periodic table sculpture

Department of Chemistry launches 5.01x: General Chemistry-I on the edX platform

Categories: Faculty, Staff

Founded by Harvard and MIT, edX is home to more than 20 million learners, the majority of top-ranked universities in the world and industry-leading companies. 

Last month, General Chemistry I: Atoms, Molecules, and Bonding, also known as Course 5.01x, premiered on edX, a global nonprofit founded by MIT and Harvard University that aims to transform traditional education by removing the barriers of cost, location, and access. Today, edX offers over 2,800 courses in a wide range of subjects from over 120 Institutional partners around the world.

But chemistry classes are not well-represented in the edX catalog, even fundamental courses like General Chemistry. Members of the MIT Chemistry Department are working together to change that. “We believe that providing an opportunity for the general public to gain chemical literacy with outstanding instructional materials is really important,” said Professor Matt Shoulders, an organizer of departmental efforts in this area. “Chemistry has an ever-increasing impact on our daily lives through its central role in medicine, energy, the environment, and more. We want everyone to be able to engage with and understand the transformative role of chemistry in society. With edX, our goal is to provide learners with both fundamental literacy in the molecular sciences and, ultimately, the launching point to engage with advanced topics as well.”

In Fall 2019, the Department of Chemistry was successful in recruiting Dr. David Grimes (MIT Chemistry PhD ‘17) from Harvard to serve as a Digital Learning Fellow leading the Department’s long-term vision of making a comprehensive slate of MIT chemistry courses available to the general public on edX. Grimes led the creation and implementation of 5.01x, a course that constitutes the first semester of university-level general chemistry. The effort involved the development of extensive course content, recording and editing faculty lecture videos, and developing and testing hundreds of recitation, homework, and exam problems for online delivery.

“Our objective has been to put together a course that is not only engaging and educational, but also rises to MIT standards for general chemistry,” Grimes said. “We were incredibly fortunate to obtain superb lecture material from two outstanding instructors with decades of combined experience teaching the residential course – MacVicar Faculty Fellow and former Department Head Professor Sylvia Ceyer and Professor Mei Hong.”


Photo of Professor Sylvia Ceyer
Professor Sylvia Ceyer

Putting the whole course together was a tremendous effort with significant contributions from across the Department, Grimes notes. Ceyer was particularly instrumental in developing the course content and organization, reviewing material, and designing pedagogical approaches custom-made for the online learning environment. Grimes, as well as chemistry instructor Dr. Alisa Krishtal and Dr. Patti Christie of the Experimental Study Group (ESG), who has served as course coordinator for the residential version of general chemistry for many years, contributed many hours of recitation video content. They, along with graduate student TAs Dina Sharon and Wei Hao Lee, also developed and coded many problems and provided extensive debugging support and intellectual input. The development of 5.01x further benefited from years of effort building online problem sets for the residential first-year chemistry class, a process initiated in 2012 by then Department Head Ceyer, and carried out by current Department Head, Professor Troy Van Voorhis and Professor Shoulders as well as by dozens of other TAs and educators. An MITx-based chemistry bootcamp module developed in 2016 by Van Voorhis, Shoulders, and Christie and designed to help prepare residential students for MIT-level general chemistry was also incorporated into 5.01x to help learners rapidly get up to speed with the material.

Photo of Professor Mei Hong
Professor Mei Hong

“I cannot thank enough all of the people from across the Department who have helped make this course possible,” said Grimes. “It truly has been a collaborative effort from deciding on the exact topics to cover, to creating material, to moderating the discussion boards now that the class has launched.”

With 5.01x off and running on edX, Grimes is now working with Prof. Shoulders to build all the lecture material for 5.02x – the second semester of general chemistry. Krishtal and Christie are also playing an integral role in the development of that course. 5.02x is expected to go-live on edX in Spring 2021. “Looking forward, over the next couple years our goal is to roll-out a series of intermediate-level courses beyond general chemistry that span the sub-fields of chemistry and provide a comprehensive understanding of the molecular sciences,” said Grimes. “5.01x and the follow-up course, 5.02x, build the requisite background and skills for learners to benefit the most from these future intermediate-level courses.”

The Department and Grimes will also work towards the goal of offering at least one graduate-level course on edX. “Introducing graduate-level courses from MIT means offering truly unique instruction and opportunities,” said Grimes. The future looks bright for chemistry on edX!