CHEMMAT: Adaptive Multimedia Courseware For Chemistry

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  • Journal of Science Education and Technology, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997

    CHEMMAT: Adaptive Multimedia Courseware forChemistry

    Sun-Teck Tan1 and Lian-Kuan Tan2

    The trend towards Multimedia technology in Education is exemplified by the growing num-ber of "multimedia ready" classrooms. Besides using the conventional computer-based train-ing techniques, courseware has included multimedia capabilities, such as graphics, sound,animation, and video clips. This paper illustrates the development of such multimedia course-ware. Additionally, this courseware employs sound instructional and learning strategies;thereby making the courseware not only educational, but also captivating. The other uniquefeature of the courseware is its adaptability. Teachers who are not computer experts can usethe "Teacher" module to modify and add content to the courseware. By selecting the pre-defined objects, and/or filling in a form, the teachers can create simple animation by usingthe module. Another good feature is the ease of customizing the content in different lan-guages. This is illustrated by the translation of a module in CHEMMAT into Chinese.KEY WORDS: Multimedia; CAI; adaptive; chemistry.


    In Singapore, the importance which our societyplaces on education today is evident in many ways.Perhaps, it is best illustrated by the amount of fundswhich governing bodies set aside for education eachyear. Since 1993, most secondary schools and poly-technics in Singapore have been busy buying CD-ROM drives and are looking seriously at using mul-timedia to make learning more exciting and enter-taining (Liew, 1995). They are investing money tomake classrooms "multimedia ready" as the countrymoves towards being an intelligent island. Schoolsuse multimedia for several reasons: it is used tostimulate students' interest in some subjects and asa supplement to classroom teaching; the graphics andanimation make the subject come alive, so that learn-ing the subject is much easier; animation, voice andvideo clips are used to implement various teaching

    1Dept. of Information Systems and Computer Science, NationalUniversity of Singapore.

    2Mathematics and Science Centre, Negee Ann Polytechnic, Singa-pore.

    strategies such as tutorials, activities, and games; CD-ROM collection is used as a research tool for thestudents; and a multimedia presentation can makeclass and school projects so much more fun. Thesefactors also motivated the authors to develop a mul-timedia coursewareCHEMMAT

    The computer is a tool that can present knowl-edge to students in ways that have not previously beenpossible. In part, this is a matter of logistics and scale.Nevertheless, the computerin particular the multi-media computeroffers new ways in which ideas canbe represented to students and new models of inter-action. It may take quite some time for these changesto be fully realized, but they can be anticipated asgenuine contributions to education. At the same time,it is important to understand that in the end, the com-puter is only a tool, just as the book and the pencilare tools. In education tools can be used with positiveor negative results. Education is, after all, one of thesubtlest of human activities. Whether the potentialbenefits that the computer seems to offer are actuallyachieved depends largely on the teachers who use it.Therefore, teachers should be encouraged to use thiseducation tool, or even be involved in the develop-

    711059-0145/97/0300-007U12.50/0 1997 Plenum Publishing Corporation

  • 72 Tan and Tan

    ment of the tool. In CHEMMAT, this is promoted bythe "Teacher" module.

    Multimedia involves students in active, ratherthan passive, learning through physical interactionand cognitive engagement. Active learning can serveto maintain attention, create new knowledge, and im-prove achievement. Research in learning styles indi-cates that some students learn better through specificmodalities, such as visual, audio, or kinaesthetic.Some students are visual learners, some learn throughhearing, and some learn by touch. Multimedia pro-vides instruction through multiple sensory channels,allowing students to use the sensory modes that theyprefer. Another advantage of multimedia trainingprograms is that they can be non-linear and allow stu-dents to explore the content form multiple perspec-tive, for example, by using the hypertext. Multimediaprograms that employ this methodology can "helpstudents develop rich mental models as the basis forfuture learning; create environments that permit sus-tained exploration by students and teachers; and de-velop integrated knowledge structures that helpstudents transfer knowledge to more complex tasks"(Barron, et al., 1995). Technology can inspire studentsby making learning interactive and relevant. The factthat students enjoy working with technology and,therefore, stay on tasks for longer periods of time, isa valuable, long-term benefit. Many environments aretoo dangerous for training programs, for example, achemical reaction may cause an explosion. In thesecases, it is often possible to design a multimedia pro-gram that enables the students to interact with simu-lations of the environment without safety hazards.


    CHEMMAT, an educational software package onCHEMistry with Multimedia enhancement and anAssistant to Teachers, is a computer-aided instructionthat aims to help students who take Chemistry in theirG. C. E. 'O' level. It is developed using the AsymetrixMultimedia Toolbook (CBT Edition). It intends tocover the whole syllabus for the Cambridge 'O' levelChemistry examination. The current topics includeAtoms, Elements and Compounds; Electricity andChemistry; Chemical Reactions; Periodic Table; Bal-ancing of Equations; and Experiments. It incorporatesmultimedia capabilities, such as hypertext, sound,graphics, animation, and video clip. Multimedia alonecannot offer a more effective architecture to deliver

    training. It must be based on sound instructional andlearning strategies, so that the course can be tailoredto the students' unique needs and interests. ForCHEMMAT, it has included rule of thumb of learningChemistry from experienced Chemistry teachers andbased on the software developed by students from theDepartment of Information Systems and ComputerScience of the National University of Singapore. Thematerial included in CHEMMAT are from text booksand have been adapted with the help of Chemistryteachers in several schools.

    The teachers are the best persons to develop thecourse contents. However, not many teachers arecomputer-literate. It may not be cost-effective to aska Chemistry teacher to learn a new authoring tool be-fore he can make some changes or add new modulesto the courseware. For this reason, CHEMMAT pro-vides a "Teacher" module that allows the teachers tocreate or modify the contents. In addition, the moduleincludes layout formats for page design; a graphicslibrary that consists of commonly used apparatuses;commonly used scripts for buttons; scripts requiredto play sound or video; and even procedures to leadthe teacher to generate new animation. With thewidespread use of the Chinese operating system, thecourseware can be easily "translated" into Chinese sothat it can be used in Chinese speaking countries.


    Textbooks create images of chemistry by usingwords, tables, graphs, and still photos, but they aremissing the dynamic element, which is so importantin understanding chemical processes and concepts(Dori, 1995). With a simple click on the hotwords,the students will know the definition of the termi-nology. Figure 1 gives an example of using hotwordin CHEMMAT. Cartoons and photographic images areused to attract students' attention. Therefore, theyare included in CHEMMAT whenever it is appropri-ate. To give the students a quick overview of whatthe chapter is about, a video clip, an animation, ora photographic image is included in the objectivepage of each chapter. Photographic images such asthe setup of electrolysis, and titration are also in-cluded. Figure 2 shows an example of using analogyin the objective page for Chemical Reactions.

    People retain more information from what theysee and hear. To increase students' impressions on

  • Adaptive Multimedia Courseware 73

    Fig. 1. An Example on Hotword.

    Fig. 2. An Example of Using Analogy.

    the procedures, speech is included. Figure 3 showsthe procedure for performing flame tests when thestudents click on the word "How??". In addition tothe highlighted text, voice is also included. Video clipslet the students have the feeling that they are watch-ing the demonstrator performing the experiments. Itincludes flame tests, testing of gases, testing of cat-ions, and testing of anions. Superimposed text andsound give students better knowledge and highlightsthe important points. Figure 4 shows a snapshot ofthe video clip on adding NaOH on Cu2+ solution.Although video clips (digital formats) can be ma-nipulated easily and offer increase interactivity, a ma-jor impediment to digital systems is that digital videorequires an enormous amount of computer storage

    Fig. 3. How to Perform Flame Tests.

    Fig. 4. A Snapshot on Playing a Video Clip.

    space and is very difficult for a computer to processdigital video at the standard display rate of analogvideo, 30 frames per second. For these reasons, in-stead of video clips, some of the experiments andconcept illustrations are presented using animations.Figure 5 shows a snapshot of an animation to explainthe procedure of titration.


    Quite naturally, the student will find the courseboth informative and captivating since the informa-tion is presented at the point of needsound instruc-

  • 74 Tan and Tan

    Fig. 5. A Snapshot on Playing an Animation.

    tional and learning strategies. Therefore, the role ofmultimedia is a means of implementing the architec-ture, rather than an end in itself. For example, ananimation on how to balance an equation guides theweaker students through the thinking process (seeFigure 6 for a snapshot of the guide). The "Learn-by-Discovery" learning strategy is employed in thecourseware. It is assumed that the trainee will ac-tively explore information, according to his or herspecific needs and interests, in order to fulfill a goal.To facilitate this, CHEMMAT offers the trainee thebuttons and hypertext, intuitive human-computer in-terface. The buttons let the students have the controlto view the animation/video clip when desired. The

    Fig. 6. Guides on How to Balance an Equation.

    hypertext gives the students more detailed explana-tion.

    The exercises provided at the end of each mod-ule are to respond to individual differences in learn-ing by providing remedial instruction when students'responses are incorrect (Jonassen, 1996). Most of theexercises are presented in multiple-choice format.When an incorrect responses is entered by the stu-dent, the system will display an explanation (pro-vided by experienced teachers) for the possible causeof the mistake. An example is shown in Figure 7. Thestudent has clicked on a wrong answer and the pop-up window explains his mistake and shows the cor-rect answer. In addition, after the pop-up window isclosed, the correct answer is highlighted. Upon com-pletion of the exercise, the student can click on abutton to check his performance. He can also chooseto review the questions.

    As for multiple-choice questions, the studentmay have the tendency to answer just by guessing.''Answer-Matching" is another type of questions' for-mat. This type of testing promotes more active formof learning for the students. Figure 8 shows an ex-ample of a student's solution. The arrows representthe answers selected by the student, and the high-lighted words near the diagrams are the correct an-swers. In addition, the student can also click on theapparatus to obtain additional information, such asthe function of the apparatus, tips on using the ap-paratus, and the experiments where the apparatuswill be used. Figure 9 shows the pop-up window on"Volumetric Measurements" when the student click-on the apparatus "Graduated Cylinder".

    Fig. 7. Multiple-Choice Question.

  • Adaptive Multimedia Courseware 75

    Fig. 8. A Snapshot of "Matching" Exercise.

    Fig. 9. Pop-up Window on "Vol. Measurement".


    Currently, most of the existing courseware in useis static. That is, after the development, the contentsare difficult to change if you are not the developer.In addition, the syllabus may change or a teachermay have a better way of teaching a chapter. The"Teacher" module enables a teacher who is familiarwith Windows technology (use of menus, mouse), butwho may not have any computer programming back-ground to modify the courseware, and add in chap-ters, topics, or even animations. Table I summarizesthe features included in this module.

    In this paper, only the ''Animation" function willbe described. Readers who are interested can refer

    Table I. Features Available in TEACHER Module

    New Module



    Graphics Library







    provides a new book with template, and anew button in Main Menu

    allows addition, modification, or deletion ofa chapter or topic

    provides predefined layouts, such as a whitetext block at the left side of the screen, anda stage at the right of the screen

    provides pre-drawn apparatus and equipment

    creates a page for entering the details of thehotword. The size of the page variesaccording to the length of the hotworddescription

    provides button to play clip, or to activateanimation

    allows adding scripts on mouseEnter andmouseLeave to any object, and invokes thescript editor for scripts editing

    provides form for entering the animationsteps, generates the scripts and can beplaced in a text file, a book script, a pagescript, or a burton script

    includes the necessary resource to play thesound and can be played by entering a pageor by clicking a button

    includes the necessary resource to play a clipin a stage and can be played automaticallyby entering a page, or by clicking a button

    to (Pek-Tan, 1996) for the implementation of theTeacher module.

    In CHEMMAT, each animation procedure isstored in a book in the "animate" subdirectory. Eachanimation procedure may contain more than onestep. Each step is stored in one page and is given aunique sequence number, which is the page numberof the book. The teacher can test each step and resetit to the original situation after the test. He can navi-gate and modify each step in the procedure. At theend of design, he can: (a) save the animation to atext file, (b) activate the animation when a user en-ters the page, (c) keep the animation as a globalfunction to be used in this book, or (d) include theanimation in the buttonClick handler of a button.

    After choosing the "Tips" menu and selectingthe ''Animation/Create" option, the teacher will beprompted to enter the name of the book to store the

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    Fig. 10. Form for Animation Procedure.

    animation procedure. Figure 10 shows the em...


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