COA Chemistry Accelerated Program Review

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					                      COA Chemistry Accelerated Program Review

College: College of Alameda
Program: Chemistry
Date: Oct. 21, 2006
Members of Program Review Team: Peter Olds, Peter Simon


COA chemistry offers general chemistry (Chem 1A/1B) for science majors and
introductory chemistry (Chem 30A/30B) for allied-health career track students and non-
science majors. COA chemistry is a small program with one full time and three part time
instructors. One chemistry laboratory (with three chemical hoods) exists which can
reasonably accommodate 25 students and is currently used for all four chemistry courses
offered at COA. The COA chemistry program had been neglected for many years prior
to Fall 2005 resulting in a substandard classroom/laboratory environment, serious safety
issues in the lab, and a tendency to attract unprepared students looking for an easy grade.
Efforts to address such issues are ongoing and, while encountering “roadblocks”, may be
starting to pay off.

The general chemistry courses (Chem 1A/1B) are for science majors, pre-med, pre-
pharmacy, pre-vet, and typically students who plan to transfer to four year colleges and
universities. COA does not currently offer any sophomore organic chemistry courses
(Chem 12A/12B) which are also standard curriculum for the above cohort of students.
Because Laney and Merritt colleges do offer sophomore organic, these Peralta
colleges get the credit by default for COA chemistry students who transfer to four
year institutions after successfully completing the Chem 12A/12B sequence at Laney or

We expect the demand for freshman and sophomore chemistry will increase since
these core courses are prerequisites for any academic or career path in the sciences.
New residential developments in Alameda and the initiative by Peralta to give East-
Bay students inexpensive AC Transit bus passes will contribute to this growth. To
take advantage of growing demand, COA should build and equip a modern organic
chemistry lab able to accommodate 30 students and then hire a full time organic chemist
to teach the Chem 12A/12B sequence. A well trained laboratory technician, competent
in handling hazardous materials (typical of any organic lab), capable of troubleshooting
and repairing equipment, and capable of testing experimental procedures, should also be
hired at this time. COA should also increase the capacity of its general chemistry
laboratory by building and equipping two general chemistry labs able to accommodate 30
students each or one large lab able to accommodate two 30 student sections
simultaneously. Each 30 student organic chemistry lab should have at least three
chemical hoods and each 30 student general chemistry lab should have at least six
chemical hoods to maximize safety and prevent crowding.

The curriculum for courses offered is current and effective. Course outlines were
updated in June 2006 for all currently offered COA chemistry courses. As stated above,
we plan to offer sophomore organic chemistry courses Chem 12A and Chem 12B but
cannot do this until appropriate laboratory facilities exits and staff is hired. Highly
qualified candidates from industry and academia (including another Peralta college) have
expressed interest in teaching a sophomore organic chemistry course at COA. See
recommendations outlined in the previous paragraph.


The quality of instruction is being monitored and improved by continually trying out new
chemistry instructors and retaining those instructors who clearly enjoy and are good at
teaching. For example, our Chem 30B instructor, Clyde Willson is well known and
respected from his 30+ years teaching in the Laney Biology Dept. He has a PhD in
organic chemistry from UC Berkeley and is well qualified to teach either of the proposed
sophomore organic chemistry courses Chem 12A/12B.

Chem 1A/1B instruction is greatly benefited by the work of student TA/tutors who
cement the concepts in their own minds when explaining these concepts to current
students, and who provide incentive for fellow students to perform well in order to also
be hired as TA/tutors in the future. Instructor led weekend tutoring sessions have also
become popular, particularly before the frequent (biweekly) test/quizzes.

“Smart classroom” technology has been used by the COA general chemistry instructor at
Berkeley City College where he teaches summer Chem 1B but not at College of Alameda
where facilities and equipment access are substandard at best. However, he does use the
internet for online chat/email communication with students and maintains
department/course websites for student convenience in accessing relevant information
and course materials.

Chem 1A/1B enrollment dropped precipitously in 2005/2006 when students looking for
easy grades found out these were no longer available. Chem 1A enrollment has just
begun to recover to respectable Laney College levels. Spring 2008 Chem 1B should
benefit from two Fall 2007 Chem 1A classes feeding it. Chem 30A has had steadily
increasing enrollment in spite of the frequent change in instructors. Chem 30A should be
used as a feeder for both Chem 1A and Chem 30B. Chem 30B enrollments are typically
lower in fall than in spring for the simple reason that Chem 30A is a prerequisite. The
same applies to Chem 1B which has Chem 1A as a prerequisite.

In cooperation with physics and biology, chemistry has been experimenting with
afternoon courses. This semester we successfully populated two Chem 1A sections, one
morning and one afternoon class. Total Chem 1A enrollment may benefit by making any
lecture Chem 1A section available with any lab Chem 1A section, thus increasing student
schedule flexibility. This would require and we recommend four course codes for each
combination of the two Chem 1A lectures and two Chem 1A labs offered during a given

Student Success:

Many former students/TAs of current COA instructors who were previously at Laney
have successfully transferred to UC Berkeley and other four year institutions. However,
COA will not get the credit for most of such success stories until sophomore organic
chemistry is offered.

In order to increase the probability of success in Chem 1A (and Chem 1B), students are
informally tested on prerequisite knowledge during the first day of class and during the
first test/quiz. Under-prepared or low-performing students are encouraged to move to a
slower-paced course like Chem 30A or Chem 50 and/or to register and spend several
hours per week in the LRC math lab where their progress can be monitored. Tutoring by
TAs and instructors is also made available during the week and on weekends both in the
chemistry lab and at the LRC tutoring center. Similar strategies are used in Chem 30B.

Our philosophy is that student success will be better served by frequent and honest
feedback. Frequent test/quizzes are given and immediately marked up, graded, and
returned. Receiving a low grade may be the event that turns a flagging student around
just as receiving a high grade can reinforce good work. Grade inflation, while making
statistics look good in the short run, harms student success in the long run and will sully
an institution’s and an instructor’s reputation.

We thank Div. I and recommend continued funding for the hiring of chemistry TA/tutors
and also thank the LRC tutoring center and math lab for their efforts and support.

Human and Physical Resources (including equipment and facilities):

The COA chemistry program currently employs one full time instructor, three part time
instructors, and a part time lab instructor. Additionally there is a laboratory technician
and four student TA/tutors.

All chemistry laboratory sections are currently held in the D-109 chemistry lab. The D-
109 laboratory has sufficient space for about 25 students but has only three chemical
hoods, which leads to crowding if an experimental procedure needs to be carried out in a
hood by each student. Laney general chemistry labs have six hoods each for a capacity
of about 30 students.

Chem 30B is still in need of at least three melting point apparatuses and all of us
(including biology!) would benefit from a shared ice machine. We thank Div. I and the
American Chemical Society for helping us acquire a sufficient number of analytical and
precision balances to solve the bottleneck problem when students need to weigh
substances. Thanks also for the pH meters which are crucial in Chem 1B.
We would also like to obtain various types of analytical equipment for students and
TA/tutors to carry out interesting chemistry projects involving wine, tap water,
groundwater, rocks, etc. However, we currently do not have enough laboratory bench
space to locate and operate such equipment.

See the third paragraph under “Description” for the requested construction of an organic
chemistry lab. An organic lab would need to be equipped and supplied with somewhat
specialized glassware and equipment (like rotovaps, FTIR, UV-Vis, GC, HPLC, NMR,
etc.). An organic lab should have compressed air, a vacuum line, nitrogen, argon, and
helium. Additionally, specialized storage for hazardous materials like flammable
hydrocarbons, corrosive acids, bases, etc. is required. As stated above an organic
chemistry lab would require a well trained laboratory technician, competent in handling
hazardous materials, capable of troubleshooting and repairing equipment, and capable of
testing experiments. Someone with these capabilities would also be advantageous to
chemistry labs currently offered at COA.

Community Outreach and Articulation:

COA chemistry instructors have collegial relationships with outside professionals in
industry, at other community colleges, at four year institutions, and in the American
Chemical Society. While there is currently no “Advisory Board” for COA Chemistry, we
do get advice regarding curriculum, facilities, and equipment from these professionals.
(For example one ACS colleague is a retired general chemistry professor at UC
Berkeley). We stay in touch with students who have already transferred, and in some
cases retain them as TA/tutors (if they have the time).

Offering sophomore organic chemistry (Chem 12A and Chem 12B) would clearly
respond to a need shared by many successful first year general chemistry students. We
recommend acquiring the facilities, equipment, faculty, and staff to address this need.

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