On December 5, 2019, Dr Laurence Lavelle’s Chemistry Community hit 10 million page views and 200,000 posts.
In 2010 Laurence Lavelle conceptualized an online forum, developed it for three years, and launched Chemistry Community October 2013 for his large diverse undergraduate chemistry courses. Lavelle’s focus was to develop an educational tool that encouraged and facilitated a collaborative and friendly learning environment – hence his name for it: Chemistry Community. What did he envision? A student-centric activity that engages students through active learning and understanding of chemistry and science concepts. Something that would engage all students at all levels, from any location using any device. An online forum that would encourage students with a variety of STEM backgrounds to interact and support each other.
Chemistry Community has succeeded in fostering peer-to-peer communication; students interact with each other 24/7. Lavelle now jokes in class that students need to get some sleep and he does not refer to Chemistry Community as ‘on fire’ when it is super active as the first time he did so UCLA campus was closed days later due to local fires.
The forum, which Lavelle continues to maintain and moderate, 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. Over 90% of the current +200,000 posts are questions, answers, comments, and discussion by students.
Before the Chem 14A final exam, Lavelle and his TAs celebrated the 10 million milestone.
Lavelle developed Chemistry Community while compiling student questions from his 1997 to 2013 classes. For three years (2010-13) he worked to collate, refine and edit over 12,000 student chemistry questions and answers which he grouped by topic and sub-topic in preparation for Chemistry Community. It was 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 interact with each other facilitating peer-to-peer interaction and 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 in his words “terrific undergraduate assistants (UAs) and teaching assistants (TAs)”.
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.
Lavelle has received many awards, including the University Distinguished Teaching Award, UCLA’s highest teaching award. More recently Lavelle received a 2019-20 Mini-Grant Award from UCLA’s Office of Instructional Development for educational software. In 2019 Lavelle received another UCLA NSF Professional Development Award to facilitate easy access to his innovative educational materials, and was also elected a Mortar Board Honorary Member for his distinguished contributions towards the goals of scholarship, leadership and service over the years teaching at UCLA. Read more about Lavelle’s educational innovations here.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Laurence Lavelle.