Organic Chemistry, Anyone?

Posted on 4/24/2020 2:53:24 PM

Justin Fair at his workstation Justin Fair, a professor in the Madia Department of Chemistry in the Kopchick College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, had previous experience teaching a graduate course online. Now that he’s delivering all of his courses remotely, including chemistry labs, his perspective on face-to-face learning hasn’t changed.

What’s been the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make to teach online?

Teaching labs online has been the most difficult transformation. I teach the two-semester Organic Chemistry Lab, which is four hours a week. Luckily, one of my students, Randall Koziel (a senior who will be attending graduate school at West Virginia University), has helped me film all the remaining labs. Since then, we have been adding many of the face-to-face components using D2L and Zoom. 

Here is one example of the videos we have made.

How much have you had to change the curriculum to fit online delivery?

I also teach a graduate course that was already online, so that course did not require any modifications.

But the lab was the big one to change. In a face-to-face lab, there are notebook checks, workbook checks, and teamwork points. I found the OneDrive app was a game changer. I had the students create a course folder and share the folder with me. Then they could scan the notebooks and other assignments and upload them directly from their phone to their OneDrive folder. D2L provided easy tools for their direct linking without having to upload or email large files. Sadly, the lab changed from teams of two to a more individual task-based course, but this was done so the students have more flexibility to access the lab’s content. 

What’s the reception been like for your students?

IUP Student Assistance FundThey like the flexibility and the perspective the camera gives them. But, they have said that because they are watching someone else do it and “the slow parts have been taken out,” they don’t have the time to assemble the process nearly as readily in their minds. All of the students in the lab class are science majors and miss being in the lab and actually doing hands-on work, as they normally would. 

What’s been the silver lining of this experience for you?

There has been some talk in the past about doing online labs. This experience has shown me that online labs are not sufficient for science students, and I expect the difficulties would be even harder for non-science students. 

What advice would you give people who are experiencing anxiety or struggling to adjust to change?

This semester is new to everyone, and we all need to understand the perspectives of all of those involved, especially our students. Attend your faculty members’ online office hours. This is a great chance to show them who is on the other side of the computer screen. The questions you ask and the comments you make will help shape how the class is delivered—maybe even tailoring it more to your exact needs! 

More about
Justin Fair

  • Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, Virginia Tech
  • Master of Science in Chemistry, IUP
  • PhD in Organic Chemistry, University of Connecticut

Courses Justin Fair Teaches

  • CHEM 102 College Chemistry II 
  • CHEM 105 The Forensic Chemistry of CSI
  • CHEM 231 Organic Chemistry I
  • CHEM 332 Organic Chemistry II
  • CHEM 498/499, 690, 795 and BIOC 482 Research and Thesis