Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Today (if this posts as scheduled) I’ll be starting a new experiment by offering a college level chemical principles class for free on a video conferencing platform. The software will allow me to record the lectures which I will then post to a video sharing service. The course is one I’ve taught in colleges often, designed for students with no background in chemistry and limited mathematics. Of course, it’s not backed by any institution, and so cannot be transferred for credit at any educational institution. My thinking is that it might be beneficial to parents with little or no background in science, and chemistry in particular, who are homeschooling, or for helping their children with homework, or for those who just want to learn about chemistry.
The college level courses (and the textbooks for this common course) usually cover general chemistry, organic chemistry and biochemistry in one year. Taken as normal courses, general chemistry generally is a full academic year, organic is between one to one and a half years, and biochemistry is half to one full year. That means that in two semesters, the course covers what majors would take in five and a half to six and a half years. Clearly you cannot cover these topics nearly as in depth as they are covered in classes for majors, but because of the breadth of materials covered, it’s all done on a surface level. The students will get the breadth of information, but not the depth. For a parent wanting to help their children learn, or for those who simply want to learn a different way to view the world around them, it should be fine.
The plan is to do the lectures live, but I’m not sure how many people can attend. It’s always better to attend live so the student can ask questions and interact live and in real time, but it’ll be offered when most people work or have school. As such, the plan is to record the lectures, then post them to a video sharing site so people can at least watch real time. When I taught, I used to periodically do demonstrations and fun things, but in this format, of course, it’ll be all lecture and, therefore, rather dry. I’ll try to keep in entertaining, and I think I’ll have some friends who will start with the best of intentions, but I’m guessing interest will drop off quickly.
It’s not uncommon for students to lose interest in just a few lectures. Some will last for a month or so, but when teaching, it’s fairly common for most of the class to simply lose interest at least by midterms. Then, of course, they had to at least continue to try because of homework grades, quizzes, exams and so forth. There will be none of that here, so the only driving force for anybody to keep attending will be self-motivation. I tried doing something similar for a few friends who asked me to cover algebra a few years ago. They kept up for about a third of the class, then weren’t even viewing the videos anymore. Kind of sad, really, since I did a striptease in one of them.
So why do I do it? I guess pretty much my whole life has been dedicated to the service of others. I’ve tried creating content of one form or another to help people with topics in science and math. I truly love the subjects and have made a serious study of them, and I know that they’re intimidating to many people. So I’ve created videos (my “Seventy Second Science” series), tried to write books (but never really finished them), created a chemical principles computer program (self-paced learning and built in quizzes) and tried to make myself available for anybody interested, but no matter how friendly I try to be, I guess the topic just scares people off. This is honestly why I don’t have high hopes for this online class I’m going to offer. I’m honestly a little bit scared, in fact, that if anybody does make it all the way through, it’ll primarily be as a courtesy to me rather than a desire to learn, which is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. But I keep trying, like a fool, and free of charge to boot (probably due to “impostor syndrome”), but to be honest, it might be a mistake to offer this free of charge. Not that I want money (I do need it, though, or I’ll be homeless again before too much longer) but people value goods and services more highly if they have to pay for them. But, honestly, I’m not used to feeling valued anyway.