In my previous post, I wrote about the benefits of teaching organic chemistry with a mechanistic organization. Now, with the COVID-19 virus crossing our country and universities going online in response, I’d like to share how I am using Karty’s textbook, bundled with Smartwork’s online homework system, to move my organic chemistry course online.

Several years ago, when the first edition of Karty’s text was published, I joined the “flipping-the-classroom” movement by instituting “Flippin’ Fridays.” My organic chemistry students watched videos that I posted on their course Canvas website, and in class, we practiced applying what they had learned. I made students watch each video and take notes as if they were in class. Before each Friday class period, students sent me a picture of their notes, which was worth 1 point. I mostly gave them the point for turning in any form of notes, but I also occasionally provided feedback concerning how they could improve their notes for the future. In class, we continued to practice problems employing many different methods. “Flippin’ Fridays” have taught me that innovation is king—students have regularly told me they love the interactive learning experience on Fridays!

So, going 100% online is a bit easier for me and my students since we were already 33% online. But making videos at home was challenging at first. I discovered that iPads and iPhones have built-in screen recording features that worked well at home. But noisy children and barking dogs moved me to my third office, namely my car. But even my car didn’t save me from my wife yelling about a tornado watch in the middle of one lecture recording. All these natural mistakes became part of the character and comedy that I like building into my recordings! Students get a laugh out of them, and I even laugh at myself, which encourages me to make the necessary corrections and move on, just like I do during live in-class lectures.

For some lectures, I search the online resources available on YouTube (Check out Heather’s post for some helpful tips on picking the best YouTube videos for class!) and Khan Academy. I find wonderfully prepared videos that I think, at times, can be better than my lectures because they give my students a different perspective. Sometimes, hearing this material from someone else helps keep students’ attention and aids their understanding. After all, who doesn’t like hearing a British, Scottish, Australian, or Indian accent for a change? New voices can be very refreshing. Plus, students can work at their own pace by stopping, replaying, and rewinding the videos in the lecture.

I’ve also found that Smartwork’s online homework system works great with many of the Karty mechanisms, which are an integral part of my course. I never build my own questions. Rather, I use the many great questions that are already available on Smartwork. I have tried several online homework systems prior to Smartwork, but none of them have detailed mechanistic problems that match the Karty text so well.

For exams, I have also decided to use Smartwork, which is a pretty big change for me. It provides me with the ability to pull questions from multiple chapters, set time limits for taking the test, limit to one attempt per question, and turn off hints. This is my first attempt at using Smartwork for exams; I’ll let you know how it goes.

Overall, I would argue that Karty’s textbook and Smartwork have made my life easier when forced to move my organic chemistry course 100% online. When given lemons, Karty’s book and Smartwork turn them into lemonade.

-Dan Esterline, Thomas More University

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