Chemistry Classes, Block Plan Featured in Chemical & Engineering News

Chemistry on the Block Plan? Absolutely, and the American Chemical Society magazine Chemical & Engineering News explores the concept in "Block plan compresses one class into a few weeks for deeper learning," published in its July 6 issue.

Subtitled "Schools are adopting the 50-year-old strategy to curtail COVID-19 disruptions," the article features Habiba Vaghoo, chair of Colorado College's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, discusses the logistics of teaching chemistry on the Block Plan, and looks at why, in response to COVID-19, others colleges and universities are adopting various forms of block scheduling.

One reason to adopt the block format, the article notes, is to minimize the number of students who interact at any one time, limiting their risk of becoming infected. Another is to minimize the extent to which the pandemic disrupts classes; for instance, if an outbreak occurred on the Colorado College campus, a student would have contact with cohorts in one class as opposed to the usual four classes on a semester system.

Several U.S. colleges have announced they will adopt some type of block format in response to COVID-19. Part of the rationale is that students will have fewer classes to manage at a time, easing anxiety, and, for in-person classes, they'll come into contact with fewer people at a time.

The article notes that another reason to adopt block scheduling is that compressing courses into shorter calendars will lessen the disruption if colleges start the semester on campus but the pandemic forces them to return to online instruction, or if they start online but can move back on campus later when it's deemed safe. Colleges might be able to finish a module in one delivery mode-in person or online-before changing delivery modes for the second module.

Also quoted in the article is Susan Ashley, professor emerita of history at Colorado College who is writing a book about the college's implementation of the Block Plan in 1970. She says the college saw the one-course-at-a-time approach as a way to reduce class sizes, reduce competing priorities for students, and deepen the learning experience.

Now, 50 years later, Ayush Chitrakar '22, says, "I really like the aspect of just focusing on one class and just putting everything you've got into that class. In my organic class, every week we had one test that covered five or six chapters. There's no room for you to fall behind. You have to stay on top of it."

The magazine piece also looks at how the Block Plan has been implemented at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa; Quest University in Canada; and the recent completion of a three-year transition at the newest and largest adopter of block scheduling, Victoria University in Australia.

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