Following Spring Break, in March 2020, the Emmanuel College Department of Chemistry and Physics joined the world in online education. We excelled in reaching and educating students in ways that many other institutions could not match. We had our challenges, but also successes and outcomes that were uniquely Emmanuel.
What is chemistry like in a virtual world and what was the experience like for students, faculty, and staff?
We panicked. Then we got to work flipping classrooms, recording video lectures, and moving labs online. (We also learned how to teach elementary school, managed child care, worked within 10 feet of a family member who’s on a loud phone call. Think about 20 first graders on a Zoom call together… pandemonium…) What did our classes look like? It was messy at first and we all struggled with learning Zoom, finding that great app to use as a whiteboard, or just finding a physical whiteboard to write on. We spent hours in front of our computers each day, alongside students, lecturing, working problems, holding office hours, teaching, and supporting-encouraging students. We came up with creative solutions. We went high tech and low tech. Sometimes we avoided the topic of COVID-19 and other times we took it head on. For example, Dr. Gerdon quickly put together a lab assignment on how the coronavirus test works (using real-time PCR with fluorescent tags and quenchers) and asked the students to write a 2-3 sentence explanation that their families could understand.
Dr. Gerdon explaining size exclusion chromatography to the Analytical Chemistry lab students.
A high tech – low tech video lecture on electrochemistry. Sometimes a pen and paper work the best!
Students adapted to studying in a new environment where they were isolated from colleagues and friends and had only siblings, parents, relatives, and house-mates. Just like faculty, students panicked, then got to work. (Students also learned how to teach elementary school, managed sibling child-care, worked within 10 feet of loud siblings, and took on many family responsibilities.) Students spent hours on their computers, alongside faculty and fellow students, doing their best to learn complicated chemistry. And learn they did. Some things went well, like improved focus on scientific writing and lab calculations. Some things, like learning lab technique, just weren’t possible.
Lab Managers did an amazing job gathering supplies to donate to local hospitals, then transitioned from preparing chemicals and setting up lab experiments to maintaining instruments and assisting with technology.
Lab Manager gathered supplies to donate to local hospitals.