Faculty from UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Chemistry Department, working in conjunction with UF’s Center for Online Innovation and Production, designed and deployed this chemistry lab in an entirely new format to boost access to UF’s chemistry lab curriculum via a new, hybrid format. Offered for the first time this summer, UF students enrolled in CHM 2045L, General Chemistry 1 Laboratory start their lab online with important pre-lab assignments and content and then are required to convene on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville for their face-to-face labs and instruction with UF faculty and teaching assistants. This inaugural on-campus component convenes in Joseph Hernandez Hall from June 3 through June 14, with labs and faculty office hours scheduled in-person each weekday. Following the on-campus labs, the students then complete additional lab work and assignments in the online canvas environment.
“I am so excited to launch this incredible initiative as part of our ongoing efforts to provide a rich and engaging academic experience for our students,” said Evangeline Tsibris Cummings, Assistant Provost and Director of UF Online. “This course is the direct result of the hard work and leadership of UF’s CLAS Chemistry Department and the Center for Online Innovation & Production (COIP). Additionally, it was made possible by extensive collaboration across the State University System (SUS) of Florida through its Chemistry Labs Bootcamp Workgroup, including faculty and instructional designers across the state whose inspiration and dedication to providing innovative STEM education is surely contagious.”
The SUS taskforce for STEM labs for online students managed the Chemistry Bootcamp Working Group, which had representatives from all four-year universities. After the boot camp’s conclusion, the universities will able to take the curriculum plan and adapt it to their own campuses, students and faculty.
The lab pairs with CHM 2045 General Chemistry I, which covers topics such as stoichiometry, atomic and molecular structure, the states of matter, reaction rates and equilibria. The boot camp is essentially a traditional semester-long course compressed into an intensive face-to-face experience with critical online instruction and content. While UF has offered a microbiology lab boot camp for years, this is the first chemistry boot camp in the State University System of Florida.
The lab is led by Melanie Veige, Senior Lecturer, and Dr. Lisa McElwee-White, chair of the Department of Chemistry. Instructional designers Emma Brady and Selcuk Dogan and Joleen Cannon, Director of the Center for Online Innovation and Production, also were part of the design of the boot camp, said Cummings.
According to Veige, the small size of the class allows the teaching assistants to have more interaction with the students. She said she is glad that students can benefit from the flexibility of UF Online. “This is something really special,” Veige said.
“We’re happy to be able to offer online students a face-to-face General Chemistry I lab, where they can perform the exact same lab activities as students perform each spring, summer, and fall term, over a much shorter period of time, in our new lab space,” she said. “The Chemistry Department worked closely with UF Online for close to a year, planning, conceptualizing, and designing the experience for these students – both the online/preparation portion and the face-to-face experience. We are all excited the students are finally here and that the labs appear to be proceeding smoothly.”
Candace Biggerstaff, a teaching lab specialist for general chemistry, works with the students to teach them lab safety and inventory protocol. In the lab, students experiment with technology such as gas pressure sensors, conductivity probes, spectrophotometers, and oxidation-reduction potential meters. They also use virtual reality headsets to prepare them for various lab activities, such as a virtual tutorial on how to use a micropipette.
“I really like the boot camp students,” Biggerstaff said. “It’s a smaller group, and they get to know us better – they’re here every day instead of once a week.” Biggerstaff also noted that faculty are looking forward to learning how they can use the online-formatted curriculum with residential students in the future.
Alexys Dew, a Microbiology & Cell Science student who recently completed her freshman year through UF Online, said she appreciates the blended format of the course, and that it works well for Chemistry. “I like online classes, especially with harder classes, because you can do things like stop the video and kind of gather your thoughts,” Dew said. “It’s really cool being able to be here and being able to talk to someone … as well as being at home and being able to write your own [notes on lectures] down,” she said. To her, the best part of the boot camp portion of the class is getting to work through experiments together with other students.
To commemorate the launch of the chemistry lab boot camp, UF Online will host a celebratory reception for the program’s faculty, staff, students, and advisors on June 13.
“Online students don’t want lesser quality, they want equity of access to earn their degree. Flexible formats like boot camps not only ensure an engaging delivery of lab-based instructions, but also serve as a great opportunity for online students to connect with faculty and one another at UF’s top lab facilities,” Cummings said.
The University of Florida, ranked No. 8 in the list of top 10 best public universities by U.S. News & World Report, launched UF Online in January 2014. UF Online was ranked No. 5 in the 2019 rankings for the best online programs in the country by U.S. News. Students can select from 21 majors across a variety of disciplines as well as seven minors and work with a dedicated academic advisor to design their own academic pathway. Degree programs are continually being added. Visit ufonline.ufl.edu to learn more.