Dow Funds Chemistry Resources for Remote Learning
New funding allows CMU to provide chemistry resources to a larger and more diverse group of high school students and teachers
By Caroline Sheedy
Since March, Carnegie Mellon University has been offering free General Chemistry 1 and 2 courses through the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) to institutions impacted by COVID-19. Now, thanks to a $25,000 grant from Dow, CMU will be able to keep those courses free through this academic year and provide enhanced resources to teachers.
David Yaron, a professor of chemistry in the Mellon College of Science, has been providing resources to educators for more than 20 years. In 2000 he helped to launch ChemCollective, a collection of virtual labs, tutorials, simulations and other resources teachers and students can use to learn chemistry concepts. In 2019, many of ChemCollective's resources were incorporated into two courses, Chemistry 1 and 2, on CMU's OLI platform.
"OLI has helped us to reach the full potential of what our virtual chemistry tools can do," Yaron said. "ChemCollective resources were incorporated into full courses, with built-in tools to help teachers make sure their students understand the concepts they are teaching, all informed by learning science. Simply allowing teachers to know that their students completed their assignment and where they are struggling can be very helpful in a remote environment."
Yaron said what sets the ChemCollective virtual labs apart from others is the level of control students have when they set up their experiment.
"Instead of just walking the student through the experiment, our virtual labs are set up to allow them to make decisions along the way," Yaron explained. "The experience is closer to designing an experiment, which helps students learn the concepts."
The way people use these resources has changed with the pandemic. Since March, more than 3,500 new students have enrolled in the OLI chemistry courses. This semester, there are 140 class sections taught by 87 teachers.
"We are seeing teachers use the virtual labs to provide their students with a lab experience when they teach online, including people who would have never considered using a virtual lab and are trying them for the first time," Yaron said.
CMU's OLI platform saw unprecedented use in 2020. Norman Bier, executive director of the Simon Initiative and director of OLI, said he has seen a huge increase in users.
"With more than 33,000 new enrollments last year, OLI's record-breaking usage reflects CMU's success in supporting learners and educators in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and years of work before that," Bier said. "We are particularly excited about the efforts we made to support K-12 learners, and the support from Dow will help us reach even more people."
Teachers and students can access the chemistry resources on OLI's K12 website.