26 Jun 2013

Relating local industry to primary literature: The David Sarnoff/RCA Project

Literature Discussion

Submitted by Benny Chan, The College of New Jersey


As part of the career development of the student, I have found that students need to learn to find local companies and industry.  At TCNJ, we have recently acquired a new museum from the David Sarnoff Collection, the founder of the RCA Corporation.  The rich communication and technological discoveries of RCA are an important part of the Central Jersey history.  I have found this exercise allows students to begin researching a company and trying to link the company to their fundamental chemistry knowledge.  This learning object is a part of a greater project to develop posters for the Sarnoff Museum. 

Learning Goals: 


Students will:

            LG1:  Learn the history and major products of a local company

            LG2:  Analyze the list to find a fundamental inorganic concept/technique/area.

            LG3:  Search the primary literature for a recent article (last 2 years) in that fundamental area of inorganic chemistry

            LG4:  Write a one paragraph summary of the literature article that appeals to a general, non-scientific audience.

Implementation Notes: 


The first year, I had 24 students working in pairs.  This past year, I had 36 students working in pairs in my junior/senior level class. Since our campus is focused on RCA, I did not allow students to choose another company.  For other institutions, faculty may have a list of local companies that could have a more inorganic spin.  Students searched the TCNJ Sarnoff website (included in this LO), the RCA website, and Wikipedia for the history of the company.  In our case, they also looked at the personal history of David Sarnoff, who was an immigrant to the US and built his empire from nearly nothing.  I found the students at TCNJ to be very inspired by David Sarnoff’s personal story.  The students also like the fact that RCA had done much work in the area of consumer electronics, which are easily relatable. 

I implemented this learning object as a multi week project.  LG1 and LG2 were due at the same time.  LG3 was due a week later.  LG4 was due two weeks after LG3.  This could be adapted to an in class activity for a smaller group of students.

Evaluation Methods: 

The students were evaluated in a formative manner throughout this process.  They were asked to come to my office to receive oral feedback.  I used this approach so that students feel more comfortable coming to see me as a requirement as opposed to after a bad experience (exam or quiz failure).  

A final summative evaluation was done when students incorporate the paragraph into the larger Sarnoff Museum poster.

Evaluation Results: 

When students made their list of technologies (mostly consumer electronics), I had to help guide them to find the fundamental chemistry, not engineering or consumer science, to find their chemistry articles.  Many people chose to do electron microscopy and I guided the students towards nanotechnology as opposed to biological systems.  Many people liked the color television and I guided them to phosphor technology.  Some people chose electronic transistors and I guided them towards molecular electronics. 

Students then used Sci finder to find a recent article they found interesting on the fundamental topic.  They have had classes before mine on how to search on sci finder.  I had students find three articles and I approved the one for which they would write a summary.  Through two iterations, I discovered that students would find articles that may be slightly beyond their current knowledge and required the students to learn too much engineering or physics.  With three articles, most groups would find at least one that would be appropriate for their level.

The summaries students write are targeted towards a non-technical but interested person.  The ultimate goal of our paragraph is to be placed onto a museum poster.  The audience groups at the museum are the immediate college (faculty, students, staff), local community that is interested in RCA history (amateur radio enthusiasts), and visitors to the college (parents and family).  We purposely did not write these paragraphs towards the elementary student audience that will visit.  I have found the writing of these types of documents is very challenging for the students.  Students who really try to understand the paper tend to do well and use a variety of analogies, definitions, and pictures to explain the paper.  Students are also tasked to think about the bigger picture of the paper and try to focus on those areas.  The instructor comments on the paragraph and students revise document.  Some students required several revisions for an acceptable document.

In my final evaluations over two semesters, 24 students year 1 and 36 students year 2, students do very well on this project.  The overall posters ranked from 86% to 100% with an average at 94.5%.  The students that ranked lower than the average had more issues with the visual appeal of the poster; the writing of the paragraphs was strong.  I believe the consistent ungraded formative feedback allowed students to perform at a very high level to achieve the learning goals.
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