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Online chemistry course proves highly effective

Posted on 5 May 2020

A free online course developed by the Department of Chemistry has been shown to have excellent educational outcomes, with positive student attitudes, high levels of learner engagement and a significant impact on students making the transition to university.

The four runs of the Exploring Everyday Chemistry (eeDc) course, have attracted over 15,000 students from a wide range of backgrounds. Students visited around 232,000 steps, completed almost 203,000 of them and posted over 10,000 comments.

Evaluation of the four course runs demonstrated very positive student feedback, as evidenced by weekly learner experience ratings. Distinctively, the study also analysed the impact of the course on university applications to study Chemistry at York. In 2018, over 20 per cent of applicants mentioned the online course in their UCAS applications, as a way of demonstrating evidence of commitment beyond the standard pre-university curriculum.

The course, developed by Professor Andy Parsons, highlights the application of chemistry in perfumes, antibiotics, brewing and sport, making it attractive to a wide range of online learners. The course is designed to help chemistry students make the transition to university by providing examples of university-level teaching and research.


The course is an exemplar of how interactive online learning can be delivered, a topic of increasing interest given the way COVID-19 has interrupted more traditional approaches to education. By combining bite-sized videos, text, polls, quizzes and practical activities with weekly competitions, in over 80 learning steps, the course provides excellent learner engagement.

There are opportunities for students to post comments and upload the results of their practical work. Some York undergraduate chemistry students have helped facilitate the course.

The course includes some recent research initiatives by our Green Chemistry and Atmospheric Chemistry groups. It also provides an insight into what a chemistry degree can lead to, by highlighting career opportunities in the perfume industry, drug discovery, food chemistry and materials science.

Iain Barr, who oversees the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at York, said: "Exploring Everyday Chemistry was our first ever MOOC to launch, and has set the standard for all future provision at York. Through showcasing our research strengths, encouraging learner contributions in home experiments and supporting the transition to higher education for numerous students, it remains an exemplar for how to engage large audiences effectively."

The free online course starts again on 29 June 2020.  It is ideally suited to Year 13 students wanting to make the transition to university learning, as well as Year 12 students, particularly given they have experienced significant disruption to their school or college studies as a result of COVID-19.

The educational study of Professor Parsons’ MOOC is published in Journal of Chemical Education and in an ACS LiveSlide.