FY20 Awardee Profile: BeArS@Home
- Anne Baranger, Teaching Professor and Director of Undergraduate Chemistry
Lead Instructional support facility staff manager: Laura Fredriksen
Lecturers: MaryAnn Robak, Matthew Jurow, Debjani Roy
- Instructional support facility supervisors: Danil Smiles, Mark Creelman, Karen Chan, Terrence Chang, Dante Valdez
- Graduate Students: Katherine Blackford and Steven Saric
- Matt Francis, Professor and Chair, Department of Chemistry
BeArS@home is a customized interactive lab project developed by the Department of Chemistry, which gives undergraduate students the ability to perform virtual chemistry experiments at home.
If you’ve taken introductory chemistry, you might guess that this project has to do with chemistry, and you’d be right! “Be” is the symbol for the element beryllium, "Ar" is the symbol for the element argon, and "S" is the symbol for the element sulfur. When the COVID-19 pandemic kept students away from campus this spring, Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry scrambled to keep the laboratory sections working: “We were able to cobble together something functional that we were actually pretty proud of to finish out the spring semester,” said Dr. Michelle Douskey, who oversees the introductory general chemistry laboratories. But this was only a stopgap measure. The idea that students wouldn’t be able to come back in the fall got the department thinking creatively about more long-term ideas. “[T]his is Berkeley and we hold ourselves to a very high standard. Students come here expecting a world-class education and we want to make sure we are prepared to deliver on that, even though many classes will still be remote come fall," said Dr. Alexis Shusterman, who is a lead lecturer for the organic laboratories. With that in mind, a multi tiered instructional team has been assembled to create BeArS@home: an online chemistry laboratory framework that will bring custom, first-person video clips into an interactive choose-your-own-adventure environment, curated specifically for Berkeley students.
Unlike some existing old-school “cookbook chemistry” modules, the program will center around Berkeley’s green chemistry focus, one of the many unique aspects of Berkeley’s undergraduate curriculum. As each student charts their own course through the choice-driven BeArS@home platform, they will use lab notebooks to record their successes or mistakes.
Mistakes, regardless of frequency, can then be analyzed and the steps reattempted. Chemistry Department Chair Prof. Matt Francis envisions the benefits of the BeArS@home platform extending far beyond the Berkeley campus. “Our colleagues in the College of Environmental Engineering are already expressing their interest in using the BeArS@home framework to drop in their own videos, and I know other institutions would benefit from this approach too. Everyone is struggling right now to make remote learning a meaningful, positive experience; the idea of making something that works for your students in your style is something truly innovative that everyone can get behind.”