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Remedial Physical Chemistry

I am writing to share with you what I believe to be one of the successes of the new graduate curriculum at the University of Oklahoma.

Seven of the twenty-eight in-coming graduate students this past semester have undergraduate degrees in biology and consequently have not had undergraduate Physical Chemistry. In the past, these students would have been required to enroll in the first semester of our year-long undergraduate course, which typically focusses on kinetics and thermodynamics. Unfortunately, that instruction would have come too late for the students as they were all enrolled in the zero-level graduate course in Biochemistry and Organic Chemistry (which both contain elements of kinetics and thermodynamics). Furthermore, the students would not have been exposed to elements of bonding and spectroscopy that are typically taught in the second semester of the undergraduate course. Having the students take the undergraduate course would have simply been a case of too little to late.

Because our zero-level graduate courses do not begin until the sixth week of the semester, it is possible to offer remedial instruction (a compentency-based accelerated learning program) to bring the students up-to-speed before the zero-level course begin. I put together a course I called Selected Topics in Physical Chemistry for the Life Sciences. A zipped file of the course can be found here.

The course was taught autodidactly. There were 16 learning objectives that were tested using D2L-based quizzes. The students were provided the resources, and they were ultimately responsible for learning the material, but we did meet as a class once a week for a brief lecture and a problem-working session. Importantly, the material was presented in the context of biology. Ultimately, six of the seven students demonstrated competency (successfully answered more than 80% of the quiz questions correctly).

Michael T. Ashby, University of Oklahoma, mashby@ou.edu

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