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Professor Kreke Edits Ebook to Make Organic Chemistry More Accessible

Nicole Patterson

Organic chemistry has a fearsome reputation among undergraduates as one of the hardest college courses. During a year-long sabbatical Patricia J. Kreke, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and director of health professions advising, sought to help make the subject area more engaging and accessible by collaboratively editing an ebook for educators and developing an online practice test for student assessments.

kreke-cover-art-in-text.jpgKreke and Barbara Murray, Ph.D., the John Stauffer director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Professor of Chemistry at the University of Redlands, edited the new eBook, Engaging Students in Organic Chemistry, published by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and sponsored by the ACS Division of Chemical Education. The ACS Symposium Series are high-quality, peer-reviewed eBooks conceived from technical symposia. Each chapter is authored by an expert in their field, and the chapters are edited by internationally recognized leaders in their respective areas.

“It’s a nice mixture of chapters about ideas for things to do in lab, ideas for things to do in the classroom—with specific ideas about how to cover certain topics,” Kreke explained. “There are also a few chapters that talk about the philosophy and philosophical approach to teaching organic chemistry.” The book’s collection is a treasure trove of creative activities, methods of teaching, new pedagogies and many other ideas for the beginner or experienced professional.

Kreke has taught organic chemistry at the Mount for 26 years. In 2018, she was the recipient of the John B. Richards Award for Excellence in Teaching. Murray, who became professor emerita in 2020, taught at the University of Redlands for 27 years. The two met in 2016 at the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) where they directed small symposia. They collaborated again in 2018. In 2020, as they were submitting proposals, the BCCE was cancelled due to COVID-19—so they continued working with ACS and invited presenters to write a chapter based on their work. The pair, both from small liberal arts colleges, valued the opportunity to share these ideas with those unable to attend the BCCE and with a broader audience.

“Barbara has been doing this for years; engaging students in organic chemistry is a symposium that she created in the early 2000s,” Kreke said. In the book’s preface, Murray admits it was once a challenge to find symposium content specific to organic chemistry at conferences and other educational events; she wanted to hear from other organic chemists what they were teaching and how they were interacting with students. “Now there are many—but hers is the original,” Kreke added.

Some chapters include reflections on how professors adapted through the pandemic. One contributor wrote about finding a drawing program to use in a camera-ready classroom that was compatible with the software. “It’s really important that you think about different ways of engaging students and engaging yourself, too,” Kreke added. She plans to adopt a colleague’s piece on pass/fail competency regarding pre-lab assignments and another on a report a professor has his students complete. Kreke will return to the classroom this fall after completing a full-year sabbatical.

In 2020, Kreke received a Theodore Ashford Fellowship and worked with the ACS Exams Institute, which produces standardized exams for high school through all levels of college. In 2018, she helped the Exams Institute revise, and was co-author of, the 2nd edition of the ACS Official Guide for Preparing for Your ACS Examination in Organic Chemistry

“That official organic chemistry study guide is probably seen by so many students in the United States…more than any other article I ever wrote,” she says with a laugh. After being invited to apply for the Theodore Ashford Fellowship, in 2020, she developed an online, interactive practice exam for organic chemistry where she crafted 50 questions and 200 possible responses. Students can go online, take the exam, get their score and see detailed feedback; it’s designed to refer students to specific sections of the study guide where they can review necessary concepts to master their learning.

She’s also working with the Exams Institute on data analytics and looking at factors and environmental effects that impact student performance on tests such as the order in which questions are asked. The goal is to have educators build exams using ACS content and compare their school’s students learning outcomes across national norms.

“My greatest joy at the Mount is working with the students,” Kreke said. “The students work hard; they step up to the challenge. I just love walking in the classroom and seeing them. That’s been the thing I’ve missed this year—the students.”

Nicole Patterson