Remote learning stories: Brittland DeKorver lectures, mentors and conducts labs virtually while uniting chemistry educators worldwide

Brittland DeKorver in her home office.
Brittland DeKorver in her home office.
Image Credit: Courtesy photo

Brittland DeKorver was inspired by the esprit de corps she felt with her colleagues in the chemistry department when they started collaborating on best practices and creative solutions for teaching their courses online.

They shared technology tips, how to optimize their content on Blackboard, ways they could ensure students receive tutoring and more.

As DeKorver, assistant professor of chemistry, did more outreach with colleagues in other parts of the country, she saw an opportunity for them to coalesce around their shared experience of teaching online, many of them unexpectedly as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.

DeKorver created a Facebook page titled, Strategies for Teaching Chemistry Online, which as of a few days ago had more than 2,000 followers from across the nation, and globally from Israel to Sweden to Malaysia.

And she was pleased, but not surprised, to see her Grand Valley colleagues — many of whom are chemistry education experts — are among the most active on the page.

"Our department in general has a really forward-thinking focus of how to teach chemistry based on evidence and how to be adventurous in our practices," DeKorver said. "Our department has taken really quickly to the idea that we’re going to do this in a different way."

For DeKorver, who is teaching general chemistry, as well as a capstone class, each day brings use of tried and true techniques, as well as improvising depending on technological or connectivity factors.

And just as her colleagues have inspired her, so have her students.

DeKorver had already been using video to provide supplemental material to her students, so the switch to lectures on video was relatively smooth. As for labs, the techniques are recorded through video while students are provided data to work with.

"The steps aren't the hard part, that's like following a recipe," DeKorver said. "Thinking it through is the important part."

While students are having some nervousness about the classes, DeKorver has found a general attitude that everyone is making the best of a challenging situation.

The capstone class students present a different set of challenges for DeKorver, who wants to ensure the best experience for these students who are headed to the job market or graduate school. Part of DeKorver's focus is finding ways to coach them on such issues as recommendation letters to help set them toward success.

As a senior seminar, the students must make a 40-minute presentation on their own research or someone else's to the entire department. Such a presentation is a first for these students, DeKorver said, and now they must find ways to do it online with varying levels of connectivity.

Solutions have included using a cell phone camera, using multiple devices simultaneously or recording the presentation because live stream capabilities were uncertain.

"It has been ad hoc, and students have completely rolled with it," DeKorver said.