Google Awards Grant for UA-Developed Online Chemistry Course

The massive open online course is building on fundamental chemistry concepts taught at the introductory level. The Google partnership is UA chemistry's first step to extending its reach to a broader audience.
March 7, 2013
Katrina Miranda
Katrina Miranda

Google, Inc. has granted a University of Arizona chemistry professor $50,000 to develop a free online course to teach chemistry to potentially hundreds of thousands of students.

Associate professor Katrina Miranda is creating a massive open online course, or MOOC, aiming to explain higher-level and abstract chemistry concepts that build on the science's fundamentals to students worldwide. Google is providing the technology and support for the creation, which is slated for an early September release.

An award-winning scientist in the department of chemistry and biochemistry and the BIO5 Institute, Miranda's research goal is to discover pharmacological therapies to treat diseases such as cancer, heart failure and stroke. She also is fascinated by the evolution of chemistry education. This interest spurred her partnership with Google to develop the online class, designed for chemistry students eager to excel.

"This course is building on fundamental concepts taught at the introductory level," Miranda said. "I'm taking what was learned in general chemistry and delving deeper into the theory and concepts of chemical reactions."

"Teaching online is a new frontier, and I want to take advantage of the opportunity," she added. "I'm thankful for Google's innovation, partnership and investment in the UA."

Higher education is still grappling with fundamental questions about design, implementation and assessment of MOOCs, including discovering effective ways to engage with students who need feedback or have questions. Yet online courses can transcend geographic boundaries to offer exceptional higher education experience worldwide. Opportunities to learn from researchers of Miranda's caliber are rare without an investment in new platforms.

The UA currently offers hundreds of online courses, including professional development, certificate and degree programs, with courses ranging from Web development to management information systems.

The Google partnership is UA chemistry's first step to extending its reach to a broader audience, said Scott Saavedra, professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry. If it is successful, the department could considerably expand its online course offerings for credit.

Google's own interest in developing MOOCs stems from a curiosity to explore the possibilities and opportunities within online learning. Karen Parker, Google's education program manager, said the UA is an exceptional partner in the field of science.

"The University of Arizona is highly regarded for its science education, and Dr. Miranda's expertise in the field of chemistry will certainly generate interest among students from all around the world," Parker said.

Last year, Google developed its own online course called "Power Searching with Google," which enrolled about 155,000 students around the world. Many of those students reached out to Google for the technology to create their own courses and in response released a free online platform called Course Builder.

"MOOCs have opened up a new landscape in the education space. Education experts and the providers of technology need to be working together to create the best learning experiences," Parker said.

"We want all sectors of the education space to explore and experiment with the notion of online learning."

The University of Arizona Foundation is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to advancing the UA. Managing an existing asset base of more than $600 million, the UA Foundation has helped generate more than $2 billion in private funding to support the University.