OSU Ecampus Chemistry asked Joel M., a high school chemistry teacher in Michigan, to share his experience with our online Environmental Chemistry course and the ways it can benefit his career. Here’s his story:

I have been a high school chemistry teacher for the past 20 years. After obtaining my undergraduate degree in Chemistry, with education endorsements in Chemistry and Physics, I began my teaching career – teaching in the same high school ever since. Almost immediately after I began teaching, I started working on my Master’s degree. At that time, the local universities did not have any Chemistry-related Master’s degree programs geared for educators, so I completed a general Master’s program in Education.

Since then, I have continued to maintain my teaching certification in Michigan by obtaining continuing education credits. In doing so, I have tried to find courses that would help me in my teaching. I have found a few Chemistry-related workshops and shorter courses from local universities, but as I have become busier with my family life, I have been looking for online courses that would give me the flexibility to complete the coursework from home and at a time that works for me. In addition, I wanted to experience an online course so that I could be taught as many students are now being taught today. Perhaps this experience would also affect the way I would teach in my own classroom.

After a fairly brief internet search, it became apparent that Oregon State had a reputable Chemistry online curriculum. I searched the course offerings for this past spring session and was pleased to see an Environmental Chemistry course. I felt that this would be a valuable course for me as some of the topics would relate well to some of the things I teach in my own classroom (not to mention my own interest in the environment).

I found that the course was relevant and helpful. I learned many things about the environment, but perhaps more importantly, I learned how online courses operate. I enjoyed the flexibility; I could do the homework and readings when it worked for me rather than at a set time at a specific campus location. Consequently, the online course saved me commute time—which was very important, as I covet every minute with my family.

Since I prefer live interaction with people (for example, I prefer to do my banking with a person rather than with an ATM), the lack of personal contact in an online class was originally an area of concern. However, the online lectures and step-by-step tutorials were very well done. The instructor regularly and promptly communicated with us and was very willing to answer any and all of our questions. So, overall, I found the online experience to be excellent.

Although I hope to be able to take another online chemistry course in the future, I plan to first spend some time improving my own teaching. I think there are some interesting opportunities that arose from my online experience that could be employed in my classroom. I believe there are elements of a “flipped classroom” (which has the students listen to videotaped versions of the lectures at home, leaving class time for discussion and problem solving—and thus in some ways parallels an online classroom) that could be advantageous at times in my chemistry classes. In addition, I think that some of the tutorials used in the online Environmental Chemistry course at Oregon State could be modeled at the high school level to give to students—for example, a portfolio of “step-by-step” solutions to difficult stoichiometry problems. Even online quizzes could be utilized at the high school level in order to quickly reinforce certain content.

Overall, I enjoyed my Oregon State online chemistry course. Not only did I learn the content (and enjoyed doing that from the comfort of my home and with the flexibility I needed at this time in my life), I learned another teaching technique that I believe can be incorporated to some degree in my own classrooms. I appreciated this opportunity.

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