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Students meet online for Professor Mary Crawford's chemistry course


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Retooled Chemistry Course Features Virtual Labs and Online Collaboration

Students meet online for Professor Mary Crawford's chemistry course

Like the rest of the Knox College community, students in Professor Mary Crawford's General Chemistry II class had to adapt to a distance-learning environment during the 2020 spring term. Crawford retooled the course to fit the circumstances while still maintaining the usual academic rigor and teaching students about solution chemistry, thermodynamics, equilibrium, and related topics.

"In terms of the speed and the pace of the material, we didn't skip a beat," said Crawford, who is Philip Sidney Post Professor of Chemistry and a 1989 Knox graduate. 

The lecture portion of the course included videos from Crawford explaining concepts such as column chromatography and Beer's Law that students could watch on their own schedule, as well as video chats where the class came together on designated days and times to solve chemistry problems. During the problem-solving sessions, Crawford sometimes divided the students into smaller groups of three or four and electronically visited each group to guide them through any difficulties.

For the lab component, students conducted virtual experiments through ChemCollective, an online teaching resource that includes virtual versions of graduated cylinders and other equipment typically found in a laboratory. Students also filled out lab reports, providing data from their experiments and responding to questions posed by Crawford. In one experiment, for instance, students analyzed the levels of food dye in sports drinks. 

Students could seek extra help with the class from teaching assistants Annie Peterson '20 and Allison LaSalvia '22, and they could text or email Crawford whenever they ran into challenges with the coursework.

Lucy Weyer Johnson '23 took Crawford's chemistry course and two additional science courses online during Knox's 2020 spring term.

"My experience has been positive overall, and I believe much of that has to do with the commitment of the Knox faculty," she said. "I am sure I could have survived with only the textbooks and the Internet, but because the staff at Knox are especially committed to speaking to students directly, it has been much easier to navigate."

For Tina Vargas '23, taking the chemistry class online turned out to be "quite an adjustment."

"I am more of a visual/hands-on learner and having to move online has definitely been more challenging, but I got the hang of it more quickly than I thought I would have, which is a plus," she said. "Also, with classes being online, I get a sense of independence. I get all my assignments for the week, and I have to plan out my schedule more thoroughly to make sure I am doing everything in a timely manner."

Taking the class online "does definitely feel like a Knox experience," Vargas said, adding that Crawford "has done a tremendous job at making sure her students are learning the best way possible, the same way she would if we were back in her classroom."

Photo at top of page: Professor Mary Crawford and students meet online for her chemistry course.

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Printed on Tuesday, September 29, 2020