Center for Education Through Exploration

Making Chemistry More Equitable

Inclusive Chemistry Exemplar

Principal Investigators
Ariel Anbar & Norman Bier

Arizona State University & Carnegie Mellon University


ASU’s Center for Education through Exploration (ETX) and Inspark Teaching Network, together with CMU’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI), have been funded $3.9M by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop exemplar chemistry courseware that will lead to equitable outcomes for students aspiring to STEM careers. The courseware will cover one year of introductory college chemistry. The curriculum, pedagogy, and platform technology will apply equity-centered, evidence-based design principles in a blended learning context. In particular, the courseware and associated educator support resources will enable teaching that is responsive to student needs and that conveys the relevance of chemical knowledge and thinking across diverse cultural contexts.


Success rates in introductory chemistry are poor for many college students, and these issues can be exacerbated by the challenges experienced by learners from marginalized groups. This differential success contributes to persistently lower graduation rates, on average, for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Pell-grant eligible students. The fault lies not with the students but with limitations in how college chemistry is usually taught. Traditional pedagogical approaches to introductory chemistry, especially in large-enrollment college classes, are not responsive to the diverse needs of students, particularly those affected by systemic inequities in K12 schools and society at large. Simultaneously, traditional curricular designs for introductory chemistry make little effort to convey the relevance of chemistry concepts to the lived experiences of students from diverse cultural backgrounds.


A two-semester introductory chemistry courseware package–for use in blended as well as fully online learning–that advances equity by being responsive and relevant to students from diverse backgrounds, resulting in improved student outcomes and success.

Responsiveness is achieved through a combination of platform affordances and integrated educator professional development resources that promote evidence-based best practices. Example practices include interactivity with formative hints and practice towards mastery, analytics to identify and guide learners at risk of failure, integrated simulations that promote learning-by-doing pedagogy, adaptive and personalized pathways, and student peer coaching.

Relevance is achieved through a unique synthesis of differentiating curricular design elements. Key design elements include problem- and project-based learning, student-centered learning outcomes, engaging video, integrated learning to promote learner agency and self regulation, and assessments centered on real-world applications.

The courseware curriculum will be designed as a student learning cycle that includes:

Application layer flowchart

The Application Layer

Problem-based learning, based on culturally responsive context-rich scenarios, allowing for student agency and scaffolded instructor customization, which motivates learning by showing how mastery of chemistry skills, methodologies, and concept knowledge is useful to attain goals relevant to the learners. The Application Layer also provides opportunities to cumulatively integrate chemistry learning objectives and to summatively assess “chemical thinking” skills.


Adaptive learning curriculum that provides initial formal instruction of learning objectives. Elements include: focused instructional video, OpenStax text, highly scaffolded tutored examples, scoring based on progress/completion, and adaptive formative feedback. This layer is intended for asynchronous individual work, and provides students with opportunities to return, review and remediate. Data from student interactions supports inter-communication between this and other components.


Active learning through synchronous group work (in-person in blended modalities) and instructor interaction, potentially in-person, facilitated by digital resources including rich simulations and visualizations, which will support focused deep-dives into difficult or particularly important concepts. Algorithmic activity recommendations will be provided to the instructor ahead of the Focused class work, based on student performance during Foundational work. Instructors can seamlessly make adjustments based on that data to adjust upcoming Practice work, assign additional Foundational work, and modify lesson plans for the Focused lessons.


The practice component provides an array of digital assignments that can provide opportunities to practice and apply new knowledge in a variety of modalities and differentiated contexts. These activities provide summative assessment within the courseware context and are designed to support graded use by educators.

The courseware will be built utilizing an open-source adaptive platform created by OLI and augmented by ETX as part of an evolving partnership between ASU and CMU. The platform enables the project’s learning designers to author sophisticated experiences that include highly scaffolded, intelligent feedback. This learning engineering focus feeds a rich data-analytics layer, with ongoing iterative, data-driven improvement tools such as student and instructor dashboards that aid in early identification of student intervention needs.


MVP Design
July through December 2022.

MVP Build 
January 2023 through June 2023, with MVP launch June 2023.

Beta launches
Planned for January 2024 & June 2024, and General Deployment will be January 2025

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