Lower textbook costs and better learning

Published: Dec. 5, 2015

Students who take an introductory chemistry courses at Michigan State University not only get the benefit of a curriculum proven to help them better understand many important chemistry concepts, but they also save money by not having to pay for items such as textbooks and study guides.

Mike Klymowsky

Mike Klymowsky

The class is called “Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything,” or CLUE. It was developed by MSU chemistry professor Melanie Cooper and Michael Klymkowsky of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The two were awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new approach to general chemistry and to design the accompanying materials. With more than 3,000 students taking the course each semester, the savings are substantial.

“The average cost of textbooks and online access to homework is around $250 per student,” said Cooper, who also is the Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education. “This amounts to a total cost savings of about $750,000 or more than $1 million over the academic year.”

The MSU courses, Chemistry 141 and 142, were designed using an evidence-based approach. In other words, they are based on research on how students learn and the materials have been tried and tested.

“We now have a growing body of evidence that students who come out of these courses have a deeper understanding of chemistry,” Cooper said.

The classes are part of what are known as gateway courses, specifically designed to help students who are considering studying what is known as STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

MSU and CU-Boulder are part of a national project initiated by the Association of American Universities to improve the approach to teaching and learning in research universities.

MSU’s role in the project has been to involve faculty in redesigning the courses around the “big ideas” of each discipline—chemistry, biology and physics—and to think about how that knowledge should be put to use.

Klymkowsky notes that as tuition and other costs rise at universities, the CLUE approach could save scarce educational funds.

He and Cooper have written an op-ed piece that lays out their case for CLUE. It can be read here.

Much of this announcement originally appeared in an MSU story posted here.