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 YouTube Channel 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:

  1. College Chemistry Essentials
  2. Atoms and Periodic Table
  3. Mole Conversions
  4. Gas Laws



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.


FlipGrid -- 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 -- 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!

Editor's Note: Josh wrote a follow-up with an adjusted schedule, Three Necessary Adjustments for Teaching During COVID-19.


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Comments 17

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.

Katie Buettner | Fri, 04/10/2020 - 09:14

Hey Lisa, This is my 1st year teaching chem (and honestly, its not my best subject) but this is what I put together for my kiddos:  Stoichiometry Vol 1 - Digital Notebook.  It covers mole ratio, mole to mass and mass to mass.  Vol 2 will have volume to volume and mass to volume.  Vol 3 will contain limiting reactant and yield. 

The notebooks have links to online text books (maybe CK12), videos and my own videos working through problems.  Table of contents has due dates and possible scores for assignments. Students put their answers in the notebook (gray boxes) or in a Google Form linked to the page.  You are welcome make a copy if you like.  

I'm happy for suggestions too. 

This too will pass, Stay healthy & safe


Laurie Smith | Wed, 04/15/2020 - 04:54

Hi Katie

I love this digital notebook. I made a copy (thank you!) and can make some edits for my students. I may allow some students to work through it at their own pace because I have a great spread of ability in Chemistry 1 (non honors). Can you share how you make these? Is there a template? Thank you!!!!!

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. 

Jennifer Timmer | Fri, 04/10/2020 - 10:43

When having students answer questions for stoichiometry, I want them to show me their work, this way I can see the process, not just the answer. The equation editor in google docs works great for practice problems, but not for assessments - not avaible on google forms, and the cut and paste doesn't work either. I tried just giving the quiz on google docs, rampent cheating that was very obvious. Have any tools or other suggestions. Thank you, 


Michael Farabaugh's picture
Michael Farabaugh | Sun, 04/12/2020 - 07:17


One suggestion is for your students to use FlipGrid to make a short video that demonstrates how they solved the problem. They can use a white board tool in Flipgrid or they can use their own paper. They can appear on the screen, but they don't have to show their face on the screen. Here are a couple examples of my students using FlipGrid to do some mole conversions. Feel free to ask me more questions.




Josh Kenney's picture
Josh Kenney | Tue, 04/14/2020 - 08:07

Hi Michael,

This is a great use of FlipGrid! I never thought of having students use FlipGrid to demonstrate their own problem-solving. Are the student videos included in your grade book as an assignment? Participation?

Laurie Smith | Wed, 04/15/2020 - 04:55

This is great. I had students use Flipgrid to show a model for various reaction types using what they have a home: legos, food, coins. game pieces, etc.


Chris Leverington | Mon, 04/13/2020 - 16:35

While I'll often use YouTube videos to supplement my teaching or as additional resources for students, I don't like the idea of using them as instruction during this time.  I feel it kinda yields me unnecessary and shows that my job can be done by YouTube!  I get that it can be a pain and we don't have the best video making equipment, but I think the students value getting the information from me rather than someone else. And I generally hate the Khan Academy videos.  Who is your go to YouTube chem teacher?

Josh Kenney's picture
Josh Kenney | Tue, 04/14/2020 - 08:03

Hi Chris,

I agree with you that some type of "face-to-face" interaction between students and their teacher is important during this time. I have since added a live class into the framework that's described here. I can't make the live class mandatory, but it is still well attended. Students seem to like to get the information from me in this face-to-face format.

Also, I've never been a big fan of having my students learn from someone else on YouTube, which is one of the reasons that I started to make my own YouTube videos to supplement class material. I guess then, my go-to YouTube chem teacher is myself. So, in this unique situation, I am fortunate enough that my students can learn from me on YouTube and in a live class setting.

Given the extreme circumstances, I think many teachers will need to use content that's already available on YouTube. As you alluded to, video making requires equipment and not everyone is set up to start cranking out videos right now. I get the aversion to Khan Academy, the videos can be a bit long. In contrast, when I first started to make YouTube videos, my goal was to keep them as short as I could for a given topic. I will say though, no one has a video library as large as Khan Academy!

Bob Worley's picture
Bob Worley | Thu, 04/16/2020 - 02:41

A view from across the pond. The CLEAPSS videos and my videos on https://www.youtube.com/user/CLEAPSS and https://bit.ly/2HDv8jo have no sound so you can do your own commentary or  if you wish to ask questions of the students. I tried to do commentary once but is it difficult. You never say the right thing so you have to go over it again, I have an English North Midland accent which I hate to hear and commentaries make videos rather long. You can write a script but that is time consuming. They should never be longer than a Tom and Jerry cartoon is my maxim.

When I watch American videos, I often say "Oh get on with it" because as the English say the very minimum the Americans can talk too much. I also have the Englishman’s embarrassment of when in a American Diner and the waitress comes up and announces “I’m Kimberley I am…….” And then goes into 3 minutes of rapid menu description and “apple-pie” homilies   which my American hosts love and I am looking down at the menu on the table, wishing to say “I can read”!!! But I never do, after all it is the American way of welcoming you and it rather nice when it is all over.

Anupam Chaurasia | Sun, 04/19/2020 - 00:07

Sir, how can I join your class on canvas and get latest update for your classes?

Josh Kenney's picture
Josh Kenney | Mon, 04/20/2020 - 11:26


Unfortunately, only individuals at my institution can join my Canvas Class.

All the resources on my Canvas page, however, are free during these difficult times:

YouTube Videos

Worksheets that go with Videos