Smartwork5 is an intuitive html5 compatible online homework system which accompanies Organic Chemistry Principles and Mechanisms, 2e. It contains 3400 questions, all of which contain hints and formative feedback written by organic chemistry instructors. Nearly 2500 of these questions require students to draw an organic structure and/or write an organic mechanism. The drawing tools are easy to learn and the mechanism writing interface allows students and instructors to see the entire mechanism at a glance. In this post I am going to discuss the process of developing a student-friendly 2-D molecule drawing gradable module. In a future post I will expound upon how those same drawing tools were incorporated into a visually appealing mechanism writing interface and gradable module.
Many early online chemistry homework systems, including the precursor to Smartwork5, used the multimedia software platform Flash to render and draw 2D molecules. This meant that students had to use a browser which supported Flash, and often required students to download and install Adobe’s Flash on their personal or campus computers. I know from personal experience how challenging this made the start of the semester, as often students would seek me out with technical issues due to difficulties related to obtaining and using Flash. Therefore, as early as 2012 W.W. Norton’s product team began developing an html5 online homework system, with one goal being elimination of Flash. In 2014 efforts focused on incorporating a html5 compatible drawing platform in part due to announcements that by 2020 Flash would no longer be supported by most major internet browsers.
Marvin-JS by Chem Axon was adopted as the 2D molecule drawing tool for Smartwork5. Besides being Flash-independent Marvin-JS is a chemically intelligent tool used extensively in industrial settings, and it is available to students and instructors outside of Smartwork5 for use in lab reports or other assignments. Check out this link to see the wealth of features available within Marvin-JS.
As you can see, it contains many features needed for research chemists. However, very few of these tools are needed for chemistry novices – in fact the sheer volume of buttons and features can be very overwhelming to chemistry students. This marked an exciting pedagogy-related challenge: adjusting the available features of Marvin-JS to create a user friendly suite of tools appropriate for the novice while robust enough to draw complex structures and mechanisms. Furthermore, the same drawing platform was to be used for both organic chemistry students and general chemistry students. The selection and design-optimization of the available tools within the drawing platform was completed by a team of dedicates product developers, coders, user-interface designers, and myself (an experienced chemistry instructor).
We decided to create an interface within the 2D drawing module where the author would select from two main modes; general or organic chemistry. The selection of the mode would determine the majority of the drawing, display, and grading settings. This would ensure consistency across the Smartwork5 platform and therefore help clarify for students grading parameters and drawing expectations. However, the bulk of the interface and interactions would remain the same between general and organic mode to allow easy transition of students from general chemistry courses to organic chemistry courses. The consistent features are; select, an undo/redo button, a reset, access to a period table, changing atoms by keyboard actions, toggling through single/double/triple bonds, add/remove charge actions, add/remove electrons, and easy access buttons for the “most common” atoms.
The first choice in the mode determination process was to select a simpler suite of tools for general chemistry students then for organic students; for example general chemistry students did not need premade organic templates nor the ability to draw long alkyl chains. The selected tools for general chemistry would then be the foundation for organic chemistry. The next choice was to establish a default view for each course; organic chemistry structures were to display as line drawings while general chemistry structures were to be full Lewis structures. The final step was to select which default features should be edited by the author; for example organic chemistry authors are able to toggle on and off lone pair and chiral grading, which will result in the lone pair and wedge/dashes icons, respectively, to be added or removed from the display thereby indicating to students grading and drawing requirements.
In summary, the drawing tool within Smartwork5 is intuitive for students, is Flash-free, and present students with tools as needed. To help students overcome the low learning barrier we created a short assignable tutorial within Smartwork5. Additionally, the Smartwork5 help notes are very detailed and targeted for the two different courses.
Check out the General Chemistry helpnotes here.
Check out Organic Chemistry helpnotes here.
Would you like to try the 2D drawing tool as it displays to students both general and organic chemistry courses? You can do so easily by viewing the open access demo Smartwork5 demo at the following websites. Simply click on the Smartwork5 tile and follow the prompts.
Check out our Organic Open Access Smartwork5 Demo.
-Dr. Christine Pruis, W. W. Norton, Chemistry Subject Matter Expert
Click here to learn more about Dr. Pruis