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Learning by Educating Others: Communicating Chemistry to General Audiences and Connecting Courses

January 10, 2018

“Chemistry lies at the heart of so many applications, and not enough people are aware of how exciting and impactful chemistry is to their lives! Science needs to be effectively communicated to experts and non-experts alike." – Prof. Jerome Robinson, Instructor of Organometallic Chemistry, Fall 2017


How does organometallic and inorganic chemistry affect our daily lives? How do we clearly and concisely communicate technical information to different audiences? Why do we care? While students in Prof. Jerome's Robinson's Fall 2017 Organometallic Chemistry course (CHEM 2310/1560-N) became both scientific investigators and communicators through an innovative "infographics" project to answer these questions, first-year undergraduates in Prof. Kathleen Hess' Chemistry of Renewable Energy (CHEM 0008E) prepared creative educational materials on the intersection of sustainability and chemistry.

Infographics: Organometallics in Context

Engaging their creativity, Prof. Robinson's students collaborated in pairs to design informative graphics on advanced topics, making them appropriate for a general audience. This project covered a range of subjects where organometallic chemistry research is applied, including cancer treatment, renewable energy, pigments, plastics, and chemical weapons detection. The assignment was inspired by pioneering efforts of UK educator Andy Brunning, who started making infographics as a way to engage his high school students and posted them for the general public on his website, Compound Interest.

Pamphlets: Renewable Energy Meets Chemistry

In CHEM0080E, first-years were also tasked with communicating their learning to a general audience by creating pamphlets to educate others on renewable energy and sustainability. This inquiry-based course, piloted in Fall 2016, allows first-years to discover and address critical energy issues through experimental design and discussion with guest practioners in the field. As one means of evaluating student learning, each student chose a topic of particular interest in modern chemical/energy research and designed a pamphlet.

Connecting Courses

Linking two courses together, CHEM0080E students became the general audience to review the infographics. This peer collaboration enhanced the student experience in both classes—students in Organometallic Chemistry received feedback on their scienctific communication, while students in Chemistry of Renewable Energy discovered how inorganic and organometallic chemistry impact their daily lives. Results from an anonymous survey of both classes encourages continuing this in future years. 

"[The infographics] gave us an opportunity to be creative in ways that had not been frequently pursued in other classes. The peer reviews I found to be extremely helpful, enabling us to design something... accessible and visually appealing." - CHEM2310/1560-N student

88% of CHEM0080E students selected "agree" or "strongly agree" to the statement "Evaluation of the infographics should be continued in future offerings of the courses."

See for yourself! 

The infographics can be found on Prof. Robinson’s laboratory web page and the Virtual Inorganic Pedagogical Electronic Resource (VIPER). The pamphlets can be found in this public Google Folder.

To share the innovative infographics project with the scholar–educator community, Prof. Robinson and Hess are collaborating to find methods (publication and/or poster) to contribute to the greater chemical education community. 

“Chemistry lies at the heart of so many applications, and not enough people are aware of how exciting and impactful chemistry is to their lives!", says Prof. Robinson, "Clear and concise communication is key for many fields and jobs... Administrators, legislators, proposal reviewers, and the general public all have varied levels of expertise, and science needs to be effectively communicated to experts and non-experts alike; however, this skill set is often under-developed, especially in advanced topics courses."