Kitchen chemistry provides distance learners with quality laboratory experiences

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 14 -- Taking a college course online -- also called distance learning -- is now the norm for many students needing a more convenient and affordable way to earn college credits. The trend has not yet caught on for most science courses that require laboratory sessions, however, as many educators think it's unrealistic to teach the lab experience outside of the classroom.

Several chemistry professors will try to change that perception at the 232nd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. Educators will cite their successes with kitchen chemistry, lab simulations and virtual experiments, and provide suggestions on incorporating distance learning in the science curriculum during a symposium, Sept. 14, entitled "Distance Learning and the Chemistry Laboratory."

"Students have, by and large, done really well," says James Reeves, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, whose students conduct experiments in their own kitchens as part of their distance learning course. Reeves and Doris Kimbrough, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado at Denver, created several kitchen chemistry experiments for distance learners, which mimic traditional lab experiments but replace potentially dangerous chemicals with such common household items as baking soda and vinegar.

"You get lots of people whose knee-jerk reaction is: 'you have be in a lab to learn chemistry,'" says Reeves. "But my reaction is: everybody's in the kitchen and if you give [students] the right tools -- the same tools they use to carry out cooking dinner -- they can make real measurements, and that's really what a lab is for."

Reeves' online courses use the same sequence of topics outlined in standard chemistry textbooks, but his approach to first-year, general chemistry courses is conceptual. "It's not as important that [students] can make precise measurements in the kitchen," he says. "What's important is that they see the phenomenon; that they measure the phenomenon; that they work out what the measurement means in terms of the chemistry involved; and that they can actually compare it to the real world."

Reeves' research shows that distance learners who were given lab exams on qualitative analysis, paper chromatography and density, performed better than traditional students in all areas, which he will describe during the symposium.

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-- Natasha Bruce

The paper on kitchen chemistry, CHED 526, will be presented Thursday, Sept. 14, 11:05 a.m., at the San Francisco Marriott, Salon 11, during the symposium, "Distance Learning and the Chemistry Laboratory."

James Reeves, Ph.D., is a chemistry professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Related papers in this symposium -- all embargoed for 8:00 a.m., Pacific Time, Sept. 14

"Development and Delivery of Online Chemistry Laboratory Experiences"
Lorelei Wood of Rio Salado College in Tempe, Ariz., has developed six online chemistry lab courses composed of "kitchen chemistry" labs. Coursework and instructions are online, and students receive a lab kit that contains environmentally friendly reagents and the majority of materials necessary to conduct experiments at home. She will describe the courses and present new software applications and simulations used to supplement "wet chemistry" experiments performed at home. (CHED 519, Thursday, Sept. 14, 8:25 a.m.)

"Goals of the 'Hands-On' Virtual Laboratory"
Bert Ramsay, Ph.D., of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich., will report on the goals for the hands-on virtual lab. Ramsay believes data collection, interpretation and problem solving can be handled adequately by a virtual lab activity. (CHED 522, Thursday, Sept. 14, 9:35 a.m.)

"Learning Chemistry Close to Home with Distance Learning"
Kenneth Costello, of Mesa Community College in Arizona, believes our society's success will depend on the combination of science literacy and computer literacy. "Science literacy will soar when the tools of science are available at home," he says, referring to simple labware and test kits that can be used to test the water, air and soil. "Labware should also help convert or recycle used plastic, paper and cooking oil into useful items for further home use." (CHED 523, Thursday, Sept. 14, 9:55 a.m.)


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