivers that information. Until ‘broadband for all' is a reality, WebDVD allows students to view, experience, and learn from high-quality audio, video, and animation by integrating dynamic content updates and linking to a variety of interactive tools, such as databases, chat rooms, and online testing."
Weaver also believes in the technology and its place in the classroom, but is careful to set boundaries. "WebDVD can offer a media supplement of high quality and bandwidth. For certain applications, such as videos of chemistry reactions and experiments, this is essential," she says. "WebDVD also provides a versatile and interactive medium in which students can learn. However, it should not—and probably will not—replace other methods of instructing students."
O'Neill-Jones agrees that WebDVD's value is self-evident, but that hurdles remain. "The biggest challenge we've faced so far is selling the concept of WebDVD," she explains. "Producing the prototype as a proof-of-concept and getting the NSF to fund it was a big challenge. The next challenge will be ensuring ubiquitous playback environments. For WebDVD to make it into the educational mainstream, the playback needs to be easy, inexpensive, and seamless."
Until then, the chemistry between DVD and the classroom will continue to be tested and refined. "The optimal scenario [in the future] is one that combines the benefits of one-on-one instruction, collaborative student group work, lectures, media supplements (such as video and animation), and interactive homework," says Weaver. "Each of these educational models has its strengths, and no single one should be expected to be everything to everyone."
(Peggy O'Neill-Jones: Metropolitan State College of Denver and DVD.learn, http://clem.mscd.edu/~techcom; www.dvdlearn.com. Gabriela Weaver: Purdue University, Department of Chemistry, www.chem.purdue.edu/faculty/weaverg.htm.)