June 19, 2018

CHEM 211

CHEM 211:  Better Living in Chemistry with Building Blocks of Math

Navigating more than 800 students per year though CHEM 211 sits high among Dr. Paul Cooper’s many challenges…as a Gen Ed course, it brings students from wholly different backgrounds and levels of experience to the class;  all of which need to emerge on the other side of the semester with an appropriate knowledge base in chemistry.

After teaching the course for five years, Cooper recognizes one constant: If the students do not have a firm grasp of the basics of the course from the get-go, troubles lie ahead.

Those basics include understanding Units, Moles and Stoichiometry.

“What we repeatedly see is that if our chemistry students are weak in math, they struggle in this course,” says Cooper.  “These math concepts are the foundation of the course, and we build on them as we progress through the semester.”

Armed with a 4-VA grant and the need to ensure his students had access to suitable learning resources in these areas, Cooper began planning and building “mini-mods” on the specific subjects.  He wanted to provide his students with definitions, conversion unit tables, sample practice questions and answers, and a brief teaching video of each concept that could be used as an “out of class” resource to learn and review these important concepts in their own time and at their own pace.

“I wanted to make this easy for our students, to provide them with the ability to access these resources on any digital device,” explains Cooper.  “The creation of these mods took longer than I’d expected –while the definitions, tables and practice questions and answers were not complicated, I wanted to make the teaching tool – the video – very clear and easy to understand.  It was surprising how much work went into a short video.”

Additionally, Cooper wanted to identify a suitable digital textbook with test questions embedded into the format to replace the current costly $300 textbook. After some research, he found a $90 text through Top Hat that met the needs of the students and the course requirements.  “The Top Hat product offered text, sample questions and assignments that works well for faculty and students alike.”

Cooper is now looking more closely at how to apply the mini-mods into the class and encourage or assign students the modules. “We can have the best resources developed for our students, but we need to make sure they take advantage of them,” concludes Cooper.