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Feature: Kylie Luska, McMaster University

Kylie Luska is making waves in the chemistry laboratories as well as in the classroom. Kylie’s main role at McMaster University is the instructional assistant of the second-year organic chemistry courses; however, with a PhD in Green Chemistry from McGill University, he was also a key member on the team led by Prof. Mike Brook that started Canada’s first sustainable chemistry program at McMaster University in 2018. Along with colleagues from across the discipline, Kylie worked to develop this environmentally focused program in response to “growing interest from students, industry, and government partners.” We interviewed Kylie earlier this year to talk about his experience using Crowdmark along with other tech to teach organic chemistry effectively in a remote environment.

Practical innovation

Kylie believes that, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pivot in teaching style and platforms, technology innovation for virtual teaching was accelerated. Organic chemistry is a major prerequisite for many science programs, which is why many students feel anxious about the subject. This, combined with the need to motivate students in self-directed learning, informed Kylie and his colleagues’ decision to offer instructor-led virtual tutorials, rather than optional teaching assistant-led tutorials during the pandemic. These tutorials allowed for an opportunity for students to connect with their instructional team regularly throughout the term, As a result, students were able to build strong connections with the instructional team, which significantly improved tutorial attendance and led to an increase in student engagement in the course.

Inside the classroom, the shift to online instruction is supporting teaching and learning in surprising ways. While practical, instructor-led laboratory sessions are a key part of learning chemistry, the shift from in-person labs to online labs allowed instructors to create recordings of the experiments, which have the added benefit of allowing students to go back, pause, and rewind as needed. Problem-solving and critical thinking skills, Kylie told us, are the most important part of undergraduate education, and this new class format forced students to continue to be resourceful, use trial-and-error and make decisions without necessarily being given a recipe or having the instructor to answer their questions as they worked.

Ultimately, comparing face-to-face and online learning, Kylie’s team found students remained engaged using online tools. Additionally, the team was able to form individual connections with students that may not have been possible in a lecture hall. In the end, students were so appreciative of the care and consideration from their instructional team that they sent thank-you cards and videos when the class wrapped up.

As McMaster returns to in-person learning, the Chemistry department will continue to evaluate using online tools. Not only has the program innovated in interesting ways, but the team has adopted remote assessment methods that have improved their workflows drastically.

How to Use the Comment Library to Give Richer, Faster Assessment

The Chemistry department at McMaster began facilitating in-person exams, take-home assignments and lab reports via Crowdmark in the Fall of 2018. According to Kylie, using Crowdmark for the distribution and submission of assessments has provided a range of advantages for his team, but most importantly its use has improved the overall accuracy and consistency of graded assessments in their large organic chemistry courses. This has largely resulted from the use of the comment library, which allows the team to pre-set comments to use on large format assessments like exams. On smaller assessments, like lab reports, graders can choose to use the comment library and/or give individual feedback; an option that helps teach graders how to give individualized feedback that is useful for students as they learn.

If you have been using the comment library for a while, you may think you know all that it has to offer. Just in case you missed a detail or two, here is a recap of Crowdmark’s comment library features:

  • Crowdmark’s comment library is fully exportable and importable to and from any assessment. That means you are able to download a CSV of comments from any assessment, and edit it with items like rubric requirements or pre-set feedback.
  • Comments are fully markdown- and LaTeX-friendly. This feature supports equations and expressions, links to additional resources, images, gifs, or graphs.
  • Instructors can attach points to comments. When comments are added on a page, the points total is calculated automatically based on the given feedback.
  • Comments can be shared with the whole grading team or not. Preferences can be set based on individual requirements
  • Comments can be edited in bulk. If desired, any update made to a comment can be applied to all instances of that comment across the assessment.

For more details, check out our Help Centre or reach out to Crowdmark support.