Distance Education in Chemistry


In the Fall of 2001, I received a $5000 development grant to build an interactive chemistry web site for general chemistry I (CHEM 1A at Columbia). I had written the proposal in hopes to have some sort of funding for such a colossal undertaking thinking I might get $1000. I was pleasantly surprised with the $5000 … at first. The project took me nearly seven months. I spent numerous hours looking at how everyone else was doing internet delivery, many hours attempting to outline what I really wanted to deliver to my students, and about $700 in web page design tutoring to get it all done. It was worth every late night, lost file, and temper tantrum that I had while working.

The lab portion of a chemistry class cannot be delivered online. The bottom line is an instructor can’t send chemicals to an online student’s home because he or she would be doing unsupervised lab experiments in a location not designated by the state of California (or what ever state) as a laboratory. This breaks a number of EPA regulations and sets the college up for a big law suit if something where to happen to the student. I spent the time to get this investigated by the legal staff at Irvine Valley College. I looked into lab simulators and realized that it would be like playing basketball on the X-box instead of playing basketball in the gym at the school. Nobody can get credit for an activity course by watching a computer simulation. Also, no college out there will accept a chemistry lab experience for transfer when the expectation is that the student has the dexterity to do specific things in the lab. Therefore, I was determined to use the internet to make the in class lab experience the most educational it can be. My video series is the product of 7 years of work and is still growing. I like many of them … and want to redo the earlier ones now that I know more about what works with the students. I have about half of the videos I have made listed in the projects/videos section of this web site. I hope you can enjoy a few.

With an understanding of what can be done and what can’t, I can say that any lecture portion of a chemistry course can be taught online with a large investment of planning upfront. The lab part of the course would be what makes this good only for local students to participate. Each student would be required to attend lab at the college. Creativity here is what would make this possible for the largest number of students. Separating the lab portion of the course from the lecture portion in the catalog would allow for greater scheduling flexibility. This would mean resubmitting every course for IGETC and CSU transfer articulation and a lot of other painstaking renovation of the backend material that make every college work. As I write this, I am not sure I have the extra 500 hours I would need to get it all done. We will see …

The only course ready for online delivery at Columbia is the CHEM 20 course because it has no lab component. I can submit this one to the curriculum committee next month for approval with little difficulty. Hmmm I wonder if I can write online POGIL exercises (there goes another 200 hours).