Undergraduate organic chemistry courses are prerequisites for many graduate and professional programs in science, engineering and healthcare, yet represent “stumbling blocks” for many students, often resulting in poor performance and high attrition rates compared to other undergraduate courses. Incorporating course activities and assignments that engage students in the learning process, both in-class and outside of the classroom setting, represents a step toward enhanced student learning experiences that will result in useful skills, build enthusiasm for the subject, and improve performance in the organic chemistry course. One category of such assignments that I use in the organic chemistry courses that I teach, are weekly homework question sets delivered and completed using an online homework/learning system. There are several advantages in using an online homework system – versus the traditional homework. One advantage that stands out is the opportunity for multiple attempts to answer a question, and a detailed, immediate feedback to each attempt. Although I am currently using an online homework system in my courses, and have used a different one in the past years, it is difficult to make a fair assessment of effectiveness of such tools without having the same group of students experiment with multiple systems. I want to improve the learning process and the students’ mastery of concepts by selecting an online homework/learning system that is most effective for the organic chemistry subject matter, as determined not only by myself but the students as well.

My Dream Idea would be to organize a series of meetings with a selected group of undergraduate students (up to five) to investigate and compare the capabilities of several online homework/learning systems for organic chemistry. The recruited undergraduate students should have already successfully completed an organic chemistry course, and should be interested in further developing their chemistry knowledge, in preparation for professional school admission tests, or for upper level chemistry courses. Each participating student would have the opportunity to use six different online learning systems (Sapling Learning, Connect, MasteringChemistry, OWL, WebAssign, and SmartWork) to complete the same set of assignments. The series of meetings will conclude with a presentation of the findings to an audience consisting of organic chemistry faculty, and any interested undergraduate/graduate students.

Additionally, I would like to organize two informal lunch meetings in the first month of the fall semester, in which the five recruited students and myself would share our experiences and recommendations – to students currently enrolled in the first-semester organic chemistry course – about organizational skills, studying habits, and time commitment necessary for mastery of the course topics. I think students would be surprised to hear that my passion for organic chemistry wasn’t “love at first sight”; rather it started and was fueled by the desire to succeed after first struggling with organic chemistry.

Proposed budget:

Registration for access to selected online learning systems: $80 per system x 5 students: $2,400

Refreshments for meetings during meetings $300

UVA Bookstore gift certificates for student participants in research: $60 x 5 students: $300