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Science Professor Publishes Book Amid Pandemic

On May 9, the eBook “Engaging Students in Organic Chemistry” was published. Edited by Director of Health Professions Advising and Organic Chemistry Professor Dr. Patricia Kreke and the University of Redlands’ Director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Professor of Chemistry Dr. Barbara Murray, the eBook is a collection of essays written by professors from across the country and India. Most, if not all, have a connection with Organic Chemistry.

The essays were initially teaching methods presented at a symposium at the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education in July 2020. Kreke and Murray had organized the event for the last five years and accepted the proposals when the conference was canceled due to the pandemic. Instead of letting the topics sit around until the next conference, Kreke and Murray decided to work with the presenters to write their proposed topics in an edited compilation. The event was meant to bring together Organic Chemistry and Chemistry professors to discuss different methods for teaching Organic Chemistry students.

“I’m the only organic chemist professor here at [Mount St. Mary’s University],” Kreke stated in an interview. “[The conference and symposium] give me a chance to talk with other organic chemists--often people who are also the only organic chemists at their institution.”

Organic Chemistry is a required course for all science majors. It is a class that teaches building blocks used in future classes. While it is a 200-level course, it is still one of the most challenging courses a student can take. For 26 years, Kreke has been the only Organic Chemistry professor at the Mount and received the John B. Richards award for Excellence in Teaching in 2018.

Kreke was granted a Theodore Ashford Fellowship in 2020 to help support her year-long sabbatical. During that time, working with the American Chemical Society Exams Institute. “I wrote an online, interactive multiple-choice practice exam that mimics the ACS Organic Chemistry exam,” Kreke explained. “When a student clicks on any of the four possible answers, they get a response.” If a student were to click on the correct answer, it would explain the possible steps they needed to get to the solution. “Because they may have been guessing.” If a student were to click on an incorrect answer, it would explain the possible steps they took to get there and the possible mistakes they made. “I had to write a response for each of the multiple-choice responses for all of the multiple-choice questions.”

Currently, Kreke is working on research related to the placement of questions on an individual exam. There are different versions of exams where the questions are rearranged, meaning question 13 on exam A is question 35 on exam B. The research is regarding the effect this might have on a student’s performance on the exam, whether there is an impact.

Kreke and Murray have submitted a proposal for a symposium at the 2022 BCCE courses and states that both might edit another book. While conducting research with the ACS Institute regarding the exam questions is ongoing and Kreke is hoping to gather more data and continue with the analysis of current data.

In the meantime, Kreke is back on campus this semester, teaching Organic Chemistry. “I really enjoyed my time working with my collaborators, but I missed my students,” she stated. “I’m glad to be back in the classroom.”


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