Guest Post: “Google Glass and Twitter for Chemistry Education” by Arash Soheili

Today’s guest post is from Arash Soheili, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center. As curator of the Twitter account @Total_Synthesis, which is turning 2 this month, no new total synthesis in the journals escapes his watchful eye. He’s passionate about teaching chemistry. And we’re jealous of him because he got to visit Google’s NYC offices to pick up his very own Google Glass. Check out his tech musings at Android Cowboy.
Arash Soheili wearing Google Glass

He has Google Glass. Do you?
(Courtesy Arash Soheili)

I love organic chemistry and have been practicing it in academia and industry for over a decade. I’m also a huge fan of technology and strongly believe that there is a place for it in chemistry education. In fact, I would even say that in the next decade it will become a necessity to incorporate technology as part of the formal teaching toolkit. That process is already happening informally with so many educational videos on YouTube from enthusiasts and educators. But so many technology tools are constantly changing and it will take a strong effort on educators to find the methods that work best. Just like running an experiment in the lab, it will take planning, as well as some trial and error, to get the best results. My personal experience with chemistry and education started about two years ago. I wanted to find a way to reach more people and introduce new and interesting topics in chemistry using existing social networks. My passion for natural product synthesis led me to start a total synthesis Twitter feed. I check all the major organic chemistry journals daily and tweet any completed total synthesis of a natural product that I find. If you are interested in natural product synthesis then you can easily follow the Twitter feed and be up to date. You can also join the conversation by using the hashtag #totalsynthesis. The idea was very simple, but it had yet to be executed. Now in two years there are close to 1000 followers and it serves as an archive of over 400 natural product syntheses in all the major journals. This information would be hard to collect and very laborious using the typical search methods like Google, ACS, SciFinder, etc. It is an idea that can be duplicated for any other topic of interest in science and can be even tried in a formal class setting. Similar ideas include the online Twitter #chemclub by Andrew Bissette. Social media tools are far from the only game in town. Hardware tools have huge potential for application in chemistry education. One example is Google Glass which is basically a head mounted computer with the ability to take pictures, videos, and more. One of the great features of Glass is the ability to video chat (Hangouts) with a first person point of view. This was used very effectively by Andrew Vanden Heuvel when he took Google Glass to the CERN Hadron Collider and taught his students from his point of view. It was an experience that his students will probably never forget and was a unique way to inspire them. As a Glass owner myself, I’m thinking about the potential applications to teach chemistry. One unique way of teaching chemistry using Glass can be by giving students a first-person vantage point of a live experiment. This will also give students access to reactions that explain difficult concepts that they themselves may not be able to complete by seeing them through the eyes of a trained professional. Another example would be to record lectures from the educators point of view. This can be made available for students to and can also be used to help train young educators in effective teaching. I think the potential for Glass and chemistry education is huge and it will only take our imagination to make it happen. It’s clear many people think social media and technology is just a fad and has no place in education. But go anywhere in public, and you’ll see how every kid or young person is on their phone or tablet browsing social media. Technology is the new language that young people speak and to reach them we need to teach in their language. It will take a concerted effort by all educators but I’m very hopeful and very excited to see what comes next.

Author: Carmen Drahl

Share This Post On

6 Comments

  1. Arash, thanks for pointing out the Google Glass trip to CERN. Very cool, and something I hadn’t heard about. Definitely an interesting idea to use Glass during chemistry lectures. Think it would keep more of the students focused if they knew they were being recorded?

  2. I’d love to see some first person chemistry with commentary. I think that would really help people see the details of certain techniques.

  3. @Lauren – I think appealing to that baser “I might get in trouble” instinct never hurts, although you’d like to wish that in an ideal world it wouldn’t be necessary.

    @John – that would be some real #realtimechem, if you could hook up the feed from Glass to a Google Hangout.

  4. Another use could be to make Glass video of performing your reaction part of the supporting info. Specially for tricky reactions. Great way to ensure that people can reproduce your results.

  5. I agree this would be a great way to document difficult techniques. The video should be able to capture nuances in a way that a written description can’t.

  6. Out of curiosity from a safety and logistics point of view, would you be comfortable exchanging lab goggles for Google Glass? They seem pretty small. Or have you tried Google Glass with any lab goggles on?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Glass Daily Headlines: August 6, 2013 - Glass Almanac - […] Guest Post: “Google Glass and Twitter for Chemistry Education”, cenblog.org […]