Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) Symposium Presenter Profiles

Digital Learning Initiatives and Innovation Throughout the UNC System

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Maria Gallardo-Williams


Dr. Maria Gallardo-Williams, North Carolina State University, is a Teaching Associate Professor and Director of the Organic Chemistry Teaching Labs in the Chemistry Department

Cathi Dunnagan, North Carolina State University

Mike Cuales, North Carolina State University



Organic chemistry labs have been offered on campus and in person since their inception. Due to safety concerns related to the handling of dangerous chemicals, combined with the need for expensive glassware and instrumentation no viable options exist for offering these labs via distance education. However, virtual reality (VR) offers an opportunity to change the way that students experience their organic chemistry labs. Using VR we have designed and tested experiences that can be used to deliver organic chemistry labs to students that are not able to complete their labs on campus, with the same outcomes that could be expected from a traditional lab. These VR experiences could be useful for students who are unable to be present in lab due to disabilities, attendance challenges such as pregnancy, or safety concerns.

Presentation Overview

Using Virtual Reality (VR) in educational settings is becoming increasingly popular. We are interested in creating VR experiences that can be used in place of in-person organic chemistry labs. These VR experiences could be useful for students who are unable to be present in lab due to disabilities, attendance challenges such as pregnancy, or safety concerns.

To achieve this goal and evaluate the possibility of using such an experience in place of a lab, a VR laboratory experience was designed to teach students how to use an infrared spectrometer and elucidate an unknown structure from the resulting infrared spectrum (a common first-semester organic chemistry laboratory activity). The resulting first-person VR experience is immersive and realistic, with a teaching assistant guiding the user along the steps required to complete the experiment, including feedback as needed. The VR experience was developed in WondaVR with selections made using gaze navigation. The resulting product was tested with a group of students and the outcomes for short and long-term recall were compared with a group of students that did the same experiment in a traditional lab. Results indicate that there are no significant differences in learning outcomes between the two groups, which indicates the possibility of using this tool to offer this organic chemistry lab experiment via distance education. Students that tried the VR experience reported a high degree of satisfaction with the product and no significant usability barriers.

This proposal addresses the following rubric/criteria:

#1. Serving the underserved: this innovation makes it possible for students with physical or geographical attendance challenges to complete their organic chemistry labs.

#3. Transformational education environments: Organic chemistry labs have been limited to an in-person on-campus model since their inception. This unique delivery method will allow universities to offer these labs via distance education without compromising on the quality of the experience.

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