Dr. Laurence Lavelle recognized for his educational innovations

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Educational innovator Laurence Lavelle receives 2019-20 UCLA NSF Professional Development Award for successful student resources.

In addition to teaching large diverse undergraduate chemistry courses, Lavelle conceptualized and developed Chemistry Community, a popular online forum and database for chemistry students, as well as a successful peer-learning program at UCLA which his undergraduate assistants thoroughly enjoy. Students openly express their appreciation for Lavelle’s ongoing and significant efforts, support, and educational focus.

Lavelle received the award on March 16, 2020 for his educational and pedagogical initiatives.

Before the Chem 14A final exam, Lavelle and his TAs celebrated the 10 million milestone.

In the Fall of 2019, Lavelle’s Chemistry Community hit 10 million page views and 200,000 posts. In the Spring of 2019, he received a previous UCLA NSF Professional Development Award for his cutting-edge learning resources, he was elected by UCLA’s Mortar Board Agathai chapter as the 2019 UCLA Mortar Board Honorary Member, and he received a Mini-Grant Award from UCLA’s Office of Instructional Development for educational software.

About Dr. Laurence Lavelle’s Recent Educational Innovations

Chemistry Community

In 2013, Lavelle launched Chemistry Community, an online chemistry “community” forum which provides a database of chemistry topics with advanced search capabilities. The information on the website, which includes equations, images, and videos, is presented in an easy-to-read, logical, and searchable question and answer format. The website is viewable and searchable by anyone; however, only students in Lavelle’s classes can post to the forum.

Lavelle came up with the idea for Chemistry Community when he was working to compile student questions from his classes from 1997 to 2013. For three years he worked to collate, refine and edit the over 12,000 student chemistry questions and answers which he grouped by topic and sub-topic. It became clear to Lavelle that students in his classes, and chemistry students world-wide, would benefit from a searchable online resource of chemistry questions and answers organized and presented in a logical and clear way, and for students in his classes to also interact with each other facilitating peer-to-peer learning.

Lavelle spent a year evaluating software and forum options until he found the right program, which he heavily customized to create the database of chemistry topics and an appealing easy to use interface. Since launching Chemistry Community in the Fall Quarter 2013, his students have used it to engage in peer-to-peer learning and to receive online support from Lavelle and his UAs and TAs.

Chemistry Community continues to be a great success with approximately 12 million page views to date.  During the recent Winter 2020 Quarter, Lavelle’s Chem 14B classes with 652 enrolled students made 35,052 posts to Chemistry Community in ten weeks! An average of 500 posts per day, every day of the week for ten weeks.

Celebrating 1 million page views with Dr. Lavelle’s TAs (above) and UAs (below) in November 2015.

Undergraduate Peer Learning Assistants (UAs) 

After years of promoting peer-to-peer learning, Lavelle successfully convinced his department and the College that Undergraduate Peer Learning Assistants (UAs) for lecture courses at UCLA would be an enriching educational experience for all involved. Lavelle did this by creating Chem 192C and 192D and having them approved by the College. Undergraduates voluntarily wanting to be involved in peer-to-peer learning can enroll in these teaching practicum courses, and other departments are adopting this model to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.

Lavelle says his diverse group of UCLA undergraduates who voluntarily want to be UAs are terrific! Student comments from his Chem 192 anonymous class evaluations (Fall Quarter 2018) illustrate the success of what Lavelle has created:

“Beyond helping us improve our instructional skills, Dr. Lavelle emphasized and exemplified some important characters in every teacher: patience, compassion, and inclusiveness. He is the best professor I have ever taken in all of my years at UCLA.”

“I always receive inspiring and positive feedback from students about my teaching skills and can see my personal improvement as an instructor. I thoroughly enjoy the interaction and being a UA is one of my favorite parts of college. I appreciate the opportunity that Dr. Lavelle has given me and the concern and care he shows when dealing with questions brought up by undergraduate assistants.”

Positive Educational Outcome

In addition to developing and implementing his educational innovations, Lavelle is busy interviewing, training and supervising UAs enrolling in his Chem 192C and 192D courses that he created and TAs in his Chem 375 course. Lavelle’s educational focus and motivated UAs and TAs have resulted in his highly successful Chem 14A and 14B classes enjoying their educational experience with outstanding class ratings above 8 on a 1-9 scale and D/F grades below 3% for the 1,753 enrolled students* in his well-known academically rigorous 10 week classes that require 7 hours of closed-book tests and exams, weekly homework, weekly in class and online discussion, using a high-level internationally recognized textbook with over 1000 conceptual and problem-solving examples and homework that set academic standards in general chemistry. (*Numbers quoted are for 2018.)

Lavelle has received many awards, including the University Distinguished Teaching Award, UCLA’s highest teaching award. The ‘award’ that perhaps means the most to Lavelle was a complete surprise during Valentine’s Day week when he received, for the first time, a class valentine cappella, a gift from the class thanking him for his educational innovation and huge efforts to assist them. Several students posted videos of the performance, and Lavelle’s surprised and pleased reaction, on UCLA Meme, a Facebook page for UCLA students.

“I never heard of UCLA Meme before, nor a class valentine cappella. It was a lovely and thoughtful gesture. The cappella was superb. Talented UCLA students! I enjoy working with terrific TAs and UAs in our educational mission, and I am fortunate to interact with so many wonderful students at UCLA.” Lavelle said.

About Dr. Laurence Lavelle

A native of Ireland, Lavelle completed his B.Sc. (Chemistry major, and Microbiology and Physical Oceanography minors), B.Sc. (Honors, Chemistry), and M.Sc. (Distinction, Physical Chemistry) at the University of Cape Town (UCT). After graduating from UCT he accepted a faculty position in the Chemistry Department at the University of The Witwatersrand (WITS), South Africa. He then moved to the United States and he received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics from Princeton University. After one year as a post-doctorate at UCLA’s Molecular Biology Institute he joined the faculty in the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry.

To learn more about Lavelle, visit his homepage.


Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.