New Approach to College Chemistry Targets Achievement Gaps in STEM Courses

Digital, affordable courses blend adaptive learning with real-world simulations to help non-science majors master critical content.

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SAN FRANCISCO (October 3, 2018)  The Inspark Teaching Network, a global collaboration among science educators, today released the newest faculty-developed Smart Course, Critical Chemistry: The Science of Saving Lives. Developed in partnership with adaptive learning pioneer Smart Sparrow and Arizona State University's Center for Education Through Exploration (ETX), the course draws upon real-world, inquiry-based curriculum to improve student engagement and success in gateway science courses like chemistry.

Equitable outcomes for students in STEM remains a persistent challenge. Research has shown that only 11 percent of low-income, underrepresented-minority, or first-generation students meet the ACT Benchmark in science--a standard for college readiness. Inspark-designed Smart Courses like Critical Chemistry provide personalized learning experiences to help meet the unique needs of these students, so they complete science education requirements more successfully. The course exposes non-science major students to interesting challenges in STEM fields, which they may have avoided otherwise, even encouraging moves into STEM majors.

"STEM students have more opportunity than ever before, as the STEM industry continues to ramp up hiring across the country," said Jacqui Hayes, the Inspark Teaching Network Director of Studio Innovation. "Smart Courses like Critical Chemistry are helping transform how we teach STEM so that all students, including first-generation and low-income students, have the opportunity to succeed and pursue careers in STEM fields."

Rooted in an inquiry-based curriculum that tackles issues ranging from the opioid crisis to ensuring safe water supplies, from fighting disease to developing a healthy diet, Critical Chemistry explores key chemistry concepts by linking the application of science to real-world challenges, encouraging the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Professors adopting the Critical Chemistry course also have the flexibility to entirely replace their standard textbook or use OpenStax's free chemistry textbook alongside the course. Over 70 percent of the professors already teaching Inspark's BioBeyond course have fully replaced their textbook, saving students as much as $200.

"Smart Sparrow adds a powerful new courseware option for our chemistry community, and we're excited to see instructors start to use the unique Critical Chemistry curriculum," said David Harris, OpenStax Editor in Chief. "Our partnership with Smart Sparrow shows great promise of further enhancing the teaching and learning goals of chemistry faculty."

The Inspark Teaching Network has developed its courses on the Smart Sparrow platform, which  enables faculty to provide adaptive and personalized learning experiences for every student. As a class progresses through the course, professors receive real-time insights into students' learning journeys, enabling them to provide tailored support and additional remedial content. The course also incorporates PhET Interactive Simulations, from the University of Colorado Boulder, a collection of more than 140 research-backed interactive science and math simulations to enable hands-on learning in digital environments.

"We believe in the power of personalized, contextualized learning," said Dr. Dror Ben-Naim, CEO and founder of Smart Sparrow. "When we can provide students with rich, interactive, and adaptive courses that speak to the reality of their lives, it sparks curiosity and engagement with the material in ways both student and professor may never have expected."

In a study on the efficacy of the Inspark Smart Course BioBeyond, independent evaluator SRI Education found that Smart Courses can increase student performance up to half a letter grade compared to traditional textbooks. Currently, over 70 institutions globally have used Inspark Smart Courses.

Critical Chemistry will be available for broad use in the Fall 2018 semester.

 Access Critical Chem


About the Inspark Teaching Network

The Inspark Teaching Network is a strong partnership between universities, community colleges, scientists, and education experts working to transform science teaching and learning. The network empowers educators and learning designers to collaborate, build, and share next-generation courseware. The courseware harnesses the latest personalized, interactive digital learning technologies, and the learning content focuses on exploring real-world scientific questions to motivate and engage today's students. The Inspark Teaching Network is led by Smart Sparrow and Arizona State University, and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Learn more at

About Smart Sparrow

Smart Sparrow is a learning design platform for creating high-impact digital courseware. It empowers every educator to create interactive and adaptive learning experiences, and encourages continuous improvement through the use of the learner analytics. Students are better supported and more motivated to persevere in courses that use this technology to meet learners' needs in real time. Smart Sparrow believes in designing tools that support great teaching and unlocking the full potential of adaptive learning by putting that power in the hands of instructors. Learn more at

About ASU Center for Education Through Exploration

A partnership between Arizona State University and Smart Sparrow, the ASU Center for Education Through Exploration upends traditional teaching models of learning in silos and memorizing facts. It leverages new research that shows students learn better through the process of exploration, and exploring what is unknown rather than what is known. ETX develops and deploys digital learning products and platforms that are engaging, adaptive, and transdisciplinary, to educate-through-exploration effectively and at scale. Learn more at 


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