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Organic Chemistry Bootcamp – it’s Elementary

An e-learning offering from Chemistry and Biology aims to make the leap from school to university easier for new students

Organic Chemistry Bootcamp – it’s Elementary

Helium, sodium, nickel: the periodic table is one of the cornerstones of organic chemistry. Photo: AlexlMx/stock.adobe.com

Organic chemistry is the key to all life sciences and an important cornerstone – not only for studying chemistry, but also for studying biology, molecular medicine and pharmaceutical sciences. Now, a team has developed a digital teaching platform that new students can use to acquire, improve and test their skills.

Regardless what students think about biology studies when they start, they are immediately confronted with the inescapable fact that it is a science. Alongside mathematics, organic chemistry is the heart of all life sciences. However organic chemistry in particular has always been a very difficult subject for biologists, as Dr. Janina Kirsch from the Faculty of Biology well remembers from her own days as a student, “Many are even defeated by it. But we think that’s a shame, because even if the chemistry is too abstract for many new students, you can definitely learn it all.”

Kirsch is not inclined simply to lament something. Together with Prof. Dr. Birgit Esser from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Prof. Dr. Eckhard Bartsch from the Institute of Physical Chemistry she organized a Chemistry Bootcamp for the ‘Competence-orientated online self-learning offers for mathematics, interculturality and chemistry’ teaching platform, kosmic for short. The e-learning modules for Organic Chemistry (OC) have been online for a while now, a similar offering for Physical Chemistry is in preparation.

The periodic table in vibrant color

Access to the OC Bootcamp is extremely easy and can even benefit laypeople from the start with sudden insights. From the different shades of blue in the periodic table you can see at a glance which compounds will work very commonly, commonly, rarely or not at all. This easy-access is intentional because, as she learned in her time as a teacher, “many lack prior knowledge from school,” says Esser. This is why the leap from school to university is really hard for many new students. “Our idea was to prepare people even before lectures begin,” says Esser. And this is where the Bootcamp comes in. The online OC course is open to anyone who is interested. Following a simple registration process you can get straight on with the exercises you need, and do them in a time frame to suit. There is instant automatic feedback to answers.

The offering has been popular. In fact, far more people have registered for the Bootcamp than are on the relevant organic chemistry lecture course. “That means that we have others who are interested and using our offering,” smiles Manuela Kugler, who is responsible for producing the e-learning materials for the platform. Kugler can substantiate this interest with initial figures, “67 percent of those who took a written examination actively used the e-learning offering, and almost 30 who were surveyed agreed 100 percent that the offering was worthwhile and want it to continue. 86 percent even want it to go further.”

Awarded the Instructional Development Prize

And the students themselves? They too confirm what Kugler’s figures indicate. “Super exercises for OC laypeople,” thinks Philipp Sander. His fellow student Nadja Herrmann is also enthusiastic, “It makes learning much more varied.” And Helene Hackenbroch adds, “I often miss having something like this in my studies. I really valued getting instant feedback to the tests, as you could see your mistakes immediately and get an explanation.” Of course there’s always room for improvement. Some write that the course “could be improved a bit technically” or “some functions still need to be polished up a bit”. Lorenz Ahle nails the trend of the suggestions for improvement, “In some cases the level of difficulty was still too low. A few more options here please!”

In 2019 the Chemistry Bootcamp was honored with the Instructional Development Award of the University of Freiburg, which is endowed with 70,000 euros. Feedback from the students confirms it’s well-deserved.

Jürgen Reuß


Chemistry Bootcamp

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