Like many of you, my organic chemistry course has been thrown off the rails with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With these changes, we are faced with questions on how to deliver content and assess student learning remotely. How will we give exams, such as the ACS exam? What about lab? How can we walk the balance of maintaining rigor, minimizing academic dishonesty, and delivering the high-quality education our students expect when faced with the reality that this situation requires a degree of flexibility, and possibly a reprioritization of our normal educational goals?
As many of you, I am currently in the process of trying to answer these questions and come up with a solution where my students still get the quality education that they have not only paid for, but also deserve, and where they will be prepared for their upper-level courses in the future. On top of it all, this online-only mode of instruction needs to be delivered in a way that still makes it possible for students faced with various hardships to engage with and find success in organic chemistry.
As a little bit of background: This is my 6th year teaching from the Karty text. My course is taught in a traditional lecture style, with weekly quiz assessments, 3 major examinations (plus the ACS final), and a SmartWork assignment for every chapter. We also have a two-semester lab series. When my class met for the last time in person on March 13, I had just begun Chapter 24.
To focus on the positive side of my situation for a minute: I have completed in-person lectures on most of the course material from the textbook for the year, and the remaining chapters are ones that should be fairly easy for students to grasp from their textbook at this point. This is usually the time in the semester where students report that the material is getting easier – most likely because they have gotten very good at recognizing mechanistic trends and have now mastered the process of retrosynthetic analysis. In lab, they have learned all the basic organic lab skills, such as reaction and purification techniques, as well as instrumental methods, and they’ve successfully carried out a multistep synthesis, so they’re only missing their self-guided synthesis project (which is what I was HOPING to write about – so look for that in the future). I have videos of all my lectures from my 2017-2018 classes already recorded. So all told, I recognize that my situation isn’t THAT dire.
There are, however, questions about how to finish out the semester. As I am working on my revised syllabus this week, I have a framework that is beginning to take shape. My current plan is to utilize Zoom and Webex to hold synchronous meetings with my students. I will record the lectures for the remaining chapters and post them for students in other time zones, or students who have circumstances that prevent them from being present during the synchronous webcast. I will probably use Blackboard for administering exams and quizzes (although I may do quizzes through SmartWork, instead). I will also use the same tools to hold virtual office hours and help sessions. The main drawback to most of the collaboration platforms I have looked at is that I haven’t yet found a good way to easily collaborate with students via a whiteboard/drawing platform. Right now, my best option seems to be to share a ChemDraw screen and draw on that.
Once we complete the last few chapters of the Karty textbook, I was planning on doing a few lectures on medicinal chemistry and drug discovery. I will still likely do this, as these topics seem particularly pertinent now. I will probably assign students to read open-access papers from the ACS journals that highlight current research and synthetic strategies, and then have them use both the discussion-board feature on Blackboard and written assignments to engage with this material.
My revised course is still a work in progress, and I will be spending this week tweaking these ideas before we roll out the end of our online semester on March 30. I am open to any ideas and suggestions you have!
-Nathan Duncan, Maryville College