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Chemistry Education For The YouTube Generation

Professor describes how the Internet can be used to excite students about organic chemistry

Neil Garg

Neil GargWhy does organic chemistry have such a bad reputation among students? Before being directly exposed to the subject, they’ve already heard about the notorious class that involves a painful amount of memorization and is used to weed out the weak from the strong. Accordingly, when students finally take organic chemistry, teachers face an uphill battle in having to overcome the fear the students have for the subject.

Although I am an advocate of the traditional “chalk talk,” I have come to realize how the Internet can be used to a professor’s advantage to enhance the student experience and dispel negative perceptions about organic chemistry. One activity I started assigning to my students in 2010 is to make music videos about organic chemistry with lyrics that correspond to course material. Not only has it been an educational assignment for the students, but it has also allowed us to share the fun of organic chemistry worldwide with the YouTube generation.

The Internet also provides a great opportunity for teaching students how organic chemistry affects their everyday lives. At the University of California, Los Angeles, we have developed a set of online tutorials called BACON (Biology & Chemistry: Online Notes), which show students connections among course content, medicine, the real world, and even pop culture. These tutorials will become broadly available in 2016.

The Internet has no doubt enhanced the student experience. We should use it when it serves a strategic educational advantage. But let’s not forget there is still no substitute for the critical-thinking skills our students develop when solving a so-called impossible problem on the good old chalkboard.

Neil Garg is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA.

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