Stephen Wheeler

eLearning Technologist

Physical Chemistry MOOC Showcase
Published on (Saturday, November 18, 2017) by Stephen Wheeler.


Introduction to Physical Chemistry was The University of Manchester, Faculty of Science and Engineering’s first MOOC and was delivered by Patrick O’Malley, Mike Anderson and Jonathan Agger.

The MOOC is demanding and makes no concessions to reduce quality; the level of education is very much on a par with first year undergraduate Chemistry modules.

The MOOC went on to win the Online and Distance Learning category at The Guardian University Awards 2015 and the Natural Sciences Discipline award in the Wharton-QS Stars Reimagine Education Awards 2015


Patrick, Mike and Jonathan introduced each week’s lectures then all used Camtasia to record their lectures, with Jonathan doing a narrated PowerPoint presentation, and Patrick and Mike recording themselves explaining ideas and concepts as they write with a stylus on a tablet PC laptop.

Interactive quiz

Patrick also interspersed his lectures with interactive quizzes that re-purposed a lecture recording of a clickers session with a first year undergraduate cohort. This allowed online students to compare their answers to the cohort of full-time Chemistry students.


A feature of this MOOC is the interactive experiments, designed to give online students a flavour of conducting their own experiment.

Each experiment has a video introducing the experiment and explaining what to do. This is backed-up with written instructions in a PDF for students to download and have to hand.

Traditional distance learning students would normally be presented with the data from an experiment that then enabled them to perform calculations.

We wanted students to record the actual data themselves.

For the Thermodynamics and Kinetics experiments we filmed the experiment being prepared and conducted and enabled students to record data themselves.

For the Quantum Chemistry experiment, this approach proved to be impractical, so we developed an HTML5 simulation that allowed students to record data as if they were conducting the experiment themselves in the lab.

Now students could analyse their data and have their results assessed by answering questions in a quiz.


Assessment is by a series of multiple-choice quizzes. Every week there is a formative quiz which can be taken as many times as a student likes and are there to reinforce learning and prepare students for the summative quizzes.

The summative quizzes take place at the end of each section and can only be taken three times by students.

The experiments also take place at the end of each section. Their accompanying quiz is also summative.

The summative quizzes all contribute to the students’ course attainment.


The MOOC is available “on-demand” on the Coursera MOOC platform: