Project Spotlight: Developing Open Education Resources for Chemistry


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Project Spotlight: Developing Open Education Resources for Chemistry

Posted on April 21, 2017

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By Stephanie Blair, Communications Intern

A young male student sits at a table, looking through a microscope.

Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission is funding the “Open Source Learning Materials for Introductory Chemistry Coursework” initiative to develop free online course materials to take the place of traditional textbooks for introductory chemistry courses covering general and organic chemistry concepts, as well as bio-chemistry concepts being taught at the collegiate level.

Dr. Patricia Flatt, professor of Chemistry at Western Oregon University, is spearheading the effort as one of the professors the state of Oregon asked to create open education resources.

“This really is designed to help reduce costs for students,” said Flatt. “Textbooks can be outrageously expensive—especially in the science field.” 

Though the project is still underway, currently materials for CH 150 and CH 105 are fully available online. CH 105 is part of the introductory chemistry series for Western students. CH 150 is an introductory course at Western as well, but is also offered through the Willamette Promise, a program that provides high school students with opportunities to earn college credit and complete technical certifications. 

It can be difficult to get college textbooks for a classroom on a high school budget, and high school texts often don’t cover college material sufficiently.

“One of the biggest complaints that I've gotten from [high school teachers] is that their high school textbooks don't go into enough detail,” said Flatt. “Having this resource will give them the same resources that our students on campus would have, so that they can better prepare their high school students to pass those courses and have proficiency."

Though the resources are being created for universal use, the materials being created at Western are tailored slightly toward the needs of WOU classes.

“We're doing a little bit more fine-tuning for our own courses, because sometimes we'll have specific topics that we'll also cover in the course,” explained Flatt. “Like, Chemistry 104 is a general chemistry introduction, but it also focuses on the environment, and so we'll add that environmental piece that will be specific for our coursework.”

Five Western Oregon students are assisting Dr. Flatt with the project, and they have been deeply involved with many facets of the work.

“They're helping me to write the chapters; they're investigating how to do some online video tutorials,” said Flatt. “We can link with things like the Khan Academy, which is really great, so they have a lot of video tutorials already available.”

However, the students are doing more than researching online: “If we can't find a good [video] for a section then my students are going into the lab and they're doing demonstrations of things like ‘how do you measure something?’, you know, so that students can actually see how things are applied rather than just reading the textbook and it being too dry,” explained Flatt.

Though only actively working on introductory level classes currently, the project is slated to produce resources for chemistry classes up to the 400 level. The materials are available for free on the Western Oregon Chemistry website and posted as completed.


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