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Free Online Chemistry Course Draws Over 5,000 Students

Video by UK Public Relations and Marketing

by Keith Hautala

(Jan. 22, 2014) — More than 5,000 individuals have signed up to take a free college-preparatory chemistry course online through the University of Kentucky.

The "Advanced Chemistry" course, beginning Jan. 27, will be the university’s first to use Coursera, a leading platform for MOOCs (massive open online courses). The non-credit course is designed to prepare incoming and current students for college-level chemistry classes, and to provide supplemental material for students already enrolled in chemistry classes for credit.

The 10-week course is made up of five two-part units, with each part intended to be completed in a week. Each unit covers a key topic, correlating to the standard topics established by the American Chemical Society: kinetics, equilibrium, acid-base equilibria, aqueous equilibria and thermodynamics. Successful completion of the course is expected to take about 6-10 hours of student work per week.

Each weekly lesson consists of a lecture video, about 10-15 minutes long, accompanied by corresponding practice problems, supplemental videos and answer sets. Tests are administered at the end of each of the five main course topics. Students may review the material at their own pace, whether they are encountering it for the first time or using it as a refresher course.

UK chemistry professor Kim Woodrum, who worked with colleague Allison Soult to design the course, says it will benefit high school students as well as the teachers tasked with preparing them for the rigors of college chemistry. 

"Many students come to the University of Kentucky with a weak chemistry background," Woodrum said. "We hope that the time and energy invested in this project will make a difference to high school students and teachers alike, both here in Kentucky and beyond. If we can make an impact on the students prior to their college experience, I think we will make an impact on their success here."

In developing the course, Soult says, the professors thought carefully about how to create an environment conducive to learning the material in the absence of daily interaction with students.

"Considering challenges and misconceptions faced by our classroom students, we incorporated information into the online course to address them before they happened," Soult said. "I believe that development of the online course will also benefit my classroom students."

Vince Kellen, UK’s senior vice provost for analytics and technology, said enrollment in this pilot course has already exceeded the university's expectations.

"Helping incoming students succeed in their academic work is very important to UK," Kellen said. "The Coursera e-Learning format is a great way to both reach a large number of students across the Commonwealth and support our classroom experience."

Potential students can view a course overview video, enroll in the session starting Jan. 27 and add future sessions to a "watchlist" at