Switching to Online Chemistry Instruction Amidst COVID-19

text over laptop: Switching to Online Chemistry Instruction Amidst COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads rapidly across the globe, life is drastically different. Schools, in particular, have been forced to adapt to the new norm of social distancing, closed facilities, and virtual learning.

I’m in the same boat as many teachers -- forced to create an online course with no formal training in online instruction. So, I investigated a few best practices and quickly moved my instruction online. In this post, I’d like to share how I’ve structured my new Virtual Chemistry course.

First of all, I kept content simple and just focused on the essentials. Given the circumstances, I anticipated students would have to deal with different emotions and try to balance a new way of life. So, my goal was to create something manageable. I lowered my expectations and dropped the student workload. From my perspective, this is a “crisis” chemistry course rather than an actual online chemistry course.

I created the course on Canvas, but you could adapt it for use in most online learning management systems. At this time, we are studying stoichiometry, and I broke the stoich unit down into 5 “episodes.” I figured that each episode should take students about a week to complete, although everything is self-paced.

Each episode includes the following components:

  1. Reading Assignments
  2. Video Tutorials
  3. Practice
  4. “Office Hours”
  5. Virtual Assessments

Figure 1: My virtual chemistry "episode" outline on Canvas


Reading Assignments

Figure 2: Textbook pages uploaded for student reading assignments.


I think that a student’s reading ability is a fundamental skill, so I set reading assignments as the top priority on my virtual course. My school closed abruptly, and I expected that some students might not have grabbed their textbook on the way out. Since their textbook doesn’t have an online edition, I scanned the pages and uploaded them to the canvas site so that every student would have access.


Video Tutorials

Figure 3: YouTube videos are embedded in the Canvas page.


Since I was already operating a blended learning environment (i.e., online content integrated into a regular physical classroom), I had amassed an extensive library of video tutorials. I embedded a YouTube video for each topic to provide examples and explain the content that students read about in their textbooks. In this situation, I would not recommend trying to create original content; instead, use content that is already available. There are plenty of YouTube teachers out there, and I’m happy to share the videos on my for anyone’s use -- just click the link and then search my videos for the chemistry topic that you need.

Additionally, here are some selected playlists that cover certain chemistry topics:



Figure 4: Practice Learning Check (i.e., practice quiz).


Of course, practice is vital for learning a topic in chemistry, especially stoichiometry. In my online course, students are assessed at the end of the “episode” with a quiz (I call it the Learning Check), so I created a practice Learning Check to help them prepare. Additionally, I selected questions from the textbook, which I scanned and uploaded since I didn’t expect all of the students to have their textbook.


“Office Hours”

Inevitably, students are going to have questions and will need support as they work problems out on their own. To assist, I made two types of “office hours” for students to ask questions.

Figure 5: FlipGrid is useful for virtual office hours.


-- This is a free service that allows students to ask questions via video messages. FlipGrid is web-based but also has IOS and Android apps so you can record videos with your cell phone or your computer. And, anyone can respond to a video in the grid, not just the teacher. I use my cell phone to record an answer by focusing my camera on a whiteboard and writing out explanations.


-- Google Meet allows for live “office hours,” so students can ask questions and get answers in real-time. In a similar way to FlipGrid, I use my whiteboard to provide detailed explanations.


Virtual Assessments

I use two types of assessments in my virtual chemistry course:

Entrance Card -- First, the students take a short, low-stakes quiz after reading the textbook and watching the video tutorial so they can see if they learned the content. Students get two attempts on this assessment so that they can go back over the material if they get something wrong the first time.

Figure 6: Students complete the entrance card to check their understanding after learning the content 


Learning Check -- Each episode ends with a quiz called the Learning Check. This assessment is higher-stakes, and students only get one chance. I try to create new questions for these quizzes; however, I also reuse some of the practice questions to reward students who have been diligently working on those assignments.


I’d love to hear how other teachers are managing the shift to virtual learning. Leave a comment and share your tips and resources!

Hang in there! I hope everyone stays safe and healthy!


Join the conversation.

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Comments 6

Tamara Gonzalez | Wed, 03/25/2020 - 08:20

Good morning!

This was a great read.  Thank you for sharing how you are doing your online chemistry class.

What program/platform do you use for your virtual assessments?

Josh Kenney's picture
Josh Kenney | Wed, 03/25/2020 - 18:34


Thanks for commenting! I use canvas to create the assessments; it has a built-in quiz tool. I have also made a few quizzes on Google Forms; however, you have to make sure that you select "make this a quiz" in the settings.

Lisa Sunshine | Sat, 04/04/2020 - 08:03

A great insight into how you designed your virtual chem course.  This setup was the most difficult part of the transition for me.  I am still struggling and I wonder if I am expecting my students to move too quickly through the units.  

How long would the mole/stoichiometry unit normally take you?  5 days per module times the 5 modules is 25 days of instruction. You won't be spending much time on anything else. Are you students submitting their work? Do you notice students waiting until the last possible moment to work on assignments?  

I am struggling with daily tasks versus turn it in all at once.  I think I made a mistake by giving everything the same due date.  AGGGGGHHH.  

I look forward to your insights. 


Josh Kenney's picture
Josh Kenney | Mon, 04/06/2020 - 08:37

Hi Lisa, 

Actually, I quickly realized that I am moving too fast with this plan! Originally, I thought that moving the mole/stoich unit into a 5 week Virtual Course should be pretty manageable for students; however, it wasn't. I'm still reworking the course.. but I've started to break the episodes up into smaller chunks. Things just take longer in this virtual learning environment. 

Here's an example of how I broke up an episode. Originally, Episode 2: Chemical Formulae, had students learning Percent Composition, Empirical and Molecular Formula -- all in one week. It was too much... So I split that episode up. In week 1, we covered percent composition, and then in week 2, we covered empirical and molecular formula. At this point, I think these 5 episodes are going to get split 10 episodes.


I'm planning on updating this post in a couple of weeks with some of the ways that I've needed to modify.

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Tue, 04/07/2020 - 07:45

Josh - Love your post.  It is easy to manage and makes sense.  Thanks for your input.  I really appreciate it.

SAM Mohamdee's picture
SAM Mohamdee | Thu, 04/09/2020 - 08:30


Thanks for sharing this! I really appreciate seeing how you set up your episode with specific step by step instructions, including where to start the video, etc. - it is very clear and easy to follow.