September 2015 | Tech Tips
Connecting Chemistry Students with Practicing Professionals
By Patricia Deibert
Teaching chemistry via technology can bring students’ concept understanding to a whole new level. A plethora of interactive tutorials make topics such as balancing equations, dissolution, and strong versus weak acids come to life. According to chemistry lab tech Lisa Kann, “Here at Milwaukee School of Engineering, before students enter the lab, they are required to complete a virtual safety course. When they physically enter the lab for the first time, they are set to go.”
What are some other ways that technology can be leveraged in the chemistry classroom? How can students connect to practicing professionals who can provide short-term feedback or mentoring?
Today many companies are looking for venues by which their employees can connect to their community and beyond. However, inviting a busy practicing professional into the classroom can be limited by the constraints of travel and work commitments.
Many teachers are looking for new ways to integrate technology into their classrooms. Using GoToMeeting, Fuze, or another virtual meeting platform can transcend the limitations of space and time. For example, The American Chemical Society’s textbook Chemistry in the Community ends each unit of study with a “Putting It All Together” project. Whether developing an argument for or against currency, designing a poster to investigate air-quality claims, or creating an advertisement featuring an imaginary but plausible vehicle that uses a particular type of fuel, the use of a virtual medium by which student work is connected to and reviewed by practicing professionals is impactful. The project is elevated to one of greater importance when the audience reaches beyond their peers in the classroom. Connecting virtually can be easily coordinated, as it reduces constraints and fosters a conduit to connect industry professionals to high school students.
The truth is that often teachers simply do not have the time or the connections to reach out to industry professionals and organize a consult, mentoring, a field trip, or video augmentation to their classroom curriculum. Yet few teachers would not welcome an outside practicing professional, especially one who is willing to succinctly bring a real-world connection to their students.
Nepris is a resource that allows classrooms to be virtually connected to the world of industry and beyond. Their mission is “making industry engagement part of the everyday classroom experience.” How cool would it be for students to walk into class and dialogue with a real-world content expert!? A teacher reported, “Students liked being able to text questions to the presenters. I think that more students participated because they could text.” Curricular topics and real-world connections can be brought to life, and student projects can be evaluated and mentored by practicing professionals. Another teacher shared after connecting her students with a professional via Nepris, “Thank you so much for presenting to my veterinary science class. The session went extremely well, especially considering it was both our first time. Your presentation opened the eyes of my students to real-world scenarios in the veterinary science field.”
Whether studying the physical and chemical properties of matter, water chemistry, air quality, or petroleum, students can be connected to industry experts. The barriers of time and travel, are removed. According to Nepris cofounder and CEO Sabari Raja, “The real benefit for teachers is that Nepris saves them time while opening up access to thousands of qualified professionals who have the skills to bring real-world relevance to classrooms. Nepris makes it easy to find and connect with these professionals virtually so they can engage students, either as a speaker or a project mentor, or by serving as a judge for student projects.” It becomes a win–win for students, industry, and teachers.
To plan a virtual connection with a professional, with relatively few keystrokes the teacher decides the curricular topic or student project and suggests a couple of dates and times. Nepris then locates and invites the industry professional, who in turn shares how the topic is applied in their career, provides input into a student project, or evaluates a poster presentation. Students and teachers can submit queries as well as take part in the pursuing dialogue. The greater the detail provided in the request, the more targeted the virtual discussion will be. Behind the scenes, a framework is provided to the presenter that guides the discussion towards a productive outcome. One teacher commented, “I have loved the sessions that I have had with Nepris. You make this so easy even for techno-challenged folks like myself.”
The exchange is recorded to fully reap the benefits of the virtual conversation. If a teacher has multiple sections of a course, one class can experience the interaction live and the other section(s) can watch the recorded collaborative exchange. The downside is that only in the live session can students dynamically interact with the professional.
Watch a session on Anti Matter/Dark Matter or a session on Chemicals and Cosmetics. Each recorded session is archived according to a description, keywords, and expected outcomes. Despite the fact that archived sessions are static, students can still reap the benefits of watching their peers’ interaction with a virtual presenter. The resource library provides the option of searching the database of archived sessions like the above two examples, which can then be incorporated into a lesson. The sessions in the system cross a variety of disciplines and serve students from kindergarten through high school.
Nepris Public Relations Director Jennifer Harrison shared in a press release how Nepris was used at her child’s school for a STEM day. While the schedule involved face-to-face opportunities with practicing professionals, several Nepris-curated virtual interactions were made available to excite STEM career awareness. Exposure to real-world experts can benefit students of all ages, as well as enhance established course curriculum. Connecting students to practicing professionals is paramount to preparing them for entry into the global economy and facilitates relevance to their high school experience.