posted November 14, 2012

Joanne Stewart Part of NSF-Funded Project to Develop Teaching Materials

Dr. Joanne Stewart of the Hope College faculty is part of the leadership team of a national online resource featuring teaching materials for inorganic chemistry that has recently received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will help expand its content.

The project, titled “IONiC: Transforming Education Through Collaborative Development of Materials at the Frontiers of Inorganic Chemistry,” has received a four-year, $437,962 award from the NSF to develop additional classroom and laboratory lessons based on the latest research in inorganic chemistry by top scientists from around the country.  The materials will then be made available at no charge to instructors of inorganic chemistry on IONiC’s web site, “VIPEr” (for “Virtual Inorganic Pedagogical Electronic Resource”).

The NSF support will enable IONiC to organize a series of four summer workshops during which faculty from within the IONiC community will work with the authors of the new research to develop at least 80 new high-quality teaching resources that relate the research to fundamental principles of inorganic chemistry.  The workshops will run from 2013 through 2016.

IONiC is short for “Intellectual Online Network of Inorganic Chemists.”  The NSF-funded content expansion reflects the network’s on-going mission to enhance undergraduate chemistry teaching through a community of educators dedicated to sharing and improving lessons and ideas to both inform and excite students about the discipline.

“The site emphasizes active learning and provides great ideas for bringing active learning into the chemistry classroom,” said Stewart, a professor of chemistry at Hope who joined the Leadership Council for IONiC in 2007.  “What this grant does that’s unique is that it brings cutting-edge research in science into what is essentially an introductory course in inorganic chemistry, and that’s not easy to do.”

Launched by a team of seven chemists, IONiC now has more than 500 registered users.  Through VIPEr, the project currently makes available more than 440 lessons in a variety of subfields within the discipline of inorganic chemistry, a resource that Stewart noted that she finds useful continuously.

“When I teach inorganic, for almost every class day I have chosen a VIPEr activity to do in class,” Stewart said.  “Because many of the activities are also appropriate for general chemistry, several of us use them in teaching our general chemistry students as well.”

The site also includes interactive forums that enable participants to write about their experiences using the lessons, discuss teaching, share information about additional resources or consider other topics related to their profession.

“It’s not just small colleges.  There are also two-year colleges and large universities on the site,” Stewart said.  “There are very few places that bring all these faculty together.”

The new grant, which is being administered through Earlham College, is the second that IONiC has received from the NSF.  A two-year, $150,000 award in 2007 assisted in the site’s development across 2008 and 2009.

In addition to Earlham and Hope, the institutions represented on IONiC’s Leadership Council include the Claremont Colleges, the College of Wooster, DePauw University, Harvey Mudd College, James Madison University, Lafayette College, Reed College, Smith College and the University of Michigan at Dearborn.  More information about IONiC is available at www.ionicviper.org.