An Interactive Online Organic Chemistry Textbook With Biomedical Applications

Investigator: Seann Mulcahy, Providence College

Scientific Theme: Environmental Health Sciences

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a tremendous upheaval in the conventional teaching modalities in higher education. Over the past year, in-person content delivery, hands-on experiments, and face-to-face lectures and office hours have given way to dedensification and social distancing. This was particular difficult for faculty in STEM who subscribe to an active model of teaching and learning. By their very nature, STEM fields involve discovery and experimentation that is difficult to replicate in an online setting. This type of learning is challenging under normal circumstances, but the stresses of learning during a pandemic can lead many students to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Thus, rapid innovation in the biomedical curriculum is sorely needed to meet the needs of these students and avoid gaps in STEM graduation rates due to the pandemic.

One of the long-standing challenges in higher education is the high cost of content delivery. While attaining a college degree is generally regarded as a tremendous return-on-investment, education-based debt has surpassed $1.5 trillion. Reducing the cost of education, especially in a pandemic, is a goal that would benefit everyone. Fortunately, individual faculty members can play an important role in reducing costs by limiting student expenses on textbooks. The high cost of textbooks may be a deterrent for students pursuing a biomedical degree, so using open-course materials has the potential to increase access to all students, regardless of background. In this proposal, we seek funds to support the creation of a freely available, interactive, online organic chemistry textbook with a focus on biomedical and health sciences applications. This initiative will unburden students from the high costs associated with science textbooks and level the playing field for those students whose family financial situations have worsened during the pandemic. In turn, this will reduce high entry barriers to STEM degrees.

Human Health Relevance: Organic chemistry is a required course in the biomedical curriculum that poses significant challenges for beginning learners. This project will focus on developing online resources that describe the exciting biomedical and health science applications of organic chemistry as a way to inspire students to persist towards STEM degrees.