The Chemkeys project started as a result of the personal initiatives of Professors João Carlos de Andrade and Rogério Custódio, from the Institute of Chemistry, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP). This site is part of a wider educational project and was designed to contain materials and reference texts for the teaching of chemistry and related sciences, having as its principal audience students at the university level. Since the beginning this educational project can be viewed as a way to provide services to the community and as a substantial contribution to UNICAMP in creating a system for distance learning.
The idea of putting materials on the Internet related to chemistry arose in 1994 when the computer global network (world wide web; w.w.w) was at its beginning. After many efforts and with the partial financial support from UNICAMP’s Fund for Supporting Education and Research (FAEP, today FAEPEx), the ChemKeys site was inaugurated on 02 October 1996. Since then it has passed through continuous processes for the creation of an identity and the development of teaching materials that reflect its philosophy of presenting topics of general interest related to the teaching of chemistry, including both theoretical and practical material, and in a language accessible to students, aiming to provide support to the classroom activities.
In its first version, the site was called “ChemView – your site of chemistry” The name was later changed to” ChemKeys”. So far, at least three concepts of navigation and three designs have been created, evaluated and tested (fig. 1-3), always seeking to provide a more pleasant visual, associated to the ease of obtaining information.
In the format shown in Figure 3, which remained available the longest on the computer network, five blocks were created to provide materials. In General Subjects, texts on scientific and technical matters of a general nature, including some teaching texts that were not originally planned as such, were presented. The Educational Material block was oriented primarily to the dissemination of the theoretical and practical materials to support issues related to instruction in chemistry at the university level. In this block, as an experimental approach, simple experiments for secondary schools were also presented.
Figure 1 – Original design of the site, called “ChemView”
Figure 2 - Second version of the site, with the name ChemKeys.
Figure 3 – The site ChemKeys format used in the period between 2001 and 2009
In Sites for Support, materials such as other electronic addresses with contents considered relevant and of interest to the field of chemistry were presented. In News, new materials were introduced and displayed, that were modified at each site update. Suggestions for reading to stimulate reflection and critical thinking on issues related to education and sciences in general with particular emphasis on the area of chemistry were also included. The introduction of a Sitemap allowed direct and rapid access to any published text and also provided a broader view of the distribution of materials. The overall content was arranged in a more uniform way in order to permit easier access to pictures, notes, information, literature, etc.. This was achieved by overlapping windows in the main text that could be displaced on the screen, minimized for later use or closed, according to the interest of the reader. The publication of original texts in PDF format was also tried, to reduce the editing costs and the time required to edit extensive and complex materials.
Methodology and Strategy of Action
From the beginning, the material published on the site ChemKeys followed basically the same procedure for a typical scientific publication. The texts submitted are reviewed, where the quality of content and its appropriateness to the objectives of the site are verified. Once accepted for publication, a process of editing the contents in direct contact with the authors is started, up to the point where they receive the proofs for checking and corrections. Experiments were efficiently tested and the names of those responsible for testing were also listed on the article.
Results and Impacts
The site ChemKeys can be easily located using any search system and currently has about 1,500-2,000 unique hits per day (different users), depending on school schedules. The public is spread over several countries, notably in the Americas, with emphasis on Brazil and Mexico.
Our work also drew the attention of the Editora do Brasil, which requested (and was authorized) to publish the matter “Chemical Ecology” in the Teacher’s Handbook of Science for 5th to 8th grades, coordinated by Margarida Carvalho de Santana and collaborators.
Risks and Difficulties
During the development of this project, its coordinators had the opportunity to evaluate a broad spectrum of situations that characterize a number of difficulties in developing an educational site. Leaving formal financing aside and considering only the more technical issues, these difficulties can be divided into two distinct categories: a) educational aspects and b) aspects related to site administration. Neither of these two categories is trivial nor can either be carried out successfully without overcoming a significant number of problems.
The difficulties associated with educational aspects, in general, are associated with the responsibility to disseminate knowledge at a level consistent with the mechanism of disclosure. In other words, transmission via the Internet should be held so that the reader finds a volume of qualified information to enable attaining adequate, up-to-date knowledge of the subject. The restriction of sufficiency is directly related to the ease of the reader to contact the authors of the available texts. If the text is unclear or wrong, both situations may be expected: either the author will receive a huge number of questions, or the text will be disregarded. In either of these two alternatives the expected outcome of disclosure of any matter is frustrating and, therefore, a clear focus on quality of content should be thoroughly carried out, because the disclosure of clear and precise material minimizes wasting time in relation to possible questionings from readers. That is why any contribution to ChemKeys is published only after a very rigorous reviewing process, so that the result reaches a level of content and understanding appropriate to the fundamental objectives of the website.
The trajectory of the ChemKeys website also reveals different facets related to the preparation and dissemination of educational material. While the inclusion of teaching materials in the first years was mainly associated with themes written by the site’s coordinators, currently there is a growing interest from other professors and researchers in the field of chemistry and related areas. The reason for decreasing the resistance of them in investing part of their time in the preparation of teaching materials in these areas is associated to the increasing demand for such texts and the projection of the information disclosed on our website. The authors now know that their materials have high visibility and can appear in official curricula vitae, such as the CV-Lattes (in Brazil).
The administration of the site is another critical aspect associated with the form of presentation and the necessary investment of resources for its implementation. Just as for the educational aspects, the administration of the site has undergone drastic changes in operational terms. Since the dissemination of materials on the Internet requires technical knowledge of developing hypertexts, the ChemKeys coordinators initially decided to be engaged mainly in the development of teaching texts, evaluation and adaptation of texts written by other authors and support in the drafting of hypertexts.
This policy of implementing the project required, over time, the use of different teams for hypertexts assembly and frequent revisions of the website, to improve rapid access to the learning materials and allow faster inclusion of these materials onto the website. In the original scheme, the new materials were included “manually” and, often, some files were repeated to permit faster page loading.
The need for a leap in quality
Considering the current volume of material in preparation, the extent and complexity of texts, graphics and multimedia, as well as the possibility to resume translation into Spanish and the English, a significant qualitative leap was needed. This was done in association with the informatics firm – ECCEN-Excellence in Technology – now responsible for the creation of new interfaces that allow the desired leap forward for ChemKeys. This is now being done under the Creative Commons license. Thus, we have now a multidisciplinary team for the production of art, web design and software engineering, for a total redesign of the site, and management tools and computers to keep ChemKeys active, as was originally envisioned by its creators.
Campinas, July 15, 2009.
Prof. Dr. João Carlos de Andrade
Prof. Dr. Rogério Custódio