In the fall of 2019, Steve Weis, professor and chair of the engineering department, recognized the need for a new chemistry course and started developing it. Many TCU students were taking a similar course off campus or online because the general chemistry at TCU was geared toward a different audience. Weis suggested that an in-person alternative would be better for TCU students. The course was developed and is currently taught by Dr. Julie Fry, who had support from chemistry department chair Eric Simanek and engineering faculty member René Coté.
The need for the course stems from the requirement of one semester of chemistry for engineering majors. The only course offered for science majors is General Chemistry I and II, which span two full semesters. This new course is essentially General Chemistry for engineers. Since engineering majors are only required to take one semester, they learn content they don’t need in Gen Chem I, and never learn some of the concepts taught in Gen Chem II. The new course takes content that engineering students don’t need for their career field out of the first semester, and replaces it with more relevant concepts from the second semester, including thermodynamics, equilibrium, and electrochemistry.
“I ask less tricky questions, but the course still requires critical thinking and multi-step problem solving, especially with the new content. Engineers need to know how to predict and quantify and communicate,” said Fry.
This course focuses on building a common language and an understanding of important processes. It is not designed to develop chemical engineers, but rather to learn how to communicate with them. The class was formed with the recognition that the requirements for each major are different. It is not an easier alternative; it removes many of the “why” questions and focuses on “what” questions, as well as predicting chemical behavior. The emphasis is different because it is designed for a different kind of learner.
“Engineers love to figure things out for themselves. They see patterns and look for concrete applications. When I made my lessons, I stepped back and looked at them from a different perspective,” Fry said.
The course is not taught in a lecture hall, nor is it a lab, but rather takes place in an ordinary classroom. It is unique, however, as it does not seek to satisfy core requirements for natural sciences. Once a week, the students do an interactive activity where they work together to collect and analyze data by doing something. This allows students to discover instead of being taught, as well as affords students the opportunity to be more actively engaged in class. The combination of the Learning Catalytics classroom response system and three individuals to act as resources and help to answer questions makes it a very distinctive course.
The course is currently taught by Fry, along with two undergraduate teaching assistants. Fry chose two of her former students who have strong lab skills, content knowledge and critical thinking. She offers office hours and the TAs have weekly free tutoring sessions available to students. The course currently holds 50 students, mostly freshmen and sophomores. The brand new course is currently in its first semester this spring. The department is planning to only offer it in the spring as of now, as the spring semester is generally better for engineering students’ schedules.