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Comment OK the Article has a Point, and SO WHAT? (Score 1) 241

Okay the article has a point, and SO WHAT? Frankly, introductory online courses should be FREE to encourage more students to pursue STEM degrees from home.

There have been many quick solutions posted regarding “How to easily solve the cheating”. However, some of the solutions may be worse than the problem. There is nothing quick and easy in designing an online STEM course, and not all online courses are created equal.

In introductory STEM courses, problem solving (application versus only knowledge and comprehension) is the desired Bloom taxonomy learning goal. Online courses built around the weekly application of concepts (problems), require students to learn and concepts versus memorize and/or look up information using the internet.

My below responses are based on the development and instruction of an online introductory chemistry course over the past two years. I use a “what’s best for the students” approach from a learning standpoint—unfortunately, it’s substantially more work for the instructor. I assume students do NOT have ANY previous online course experience and only use the absolute minimal number of tools in the learning management system course design and implementation.

Re: Immediate Feedback--GOOD
IMHO--It’s one of the best ways to encourage students to review their mistakes IMMEDIATELY after completing homework and/or quizzes. In a bricks and mortar course, it’s the same as handing out the answer key to a quiz/exam immediately after a student submittal. Most if not all students immediately sit down and review the answer key--it enables another opportunity for learning.

Re: Multiple Choice Quizzes--ESSENTIAL
IMOH—It’s the only way to practically assess an online course. And yes it’s possible to develop multiple choice chemistry problems where students can NOT look up the answer on the Internet. It is a total misconception that all answers are on the Internet or can be found using Wolfram|Alpha (I introduce Wolfram to students during the first week and require its use as an advanced “calculator”).

Re: Database of Multiple Choice Questions—GOOD, but a lot of WORK
IMOH—Yes you can build a database of multiple choice questions to use for homework and quizzes—it just takes a lot of work, the use of spreadsheets, a lot of cut and pasting to get into the learning management system, and constant editing of subscripts, superscripts and symbols. Key to the design is:

        Detailed, published homework problem solutions
        Development of large sets of multiple choice problems delivered using long timeframes delivered as weekly homework using a quiz tool (I call it quomework)
        Repetitive use of the multiple choice homework problems delivered as quiz problems using shorter timeframes delivered as weekly quizzes.

Re: Multiple Attempts at Quizzes and Homework--GOOD
IMOH—Yes, giving students multiple attempts at submitting homework and quizzes is best for learning. There are always students who try to “guess” their way through a course, or try find a way around the “system” as in the article, but when it’s easier for students complete the work than to try to plagiarize/cheat, they go with the path of least resistance.

Re: Final Exams—Not Necessary for an Introductory Course
IMOH—Though I am required to give an final exam at my current institution, I have never seen it make much of a difference in a student’s grade. The institution I work at currently does not proctor the final exam and weighting too much of a student’s grade to the final exam could certainly create some of the issues mention in the article.

I hope this perhaps clarifies that not all online courses are equal and really what matters most, is to give a student the best possible opportunity to be successful in an introductry STEM course. On the downside—typically half of all students attempting an online chemistry course do not complete it. It’s a somewhat better success than my own university chemistry experience of the professor’s, “look to your right, look to your left, those students will be gone by the end of the term”. Hundreds of bright capable students now doing something else.

Best regards and professional success!

Comment Use WSSCCalomeni YouTube Chemistry Screencasts (Score 1) 166

Regarding your request for STEM materials, you are welcome to use my Chemistry screencasts ( The 18 screencasts are not lecture videos, but instead designed for an online Community College Introductory Chemistry Course. They are not as popular as (and different than) Khan’s work (I have not advertised them), yet they have still had over 20,0000 views in a year and a half. I have also authorized their use for school systems in India.

You are also welcome to use any of my various periodic charts, periodic tables, and handouts (Dropbox link: All of the materials are FREE. They are licensed to the public and commercial domain under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. (Disclaimer—I am not trying to profit off of any of the above material).

The screencasts were produced a year and a half ago; I am currently working on producing updates. Any constructive feedback is welcome. The creation of any successful online STEM course is a lot of work. While developing courses at a university, I developed 29 design courses in six months. The development (and teaching) of one online chemistry course took two years of half-time work. A lot of the work consisted of making the course highly resistant to the cheating/plagiarism common in online courses (the solution is easy—make the assignments unique and challenging enough such that cheating/plagiarism is more work than the course assignments).

As far as STEM courses go, I consider chemistry and discrete math, two of the best course which teach critical thinking. A course which focuses on the weekly solution of problems will be of greater long-term benefit.

My background is software development and engineering. I completed my first “online” course (Statics) in Fall of 1984 using an Engineering University’s internal network of Unix computers.

Best regards and professional success.

Comment Solar and Evaporative Cooling Considerations (Score 1) 106

I live in Vegas and would at least like to comment on a couple of items:

Power in Vegas by Nevada Power (published data) is approximately 23% coal, 67 % Natural Gas, 4% Hydroelectric, 3.8% Geothermal, 0.85% Nuclear, and 0.5 % solar per their generation stats. Nevada Power generate 68% of their power and they buy the rest. Solar is available and it does make sense, but the republican politicians and killing the projects. Nevada Solar One ( works 24/7 and produces 64 MW annually not far from Boulder City and since it uses concentrating solar and salt for thermal production of electricity. Similar solar facilities were planned north of Vegas along with the necessary transmission lines which would also connect the two major U.S. electric grads. Current plans are still on hold (via politics again). While solar energy could be a major source of revenue (along with current mining and tourism industries) for Nevada, solar and transmission lines are currently viewed as a boondoggle. An area of solar approximately 100 miles on a side devoted to solar could power ALL of the U.S. electricity needs using current technology.

I have water concerns about the facility, when using evaporative cooling the DC is using a lot of water lost to evaporation. I suspect 1-2 million gallons per day as an educated "guess". For comparison, a typical golf course minimally uses a million gallons of water per day. While I worked in Arizona (land development) designing master planned communities as an engineer, the water used for golf courses would be reclaimed and/or non potable water. In Nevada, we try to return (after processing) water to the Colorado River to account for a draw that exceeds our allotment. While someone can argue whether living in Las Vegas does not make sense environmentally, my current house (nothing special) uses less electricity, water, and natural gas than anywhere I have previously lived (MI, WA, WV, & AZ).

If you stand on Hover Dam or the Bypass Bridge, you will see plenty of water. Right now Lake Mead water level is rising and regardless of rise or fall a certain minimum flow is regulated to pass downstream of the dam. Most of the water is used for agricultural purposes, none reaches the Gulf of Mexico except in unusual circumstances. Not all of water (there is a lot) is used wisely--for example cotton is not a water wise crop to grow in the California desert. Better decisions could be made with the water.

As for the Data Center in Vegas, I was very supportive until I read about the evaporative cooling. Now I'm suspicious that it not water wise thinking. At my current household consumption rate of 70k gallons per year, and assuming the Data Center is using over a million gallons per day for evaporative cooling (when used), it's the equivalent household water use of 14 years in one day. But wait--at least 50% of my household water goes back into the Colorado River verses evaporation. So, each day of their evaporative cooling is equivalent to 28 years of household water use. Converting to household to an estimate of 200 gallons per day, their million gallon per day use is equivalent to the use of 5,000 households or 10,000 households assuming half their water flows back (though the sewer system) to the Colorado.

Several poor decisions in industry can add up quickly in the desert.

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