Near the end of March, I wrote a post that detailed how I made the switch from in-person to virtual chemistry learning in the wake of school closures due to COVID-19 (Switching to Online Chemistry Instruction Amidst COVID-19). In that post, I presented a rough framework for my new virtual chemistry course. About a month later, I discovered a few new strategies and made changes to my course in response to the needs of my students and the nature of online learning.
When schools first closed, I switched to a virtual learning environment by dividing my stoichiometry unit into five week-long episodes. Each episode included textbook reading, video tutorials, practice problems, a live virtual class session, and two different types of assessments. I planned to continue at a similar pace of learning to that of our in-person course; however, I quickly realized that my students were not able to move that quickly. Many students were inexperienced with virtual learning, and some lacked the motivation to learn in the unfamiliar reality of quarantine. So, I reworked the unit to span ten weeks instead of five (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Modified slower-paced stoichiometry unit for virtual learning
Doubling the time to learn the same content meant that we would not make it through all the topics that I would typically teach in-person. It took me a while to accept this reality. However, these are unprecedented times, and this unusual global crisis probably is not an appropriate circumstance to roll out a traditional online course. In order to better serve my students, a simplified virtual chemistry course should increase their knowledge of essential chemistry content without overwhelming their focus and abilities.
Due to the current norm of social distancing, students are not able to socialize in the same way they did before the school closures. Many students maintain friendships via technology; however, some of my students have still reported feelings of loneliness without in-person school. Regular live class sessions using Zoom or Google meet may establish an increased sense of community and an opportunity for socialization amongst students. Although the primary objective of such meetings is to teach some aspects of chemistry, I started inserting conversation prompts into my presentations, encouraging students to “hang out” in off-topic dialogue (Figure 2). When finished teaching, some of my colleagues even take themselves off the screen, leaving the meeting running so that students can chat with one another. Although I tend to find video chat to be sort of awkward, I try and push through it for the sake of my students’ social wellbeing.
Figure 2: A conversation slide to prompt off-topic discussion amongst students.
Demonstrate Student’s Thinking
Lastly, without face-to-face dialogue, it is difficult to evaluate how students think through problem-solving. Although nothing really replaces an in-person question and answer exchange, FlipGrid can mimic a similar discourse in this regard. Previously, I only used FlipGrid to answer students’ questions related to the content we were exploring. For an additional application of the tool, students can make short 3 - 5 minutes videos explaining their method for solving a homework problem (Figure 3). Not only am I able to assess their technique and reasoning, but it is also a fantastic metacognitive strategy for students.
Figure 3: Student-made FlipGrid videos.
Even after two months of online teaching during COVID-19, I expect my methods to evolve as new techniques are discovered and shared. I have learned a lot from discussions on ChemEd X and look forward to your comments, tips, and strategies.