Faculty Spotlight: Eric Van Dornshuld
by Amelia Byars
Freshman year is exhilarating and intimidating, filled with numerous firsts—first time living in a dorm, first time being independent and first time taking classes in a college setting. But what happens when a student finds themselves struggling in a class with nowhere to turn for additional instruction? Assistant Clinical Professor of Chemistry Eric Van Dornshuld anticipated this need, creating an online tool to benefit his students as well as students around the world.
In Spring 2020, when MSU shifted to a virtual format because of COVID-19, Dornshuld wanted to find a way to give his students further aid in Chemistry II, so he developed an instructional website: https://dornshuld.chemistry.msstate.edu/.
“The original motivation for it was to find a way to best support students when COVID hit and we all went online. Nobody knew just how long we would exist in an online format and I wanted something sustainable. I wanted to implement a system that would minimize the barriers—no matter how big or small—between a student and course content,” said Dornshuld, an MSU faculty member since 2014.
The website contains lecture videos, notes, practice problems and Canvas exams. Canvas exams are short quizzes students take after each lecture that cover only what was discussed that day. They have unlimited attempts and a two-week time period to complete. This quiz format encourages retention of the materials and helps students to gradually master each topic discussed, rather than attempt to cram everything in before an exam.
Emalee West, a sophomore from Oxford, MS, uses the Canvas exams during her Chemistry II course this semester, and has found great success in doing so.
“The material in CH 1223 feels much more cohesive, manageable and accessible when there is a checkpoint to make sure that everything in the lecture is understood, and a way to practice it,” West said.
Since Canvas exams have unlimited attempts, many students have been able to focus less on the stress of taking a quiz and more on taking away what was learned from it, a feature Emma Conley, a junior from North Aurora, IL, considers helpful.
“The unlimited attempts were appreciated because it reduced my grade anxiety. Instead of being afraid for my grade, I was able to use the quizzes as learning opportunities,” Conley said.
Even students who have already taken Chemistry II will go back to Dornshuld’s website and use it to aid them in other classes they are taking. Brandon Dew, a junior from Madison, MS, uses the website to help him in his Environmental Engineering Issues class.
“Since this class is based primarily on chemistry, I find it useful to review the resources provided by my Chemistry II professor, Eric Van Dornshuld, to supplement my knowledge of the material. It has proven to me to be a necessary supplement because of how closely related the two classes are,” Dew said.
Labreia “Bre” Robbins, a junior from Starkville, MS, used the website last semester to help her succeed in her calculus class, and had high praise for Dornshuld and the website’s methods of helping students.
“The lecture-to-quiz/homework within 24-48 hours strategy has continued to work well for me in my 5-week Calculus class this winter. I think his classes will benefit greatly from this strategy going forward,” Robbins said.
Not only has Dornshuld’s website benefitted MSU students, but it has also helped students across the globe. The website uses open-source technologies, meaning it can be accessed at any time by anyone. In the past month alone, Dornshuld’s website has been accessed by people in almost all seven continents—even Australia.
“I believe that any student that wants to succeed will do so with the right tools,” Emalee West said, “and I believe Canvas Exams, and other learning focused techniques and assignments, are the way to help hardworking students succeed.”