Like many other faculty, I’ve found myself with two days to switch my organic chemistry II course to an online format. Luckily, I have taught online classes before, although not this particular one, so I was familiar with many of the tools.

Here are a few thoughts that I’m keeping central to how I teach online:

  1. Community Matters. 

In all classrooms, it’s helpful if students know with whom they can collaborate and share information. It’s this near-peer or peer mentorship where they feel the safest asking questions and testing out their own answers. It’s part of why “think-pair-share” activities work so well, and why my third point is “they need to practice.” For many of us, this crisis occurred partway through a semester. You can capitalize on the fact that students already have these relationships by using breakout groups to maintain connections. You can also speak to each student as they enter the “Zoom” room as a way to strengthen or maintain relationships with your class. I’ve found that students are more likely to speak up in online classes if given enough time to think through the questions and answers. This is why my second point below includes the reminder for instructors to slow down!

  1. Students Need to See You Writing Mechanisms. (Also, Slow Down!)

I’ve been using the tool doceri for years to create short (5-7 minute) videos of narrated mechanisms or narrated retrosynthesis problems. This type of content is where students traditionally have a hard time putting words and structures together. It’s why I enjoy the emphasis of the Karty text because it addresses the students’ struggle to articulate why one reaction happens and another doesn’t. A static image sometimes doesn’t convey that information well. It can be difficult for students to articulate clarifying questions about mechanisms and synthesis, or to even know where to start on these problems. From surveys, I’ve found that what students most wanted to prepare for an exam was a (non-static) review of these topics. For each exam, I’d make a few videos and post them to my LMS. I have a collection already—this crisis has expanded my collection rapidly. When I recently surveyed the class about a week into our distance learning, again, the most accessed and requested resource were these short videos.

I’ve used doceri as my “whiteboard” during online office hours and as my writing surface during synchronous Zoom classes. I share my iPad’s screen with the Zoom class through a cable connection due to the greater stability of the connection (via AirPlay was unstable). Additionally, I’ve taken to removing all the text from my PowerPoint slides and typing it in during class. This slows me down so that students can think, write, and prepare questions.

  1. Students Need to Practice and Receive Feedback in Real Time.

You can use the Karty clicker questions to quickly assess what students know. I’ve also been using the poll function in Zoom or slido to collect real-time answers. Additionally, I’ve assigned students to breakout groups to share screens of whiteboards so they can solve longer problems or analyze lab data together. I can drop into breakout groups and facilitate their work. And I can easily assign a mixture of problems (predict products, synthesis, explain) due to the clear labeling of these end-of-chapter problems. We post these answers as “keys” on the LMS.

While none of this feels ideal, the Karty text provides a good framework for instructors to continue to focus on the big ideas. With that focus, we can support our students to learn even during this crisis.

-Tara Kishbaugh, Eastern Mennonite University

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