Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Review # 2: Open Academic Organic Chemistry, 5 Stars

Review # 2: Open Academic Organic Chemistry, 5 Stars

It is going to be hard to follow up the CyberOne project, but, indeed, I shall. The second review will explore Jean-Claude Bradley's open academic tools for organic chemistry at Drexel. This includes his course materials for organic chemistry and his lab materials within the UsefulChem project.

Now, I have to admit my bias. Jean-Claude is my inspiration for open academia. He is the one who got me into this whole business, and, without him, I would never have found Stingy Scholar. He inspired me to work in the open, and, as such, we have become friends. However, he is always open for constructive criticism, and, so, it is OK that I am reviewing his work. If I did find an error or something needing development, he would be OK with me writing about it. That said, I have tried to put together an unbiased review of his work.

Overall, Jean-Claude's materials have earned 5 stars. Now, before you go thinking I just pass out stars to all of my friends, read why:

Is the website easy to navigate? Will students be able to work independently?

To examine Jean-Claude's educational materials, I first looked at his class wiki for Chemistry 241: Organic Chemistry 1. There is a nice welcoming flash screencast introducing his students to the class. The screencast is easy to understand and walks the students through what he expects, how they can get their information, how they take their tests, etc. Everything is neatly organized and easy to find, and there are links to the syllabus, archived lectures, problem sets, and practice quizzes. If someone is interested in learning organic chemistry, (s)he can easily navigate this wiki without assistance. Further, extra credit and prizes can be earned through games or participation in the UsefulChem Project.

Is the content easy to access? Is the content organized? Do the links work? Can I hear the podcasts and/or see the video podcasts?

Jean-Claude uses a wiki-blog model for content delivery. The posts are interconnected and a student can easily find her way around. All of the links work, and I subscribed to the video podcasts through iTunes. He uses a tablet PC and Camtasia software to deliver lectures. I was able to open all of the materials in IE, but Firefox was a bit of a pain. He noted this problem on his post mortem blog post. But, this seems to be a Firefox issue, as, before their latest upgrade, I could access the content easily. He has started using YouTube, as well, to host materials. If students can open YouTube in Firefox and iTunes on Macs, then there should be no problem viewing the video podcasts. And, of course, everything works fine in IE.

Can a non-registered student or professor use the content without taking the course?

Jean-Claude's mission is to share organic chemistry with the world. When I met him at a WebCT conference, I was struck by his willingness to share his materials. He encourages global students to use his material, and hopes that it can help in areas where organic chemistry isn't taught. He encourages professors and teachers to use and distribute content. He spends a great deal of time educating professors on how to add games to the mix to reinforce course content. He helps them develop materials in podcast or video podcasts formats. He is generous with both his time and talent. And, most importantly, he provides all of this material for FREE. His newest project is supporting online textbook material through the Google Co-op for Organic Chemistry. Jean-Claude's mission of sharing is unique, and I think earns him many kudos (and more gold stars if I could give them).

Is there enough content, and, if not, are there links to more information?

Again, I am not qualified to assess the content, as I know nothing about chemistry (organic or otherwise). But, Jean-Claude is well credentialed, and it seems like there is a ton of information available to students. On his UsefulChem blog and Drexel CoAs wiki, he provides links to additional information. The site appears to have significant content. Do any organic chemists want to weigh in on the content?

Critic's Choice (this is where I get to be creative).

Jean-Claude is brilliant, and that, alone, earns him a star in this category. Being my friend earns him one, too, but he doesn't get one for that or for being brilliant. He gets a gold star because he is soooo accessible. He helps faculty members use this technology (wikis, blogs, casts, games) to enrich any discipline. After I met him, I wanted to create some grammar games using his EduFrag project; he walked me through the whole process and didn't get upset by my initial newbiness at gaming. Finally, Jean-Claude is humble; someone with his background is likely to be snooty, but he is kind and generous with his material, expertise, and assistance. If the whole world of academics would be like him, we would have rich and vibrant materials flowing freely through academia.

So, he, too, gets 5 gold stars ;-)


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