For students arriving at college, introductory and first-year chemistry courses can often be an obstacle on their chosen paths. Whether they’re headed toward a medical or research field or want a career in engineering, chemistry is waiting for them. Unfortunately, studies show students are not doing well in these courses. A study by the Gardner Institute, surveyed 36 colleges and universities across the United States, focusing on their “DFWI” rates, that is how many Ds, Fs, withdrawals, and incompletes occurred in classes. The study found the average DFWI rate for introductory chemistry was 29.4%, but this average rose to over 40% for Black, Latinx, and Native American students. This raises the question, what can instructors do to help students arriving at introductory chemistry from different backgrounds and with different levels of prior learning?
As the Gardner Institute concluded, “The findings strongly suggest that course redesign is essential.” But what does that look like? In a Chemical and Engineering article, “Weeding out inequity in undergraduate chemistry classes,” MSU Chemistry professor Melanie Cooper says “The problem with traditional intro courses is that they’re a mile wide and an inch deep, so they teach way, way too much.”
So what are instructors to do as, in the words of Gardner, they face “a steadily diversifying, twenty-first-century student body”? As Cooper says, the traditional model is deeply flawed. Educational technology is an answer.
Technology in the Classroom
Unsurprisingly, edtech is a flourishing market. Not only are a record number of startups being reported by Y Combinator, but international governments are recognizing its value in the wake of covid and viewing it as an investing ground. Why? Because edtech is ready to meet students in the moment.
Bringing Chemistry to Life with Edtech
Using Insights and Feedback to Adapt Coursework
Chemistry-specific educational technology can engage chemistry students through active learning modules that enable visual, interactive, and dynamic learning. Algorithmic homework assignments and quizzes can allow students to achieve mastery of their course material. Meanwhile, the most effective technology augmentation will allow instructors to watch class progress and participation, track attendance, assign polls and quizzes and draw from a bank of chemistry questions with step-by-step guided solutions.
One of the biggest challenges that students face when it comes to technology is being able to effectively visualize the structures of elements. If students are able to draw Lewis structures, visualize VSEPR, use drag-and-drop tiles to solve stoichiometry problems, and write chemical nomenclature and equations they are more likely to retain the information. The key for instructors is to bring chemistry to life in an engaging and empowering way for students.