Campus Spotlight, Student Life

The ‘World of Chemistry’ courses: Why are they so popular?

Word around campus is that if you’re looking for an easy elective to fit into your schedule, Professors David Harpp and Joe Schwarcz’s World of Chemistry Courses are for you. The dynamic duo, Chemistry of Foods (CHEM 181) and Chemistry of Drugs (CHEM 183), have consistently been some of the most popular electives for science and non-science students alike. With curricula including historical, practical, and chemical aspects of food in CHEM 181 and drug history, marketing, and mental illness in CHEM 183, the courses cover a wide range of chemistry-related topics. To help gain a better understanding of their appeal, The McGill Tribune spoke with students who have taken or are currently taking these classes.

Cynthia Wang, U1 Science, is enrolled in Chemistry of Drugs and saw the course as an opportunity to balance out her hectic academic schedule.

“I heard from people that it was a relatively easy class and, as an elective, that’s kind of what I’m aiming for,” Wang said. “My courses are already pretty heavy at times and I don’t think there’s a need to find an elective that requires too much time in my schedule.” 

For Wang, the courses’ reputations as “bird courses”—a reputation built through discussion platforms such as Reddit and Facebook—have been a major selling point. The content is presented through a series of pre-recorded lectures that students are free to watch at their own pace—within reason. As part of the asynchronous learning style, students have access to the transcripts of the videos and can adjust the playback speed to their liking, making for a customizable learning experience. Even better, the exams are taken fully online.

What’s more, says Sonya Colliander, U1 Arts, who took the Foods course last winter term, is that the asynchronous style of the course offers the attractive advantage of flexibility. 

“Because they’re self-directed and there is no actual lecture time—they’re just videos uploaded on MyCourses that can be worked through whenever you want—a lot of students find that good for their schedule,” Colliander explained. 

Of course, students who have taken the courses speak highly about its content. 

“Since I used to study health science [in CEGEP], I still have interest in any subject related to that field,” Wang said. “[This class] allows me to learn about drug history and the effects of medicine throughout time, which I find interesting.”

Despite being science courses, CHEM 181 and 183 are, fortunately, not limited to science students. In fact, classes are composed of students from nearly every faculty on campus, with approximately 50 per cent from Science, 30 per cent from Arts, and 20 per cent from Management, Education, Agriculture/Environment, Music, Law, and Engineering, according to the course information.

According to Sahar Sakhi, U1 Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, little to no chemistry background is required for success in the World of Chemistry courses. Sakhi, who is taking the Drugs course this term, believes that the course is accessible to anyone because it doesn’t go into dense and incomprehensible detail about science or chemistry.

Since the courses are pre-recorded, however, they no doubt lack the essential community elements embedded in in-person classes. 

“I think one of the downsides about this class is that it’s not as interactive as other classes. You don’t see the teachers or your classmates; everything is kind of on your own,” Sakhi said. 

Colliander adds a note of caution that “it is really easy to procrastinate in the class because there are no deadlines throughout the semester, so it is up to you to stay on top of the lectures and quizzes.” 

With classes finally going back in person, students can definitely look forward to learning in a real class setting, with the teacher and classmates up close and personal. If you still want an interesting online science course that allows flexibility, however, the World of Chemistry courses could be just what you need.

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