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:
- Reading Assignments
- Video Tutorials
- “Office Hours”
- Virtual Assessments
Figure 1: My virtual chemistry "episode" outline on Canvas
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.