Featured: Apollo 13

The development of the Apollo 13 problem-based delivery (PBD) module was inspired, at that time,  by an article in J. Chem. Educ. [1].  However, the Apollo 13 module as it developed departed significantly from this article, which didn’t look at problem-based team learning approaches which are the main innovation of the work during the time it was implemented.

When the Apollo 13 module was introduced, in 1999, the university online teaching (OLT) environment was immature. We chose to use a locally-based solution in with the Discus Pro [2] forum because of its capabilities for assigning teams to locked (password protected) forum topics; options for students to upload attachments in a convenient manner; as well as being able to use mathematical and chemical formula. This arrangement was used from 1999-04 after which the modules were migrated to central resources. Overall the Apollo 13 module was in continuous use, two semesters year, for the period 1999-07. I strongly believe that the successful longevity of the module (as well as the Car CrAsh and Sea-level Rise modules developed by Darren Pearce) was the strength of the teaching approaches employed; the technology used was complementary to the pedagogy adopted.

Because it isn’t the use of the forum is formally assessable, students are free to make whatever arrangements suit them best. However, many students found the discussion forum convenient: (a) for collaborating with their peers without requiring frequent face-to-face meetings and (b) interacting with the lecturers and tutors.  However, there is a wide variability in the usage of the discussion forum from team to team (Appendix 9), which indicates that the technology has been successfully used in a flexible manner to complement and enhance the learning experience.  Nevertheless, students have other choices available to them and are being encouraged to take responsibility for how they will complete the PBD activities.


[1] J. G. Goll, and B. J. Woods, “Teaching Chemistry Using the Movie Apollo 13,”in  J. Chem. Educ. 76, 506 (1999).

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