Construction of knowledge within the visually rich context of chemistry is often a challenging task for undergraduate students. Our department has identified small group learning as a valuable method for helping our students overcome this challenge. Here we report the addition of tablet PC laptop technology to our small group activities with the aim of more fully developing our students’ understanding of chemical systems. Specifically, the cooperative group learning activities currently used in our physical chemistry and biochemistry courses have been redesigned to take advantage of the visual resources accessible through tablet PC technology. The static, two-dimensional visual representations of molecules and data in our current group activities have been replaced with interactive models of chemical behavior such as animations, simulations and/or other externally available media. Such media provides a richer and more engaging group experience for students, and allows for improved exploration of chemical systems that often have nuances difficult to express in more traditional representations.
We also explore new ways of communicating and sharing information within the classroom using the tablet PC’s. Digital inking technology available on the tablets allows groups to record robust answers to activity questions and software linking each team’s desktop to the instructor’s tablet facilitates the sharing of these responses to the class for discussion. The connectivity between teams and the instructor also provides an avenue for the quick exchange of documents at the start and close of the class session, resulting in essentially “paperless” group activities.