By Chris Farley
Developing an OER Homework Platform for SCC-110 and SCC-101
Students in Foundations of Chemistry (SCC-110) and Topics in Chemistry (SCC-101) are required to register for 3rd party websites in order to complete homework assignments. In the former case they register for the Sapling Learning website (https://www.saplinglearning.com) for a fee of approximately $42. In the latter case they register for McGraw Hill’s Connect website (https://connect.mheducation.com) for $66, which also provides them access to the digital edition of the required course textbook.
My goal in this project is to develop an open access homework platform that replicates most of the functionality of these sites without any additional charge to the students. Unfortunately, the free resources that we have found to this point could not implement more advanced chemistry question types, such as Lewis diagrams, VSEPR, molecular shapes, and reaction mechanisms. Free chemical structure drawing applications are available, but do not offer the ability to create assessments or automatically grade them. To my knowledge, the only platform that offers all of these features is OpenOChem (https://openochem.org), an open access cloud-based application programming interface (API) that integrates into an existing Learning Management System (LMS).
After inquiring with LaGuardia’s Help Desk about the possibility of integrating OpenOChem into our existing Blackboard platform, I learned that this process would likely take years if it could be approved at all. Working on a suggestion from Prof. Joshua Tan, I decided to create a course site on Canvas (https://canvas.instructure.com), a separate LMS that allows OpenOChem integration by default. Canvas lets you create free course sites and students accounts, and also allows other 3rd party app integration, including MyOpenMath (https://myopenmath.com). Some of my colleagues, Prof. Amit Aggarwal and Prof. Midas Tsai, have already begun using MyOpenMath to design and create the basic assignments for SCC-110. This means that Canvas can be used as a central platform for students to access both MyOpenMath and OpenOChem assignments for free without needing to register for multiple sites or even know the difference.
Profs. Aggarwal and Tsai have already begun piloting the MyOpenMath assignments in select SCC-110 sections. Creating questions and assignments in OpenOChem is simple and straightforward, so I have begun designing complementary assignments and integrating both types into the course Canvas site. After initial testing of the Canvas platform with my own section this semester (Spring I 2021), I hope to expand the pilot to other sections in the Spring II semester with the goal of full implementation in Fall I 2021.
Replacing the homework platform for SCC-101 will likely prove more challenging because of the closer integration of the text and assignments. McGraw Hill’s Connect website not only provides the full digital textbook for the same charge, but the assignments themselves directly refer students to specific sections of the text for each problem. These are also adaptive assessments that provide more interactive structure and feedback to the students than a simple list of problems. For instance, if a student gets a question wrong, they will be presented with similar questions to test the same concept. If the student continues to struggle, it links them directly to the relevant section of the text and requires them to read it before they can continue. Both of these features are beneficial to the students and would be difficult, if not impossible, to fully replicate. For these same reasons, replacing the Connect platform for homework would also require a change in the required course textbook. While there are OER chemistry textbooks available, none that I have seen offer the same perspective in terms of placing chemistry concepts into real-world contexts that are relevant to non-science majors. These issues are still being discussed with the course coordinator, Prof. Ian Alberts.