Teaching Chemistry with OER

This piece is part of a series by participants in the Spring 2024 Open Knowledge Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences teaching undergraduate courses at CUNY.


Ava Stoddard is a Ph.D. student in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology program. They received their B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Appalachian State University, where they worked under Dr. Darren Seals. They are currently working under Dr. Brian Zeglis at Belfer Research with the aim of using radioimmunoconjugates for imaging radiation-induced cellular damage.

Teaching Chemistry with OER by Ava Stoddard

As a first-time teacher with no formal pedagogical training, I began to seek out resources that could aid me in my teaching preparations. That’s when I discovered the Open Knowledge Fellowship hosted by the Mina Rees Library, and started learning about the field of Open Access and Open Educational Resources.

When I started the Open Knowledge Fellowship in Spring 2024, I hadn’t heard of openly-licensed resources, but the more I learned, the more I saw a need for their incorporation in the classroom. During my time in the Fellowship, I created a site on the CUNY Academic Commons for the class I’ll be teaching in the Fall, General Chemistry Laboratory. I accumulated open resources for the specific units covered in the General Chemistry lecture, which is associated with my laboratory. These resources include full length OER textbooks, with specific chapters linked for each unit. The readings conclude the thematic sections with practice problems that are automatically graded, allowing students to apply material as they learn it and get immediate feedback on their learning process.

Laboratory simulations with guided instructions for applying chemistry concepts are  included in the resources I found, and most units also have worksheets students can utilize to practice the concepts – I will hold office hours to  go over these worksheets each week. Lastly, videos covering material are included to help students who gain better insight through visual and auditory learning.

Unique obstacles presented themselves as I searched for open resources to use for my class. I did not have an issue finding a multitude of resources in various mediums, but one glaring issue became apparent. While students may have the desire and ability to attempt the worksheets and lab simulations I provided, this requires the immediate grading of the worksheets and analyzing lab simulation results for each student. In a introductory chemistry lecture course, this could mean grading individual homework for over a hundred students, every week.

All-inclusive websites, such as Sapling, that require students to buy access codes,  benefit the instructor by auto-grading homework and quizzes all in one place, and by having the ability to pull from randomized question banks. In my search for OER, I was unable to find a method or resource that could recapitulate the grading convenience or the amount of practice problems of such all-inclusive websites. So, while finding OER was not an issue for my Introductory Chemistry course, finding resources that could be easily evaluated was more difficult.

In completing the Open Knowledge Fellowship, I gained a much deeper understanding of how to find open resources and determine their copyright status as it relates to the materials’ use in the classroom. As I aim to learn about accessibility and equity in the classroom, learning about and collecting OER has been an extremely insightful first step. While I couldn’t find a perfect solution for a large lecture course such as General Chemistry, I do feel enabled to implement an OER standard in my smaller laboratory class sections. Decreasing the barriers students have in accessing and utilizing their materials is imperative for student success, and I appreciate the opportunity I had through the Mina Rees Library and the Office of Library Services (OLS), to attempt to do this for my students.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.