June 19, 2018

CHEM 315

CHEM 315: Updating Materials without Sacrificing Content

Going into the project, Organic Chemistry faculty member Suzanne Slayden knew she had her work cut out for her… Finding updated, free, yet solidly-developed learning and teaching resources for CHEM 315 Laboratory was going to be difficult.

CHEM 315 is a hands-on, intensive and complex class that demands time and attention from the more than 300 students that take the course each year at Mason.  Because of the lab work required, each class is limited to 24 students; mandating offerings of multiple sections each semester.  Due to those multiple sections, and the time-consuming nature of the course, it also necessitates that a revolving set of teaching assistants are brought in to instruct the class.   Therefore, the teaching resource materials must be easily accessed and interpreted by a variety of new and ever-changing personnel.

To Slayden, by far the biggest challenge would be to identify solid, cohesive materials that truly respect the rigors of the course.  “With so much information, as well as misinformation, floating around out there, I was very skeptical we could find the quick answer,” notes Slayden.  That supposition was confirmed during the search for materials.  “There was virtually nothing suitable,” says Slayden.

While the quest to eliminate purchasing a textbook could not be met completely, during the research for materials, she did uncover a $150 less-expensive paperback text that did fit the bill.  “While we were not able to completely eliminate the textbook expense, we were able to reduce costs significantly while not sacrificing the quality of education,” notes Slayden.

With the textbook identified, Slayden’s next step in the process was to search for appropriate videos demonstrating lab techniques.  Fortunately, she was able to find several suitable sources accessed through both MIT and the University of Minnesota.  Slayden’s primary purpose for this effort was to allow students to learn how to perform particular operations and techniques prior to class.  In doing so, students would be ‘ready to go’ once arriving in the lab, thus saving valuable instructional time demonstrating the techniques before beginning an experiment.

The last task was to update the lab manual — which Slayden originally produced some years ago — to ensure it meshed well with the new textbook.  It is now complete for both semesters of organic chemistry lab.

As a scientist taking on this course materials re-design project, Slayden knew she did not want to sacrifice one iota of accuracy and precision in the final product…  “Overall, this was worth the time and effort to provide our students great resource materials at a reduced cost,” concludes Slayden.