Hope College ChemBoard Report
Kevin W. Paulisse and William F. Polik
Hope College, Holland, MI, 49423, USA
The "Hope College ChemBoard" is a World Wide Web (WWW) discussion board that allows students and professors to post messages. It also allows professors to create a framework for linking other hypertext documents (such as a course syllabus). ChemBoard can be accessed from any computer with WWW access (including most computers in Hope College labs). No special software is required to access ChemBoard -- an ordinary web browser (such as Netscape) is the only software required.
ChemBoard as a discussion tool
ChemBoard allows students to communicate without coming to scheduled class meetings. During the three-week test period in the spring semester of 1997, students used ChemBoard to post homework hints, to share laboratory data, to ask questions of professors and of each other, and to test out the functionality programmed into the script. Professors used ChemBoard to post test keys and lecture notes as well as to communicate with students. ChemBoard was also used to host chemistry contests, such as "Molecule of the Week."
ChemBoard was designed to have a simple but powerful user interface. A complicated user interface would discourage students from using the program, while an interface with limited features would not be effective in the long run. The ChemBoard user interface is desirable because it offers on-line documentation as well as a search engine, "read new messages" feature, and soon, functionality to allow students to create passwords and change preferences. ChemBoard also gives users the ability to format their messages without knowing HTML using a simple formatting language developed specifically for ChemBoard. Users can also upload images into their posts. Finally, with ChemBoard, messages concerning a topic are stored on the same page, allowing the conversation to "flow" naturally, and an "Add a Message" form on the bottom of the page invites users to contribute.
ChemBoard has a feature-rich administration program
that allows discussion moderators (professors) complete control not only
over the organization of the discussion, but also over who may contribute
to the discussion. All administration for ChemBoard is performed using
an ordinary web browser through intuitive forms. Administration of ChemBoard
requires no knowledge of UNIX or HTML. Discussion moderators may add, remove,
rename, reorder, and move discussion subtopics; add, remove, edit, reorder,
and move messages; and change the layout of a page to include from zero
to five discussion elements. Moderators may also set up and remove user
A special moderator, called the "superuser," has permission to add and remove other moderators as well as to delegate administrative privileges to moderators for topics on the board. Using this feature, professors are allowed to be discussion moderators for the classes they teach, but they cannot administer any topics for which they have not been authorized.
Using ChemBoard for other applications
ChemBoard is one program in an area called "Web Conferencing." Although we began using ChemBoard for chemistry discussions, the ChemBoard program could be used for any class or any other application.
The program that powers ChemBoard is called "Discus" and is available for FREE via the World Wide Web. Any college or university (or any other user, for that matter) may download the software and use it free of charge! For more information, click on the "Discus Home Page" link below.
Discus is one of the simplest programs to use even though it has comparable features to programs costing thousands of dollars. We hope that other colleges and universities will benefit from our work by downloading and using Discus.
We are continuing to develop ChemBoard/Discus and we continue to add features according to the requests of users and administrators. During the fall semester, we will be administering and upgrading the ChemBoard discussion forum and continuing to encourage students and faculty to use the program. We are also continuing to develop informational resources concerning ChemBoard, Discus, and web conferencing.
In addition, a web server for Hope College's Chemistry Department was established in late May of 1997, and we continue to encourage faculty to make information value to the on-line community.
We gratefully acknowledge the Howard Hughes Medical Foundation Faculty Development Grant and the National Science Foundation for funding for this project. We also wish to thank Dr. Matthew Elrod for his work in providing models of ChemBoard discussions, assisting other faculty to set up their discussions, and beta testing the administration interfaces. We further acknowledge Greg Martin, Elizabeth Yared, and the spring 1997 Hope College Chem344, Chem346, and Chem422 classes for beta testing the user interfaces. Finally, we wish to thank the Hope College Department of Computing and Information Technology (CIT) for our network connection to the WWW and for helpful advice setting up our computers.
Kevin Paulisse (email@example.com) William Polik (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This document last modified on August 24, 1997
© 1997, Kevin W. Paulisse and William F. Polik, all rights reserved