Universities team up to make chemistry fairer

June 8, 2022

On average, Black, Latino, and Indigenous students fail or drop out of general education courses in their freshman year of college more often than their white peers. Similar trends are seen between students from low-income backgrounds and their more affluent peers.

Arizona State University and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) aim to change that, starting with general chemistry tutorials that prioritize equity with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A molecular educational model. Photo by iStock

A 2019 Gardner Institute study found that the percentage of black students in first-year general chemistry courses who failed or dropped out was 47.2%, compared to 26.3% of their white peers. The percentage of Hispanic and Latino students who failed or dropped out was 42%, and the rate of American Indian or Alaska Native was 54.5%. When students fail in bridging courses like general chemistry, their academic trajectory can be impacted for years, even resulting in equity gaps that follow them for life.

“Difficulties encountered in early chemistry lessons can really disrupt students’ STEM journeys. These challenges can particularly affect learners who have historically been discouraged from meaningfully participating in chemistry education,” said Rod Roscoeassociate professor of human systems engineering at ASU.

“This is one of the sources of disparities that we need to disrupt. On this project, I am excited to guide an equity-centered approach to innovative chemistry tutorials. Our team believes that all learners will be served by empowering them to see themselves in the field of chemistry, to create a personal and cultural connection with the ideas of chemistry and to take ownership of chemistry,” he said. declared.

Ariel Anbar, director of the Exploration Education Center at ASUand Norman Bier, director of CMU’s Open Learning Initiative, will be the lead investigators. The courseware will be made available through the Inspark Education Network, part of ASU’s Learning Enterprise, and CMU’s Open Learning Initiative, both of which distribute courseware. innovative online programs designed to improve the success of disadvantaged students.

In collaboration with faculty from historically black colleges and universities, predominantly black institutions, tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and community colleges that serve low-income learners, partners will design, develop, deliver and scale the chemistry course.

“We believe that inequitable outcomes are largely the result of chemistry education that is irrelevant or unresponsive to learner diversity. As such, it does not capitalize on their strengths. nor does it help them overcome their obstacles,” said Anbar, an ASU president. Professor of environmental chemistry at the School of Molecular Sciences. “Technology offers powerful ways to meet learners where they are, helping everyone learn better, while being especially helpful to learners who are often marginalized.”

The project builds on decades of successful innovation by the Center for Education Through Exploration and the Open Learning Initiative to break down barriers to learning success, especially in chemistry. The effort will incorporate materials and results from demonstrably successful chemistry efforts from both projects, including Critical Chemistry from the Center for Education Through Exploration and General Chemistry I and II from the Open Learning Initiative. The course will be built on CMU’s Open Learning Initiative platform, which offers open and interactive courseware for better learning outcomes and allows for research and experimentation.

“This really is a unique opportunity to combine and leverage the success of ETX and OLI approaches,” Bier said. “To successfully serve these learners, we will need to innovate – pedagogically and technologically – in ways that require rapid, scientifically informed innovation. These are areas where our partnership and shared platform shines.

CMU chemistry professor David Yaron has been developing chemistry tutorials for decades.

“Our courseware supports new types of synchronous learning activities, particularly by improving instructor interactions with students and providing better peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Ongoing research and partner feedback shows that these types of interactions can be a powerful force in advancing more equitable outcomes, and I welcome this chance to accelerate this work,” said Yaron.

ASU and CMU are looking for institutions and educators interested in using the courseware, participating in user research, or contributing materials. Contact Ariel Anbar at Arizona State University or Norman Bier at Carnegie Mellon University.


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