From Canada to the Caribbean – an RMIT-developed mobile app that tries to make learning the essentials of chemistry fun is hitting the mark with educators around the world.
The inaugural Chirality app was developed by a trio of RMIT academics - Associate Professor Michelle Spencer, Associate Professor Oliver Jones and Dr Maria Spichkova - and a team of software engineering students.
After its success, the trio wondered if they could do more, and now a new group of students have worked with the academics to create a sequel.
Like the original, Chirality-2 gamifies the experience of learning organic chemistry, with users earning medals as they progress through a series of puzzles and questions.
The two apps have been downloaded more than 5,000 times in the last year by users across the Asia Pacific, Latin America, North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and the Caribbean.
The sequel boasts new game features, a back-end redesign and has been built for both Apple and Android. The new levels and functionality ensure the app covers some of the fundamental concepts that a first-year undergraduate chemistry student needs to know and understand.
Wow, I love Chirality-2. I can't wait to share it with my students this fall ...” (Lecturer, US)
Associate Professors Michelle Spencer and Oliver Jones commissioned both apps through the YourSoftware initiative at RMIT, which gives undergraduate and postgraduate students hands-on practical experience in developing software for real clients within a real project environment.
Spencer said she’s pleased with the feedback.
“We’ve received so many great comments on social media about the app, the overall response has been extremely positive,” she said.
“We’ve even had reports from colleagues who’ve seen students playing the app on the train – which is precisely the kind of engagement we were hoping for.
“Learning chemistry is challenging, but this app enables you to learn as you play, which makes a big difference to how well you retain information.
“We’re all glued to our smartphones so mobile apps are ideal ways to address business or social challenges – it’s a key digital skillset that people will need for the jobs of the future.”
App developments skills are in hot demand in Australia, where the app economy is an important source of employment and economic growth, totalling an estimated 113,000 jobs.
Chirality-2 is the only purpose-built mobile app specifically developed to teach organic chemistry that features multiple levels, a reward system and social media integration, with users able to share their scores on Facebook and Twitter.
Among the expanded features, the sequel boasts three extra levels on new topics – isomers, chiral molecules and naming molecules.
There are new play modes – time trial and extreme play – as well as a scoring page that keeps track of the last 50 times a level is played and the best score for each level.
The underlying design will also enable extra content and levels to be added easily in future.
“With Chirality-2, students not only came up with many great design ideas but also decided to go beyond the planned scope and learn new technology, allowing them to develop both iOS and Android apps within a single project,” YourSoftware Coordinator Dr Maria Spichkova said.
We’ve just given this a try - looks great for A-level and 1st year ugrad.” (Royal Society of Chemistry, UK)
Like the original version, Chirality-2 was a multi-disciplinary team affair, involving weekly progress meetings between the academic clients and the development team.
Spencer and Jones designed the new levels, created storyboards and created artwork and imagery with help from undergraduate chemistry students Dale Osborne and Michelle McIntosh.
Six computer science students – Sultan Alrawahi, Ali Alturaish, Xudong Jiang, Cai-Wei Lin, Zehua Lin and Lala De Souza – did the programming and submitted the app to the Apple App Store and Google Play.
“Industry-related project work helps students see how the skills they learn in the classroom can be translated for real-world impact – in this case a product that is being used throughout the world,” Jones said.
“These real-life projects also help show students what will be expected of them once they graduate, and this helps them hit the ground running when they enter the workforce.”
Jones said the students brought high levels of commitment and professionalism to the project.
“They listened to what we wanted and made suggestions as to how it could be done. They also took the initiative and came up with new ideas we hadn’t considered,” she said.
“Both Apple and Google require all new apps to undergo a review process to ensure quality before they’re placed on the store for download.
“Chirality-2 passed quality control checks in less than 24-hours, which was a fantastic result.”
Spencer and Jones are now investigating ideas for how the app might be used in a classroom setting, as part of a paper for the Journal of Chemical Education.
“We don’t intend the app to replace classroom teaching but to supplement it,” Spencer said.
“We know that gamifying the learning experience is working, so it’s worth exploring this further.”
The development of Chirality-2 was supported through an RMIT University Scheme for Teaching and Learning Research (STeLR) grant awarded to Spencer, Jones and Spichkova.
Story: Gosia Kaszubska