Post-secondary chemistry instructors across the country have generally reconciled themselves to teaching in on-line settings for the foreseeable future and most of them are preparing to deliver all kinds of course content in this way. Depending on the size of their institution, however, some of these individuals may not have access to the knowledge or physical resources necessary for a successful transition to this new educational environment.
In British Columbia, the CIC Local Section in Vancouver has been attempting to fill this void. Section Chair John P. Canal has spent the past couple of months fielding queries from individuals who have been told to move on-line but are not entirely sure how to do so.
“There’s such a need in this area for instructors to get together,” he says, noting that in his capacity as a senior lecturer in Simon Fraser University’s Department of Chemistry, he has access to substantial on-campus expertise and facilities that can help him with challenges such as mastering new software. At the same time, his counterparts at smaller places may be operating alone at their institutions, even as they face similar challenges.
As comments and questions came his way, Canal began to form an on-line chemistry group for sharing resources and ideas. The group now consists of 29 members from 13 different post-secondary institutions, mostly in the Vancouver are but also from the BC interior and the Yukon. They got altogether on-line through the Zoom conferencing platform at end of April, the first of what he anticipates will be regular sessions.
“We will meet every few weeks where instructor can share online teaching success and challenges,” says Canal, who has created a common Excel file containing this material, which is accessible to everyone. “The feedback so far has been very positive and appreciative.”
Although much of the initial discussion has revolved around technical matters involving software, more complex questions are surfacing as the implications of this major transition become apparent. In his own first-year chemistry course with about 300 students, for example, Canal has typically employed several teaching assistants who receive immediate questions from the students in the classroom.
“Now we’re going to have a deluge of e-mails, because students cannot ask their questions in person,” he observes.
Laboratory activities associated with such classes will pose a different set of problems, which the group is reviewing. Although major educational publishers such as McGraw-Hill do offer systems for this purpose, their limitations are becoming apparent. Canal notes that he has a hearing-impaired student and online solutions are required to accommodate this need.
He adds that even at Simon Fraser University, which has robust IT and educational support departments, on-line teaching used to be a small part of the overall campus teaching load, whereas now it is essentially the entire teaching load.
“Every semester they usually get people asking them for help, but now the whole campus is telling them they have to go on-line,” he says. “And the departments are only so big.”
The Vancouver group welcomes anyone who wants to become involved with their activities and John Canal is pleased to answer questions or share the group’s resource materials. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org