Chemistry Professor© has been a project
in the making for nearly twenty years with six years of active development. The
author began the program in the late 1980's, videotaping her lectures
for students to use as support for their learning throughout the
semester. The tapes popularity spread as their effective delivery
brought about great success for her students. Within a short
amount of time, her tapes were being used throughout the southeastern
United States by students enrolled in various college level chemistry
courses. High school teachers also found them to be a great
reviewing tool in preparation for their own teaching.
With the advent of new technology, Chemistry
Professor© has added many weapons to its teaching arsenal. Powerpoint
presentations coupled with embedded video, Flash animation, and
narration are used to provide a seamless, delivery tool for instruction. Chemistry
is a subject that requires a presentation capitalizing on active
visual techniques. This is where a textbook fails. Research
shows active visual coupled with appropriate narration provides
the ultimate learning opportunity, particularly in the physical
The author has taught chemistry at the college
and university level for nearly forty years, winning numerous state
and national awards for her teaching. Her primary instruction has
been at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Florida; however
her courses were chosen to be used at a number of universities in
Sub-Saharan Africa where she simultaneously taught hundreds of students
chemistry by distance education (video, web, and satellite) while
continuing her classroom instruction. Additionally, she has designed
several chemistry courses taken by students all over the United
States, course used by several universities in preparing their students
for teaching chemistry.
A Smartflix.com editor interviewed Dr. Etheridge
regarding her background and teaching. The interview follows:
SmartFlix.com: Tell us a
little bit about yourself and your background.
Sandra Etheridge: My initial
interest was in civil engineering, but the universities in the state
where I grew up strongly directed women away from that field to
the point of making it a virtually impossible option. My second
love was English but my elderly grandparents who reared me made
it very clear that I would need to be self-sufficient and I wasn’t
sure of what options would be available in English. When I was offered
scholarships in chemistry, that certainly seemed to be the way to
SmartFlix: From what age
did you know you loved chemistry, and how?
Sandra: I took chemistry my
senior year in high school and had a terrible time with the first
semester, nearly failing the course. But during the second semester
the subject just came together and I found it absolutely fascinating.
Since I had always loved to tinker with things, taking a broken
TV apart when I was 12 and putting it back together so that it worked,
trying to figure out what made concrete work the way it did, etc.,
it just seemed a natural fit. I was convinced I was bent on a science
SmartFlix: What came first
for you…the desire to teach, or the desire to learn about
Sandra: Although I had scholarships,
they didn’t cover nearly all my college expenses, so besides
working at the college switchboard, I tutored chemistry and English.
Very quickly I determined that there were so many students needing
help with chemistry that I didn’t have time for tutoring English
anymore. There were a few occasions in which I covered for a chemistry
professor who was unable to make a freshman chemistry class and
what a ride that was!
When I was offered a fellowship for graduate
school to complete a combination masters in teaching chemistry and
chemistry, I jumped at the opportunity and in the process turned
down another offer as a research assistant in a Ph.D. program at
another university. So I was marked. I suppose the answer to your
question is chemistry initially, then teaching.
SmartFlix: What are some
common misconceptions that often repel people from taking time to
learn about this astounding subject?
Sandra: Many people are terrified
of chemistry and believe only geniuses can handle the subject. The
concept was certainly prevalent when I was in school, to the point
that when asked my major by young men I usually said English or
social work. I read an article in a leading science magazine recently
addressing this issue. The author placed part of the fault squarely
in the laps of those of us who teach at the college level, suggesting
that because we treat all of our students as if they were planning
to major in the subject, we eliminate many students who would be
wonderful in related areas, students who may never wish to become
research scientists. I think the author was right on target. Chemistry
is a dynamic, dramatic, visual, and exciting field; and that is
the way it should be taught.
SmartFlix: What kinds of
careers do people tend to branch off into after majoring in chemistry?
Sandra: People study chemistry
for a vast number of fields ranging from biology, forensic investigation,
medicine, all fields of engineering, to geology, pharmaceutical
research, agriculture, and on and on.
SmartFlix: Tell us about
the benefits of your courses and website.
Sandra: My courses originated
nearly thirty years ago when two of my students from the area military
base were being sent for temporary assignment elsewhere. Not wanting
to lose a semester of study, they asked me if I could give them
directed study materials for the rest of the semester. The next
day I brought my home video camera to work, drew off two lines on
the chalkboard, and proceeded to give those two the remainder of
the lectures for the semester. The library copied the videos for
them and I thought that was that.
Not so. My other students brought in their blank
videos and lined up at the library to have copies made, too. The
improvement in grades was remarkable. Why? The students could rewind
those lectures and play them again and again. The current videos
are several generations removed from those early ones. These were
made in the college’s studio where I used at least three cameras:
one directed to me, one directed to my graphics page where I can
write, etc. and one which is essentially my computer. I can bring
a problem on screen, split the screen and work out the problem on
the graphics page. I can bring in lab demonstrations for the Introduction
to Chemistry course, use models to demonstrate the fine points of
molecular geometry in College Chemistry, use the computer animations
to show how reactions may actually occur in Organic Chemistry.
But in all of this, I change the pace of the
instruction, keep the lessons to 30 minutes, review topics, relate
one topic to another, bring up fascinating questions, tell stories,
bring in the history of the subject, and have a wonderful time in
the process. My students laugh, talk back to the screen, rerun,
replay, and learn! I just love it! All the courses except the Organic
Chemistry are accompanied by a detailed noteguide which exactly
matches the videos. As a result, students are guided as to what
to put in their notes, filling in the noteguide as they go. They
wind up with a detailed, organized set of notes for review and study.
In the Introduction course and the College Chemistry
I, they are given a few exercises and some “quick quizzes”
with answers in the back of the book. The videos fit virtually any
textbook and certainly don’t have to be viewed in order. But
the most important thing is the students get instruction from someone
who has taught the subject for 42 years and who is absolutely passionate
about teaching chemistry.
SmartFlix: Who was your
original target market for the DVDs? What is the segment that now
views them the most?
Sandra: Originally the college
planned to use these videos for our extensive distance learning
program, but students demanded access to the videos so the courses
were added to the shelves for checkout. Then the college put the
videos on the local public television station for viewing. The World
Bank auditioned the videos for the African Virtual University and
selected the College Chemistry I and College Chemistry II to be
used in Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa where chemistry was needed,
but instructors were sparse.
Although they have only been on the market for
a few months, I find they are being used in a variety of ways. Students
at colleges and universities all over the United States, Canada,
and the United Kingdom are using them as a way of learning chemistry.
But I didn’t know that faculty were going to be using them
as a way to refresh, that graduate teaching assistants were using
them for the same purpose, that distance education students who
had no access to lecturers would find them invaluable, that the
home schooled student would find them, too. But it makes sense.
Faculty can review privately. Graduate assistants who may have forgotten
some critical points can learn it again before they go teach their
own classes. Institutions that don’t have their own courses
for their distance education students can use these. And, who is
going to teach the home school student chemistry?
SmartFlix: What surprised
you most about the whole process of producing and selling these
Sandra: The thing that surprised
me the most about this whole process of producing and selling these
DVDs is HOW DO YOU MARKET TO COLLEGE STUDENTS? We’re getting
there, but not nearly as quickly as I would like.
SmartFlix: What is your
favorite topic within the vast field of chemistry and why?
Sandra: My favorite topic in
the whole vast world of chemistry is showing students the whole
vast world of chemistry. I absolutely love teaching students.
SmartFlix: What kinds of
teaching aids do you use in your DVDs and in classrooms? Which have
proven to be the most effective?
Sandra: In the world of education
we call it Points of Inquiry, the knack of asking questions that
are absolutely intriguing. Another technique is Scaffolding by which
we relate one topic to another. Fact is, when we teach something
and the students grasps it, that doesn’t guarantee the student
will be able to use it in another context. We have to help with
this. It’s scaffolding. Further, students of today are not
the readers we were so many years ago when I was in school. They
are more visual, more auditory, less likely to learn from a textbook.
It is necessary to appeal to the way they learn now, not the way
I may have learned it.
SmartFlix: Do you also manage
the business end of your operation - marketing and selling the DVDs?
Sandra: Yes, I do manage some
of the business end and marketing, but my husband is taking over
much of that. My son-in-law is a gifted web designer and his help
has been invaluable.
SmartFlix: What are the
day-to-day challenges of your job?
Sandra: The biggest day-to-day
challenges of this job is getting off of the telephone with students
and teachers (I do love talking with them) and making the deadlines
for these noteguides. The printer is relentless!
SmartFlix: What is your
favorite part of your job?
Sandra: My favorite part of
my job is teaching people chemistry.
SmartFlix: Thank you, Sandra!
Professor Etheridge received her BS from Limestone
College, MAT from Duke University, and Ph.D. from Florida State
University. In addition to her work with Chemistry Professor©,
she continues to serve as a chemistry education consultant.