Student Video Competitions Continue To Heat Up

It seems like it was just yesterday that Newscripts started receiving student-made YouTube videos about organic chemistry. But two years have gone by, and the crop of clips–and universities that produce them–keeps growing.

In 2010, Neil Garg, a professor at UCLA, gave the students in his organic chemistry class an extra-credit assignment: Write, direct, and produce a music video about the topics covered in class. He expected only a couple undergrads to take him up on his offer, but he received 60-some clips in the end.

The video above came out of Garg’s class this spring—a parody of both the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” and 50 Cent’s “PIMP.” (The Lord of the Rings references, Garg explains, are a little class joke. Because of all the aromatic chemistry the students learn during the semester, they get the title of “Lord of the Rings” if they get the top grade on an exam.)

The video assignment has picked up so much momentum at this point, Garg tells Newscripts, he couldn’t imagine not offering the bonus project to his students. “Students will be disappointed if I don’t continue,” he says. Via word of mouth and examples online, “they know it’s coming.” And, he says of the assignment, “as long as they still enjoy it, and they seem to be learning something, it’s worthwhile.”

Professors at other universities have found it worthwhile as well. Earlier this year, Jon Rainier of the University of Utah and Steven Castle of Brigham Young University cooked up a friendly Utah State rivalry between their organic chemistry classes with a video contest. Each chemistry professor gave their students the extra-credit music video assignment based on the UCLA model. Then they submitted their top 5 entries to Garg himself.

Garg and a group of students were supposed to declare the winning class. “But I took the wimpy way out” and called it a draw, Garg admits.

“It was a bit of a cop out,” Rainier says of the decision, especially because the professor from the losing class was supposed to visit the winner’s class and sing that school’s fight song. “You can imagine the anticipation.”

Even though an official decision was never made about the class submissions in general, one video did rise above the rest. That much was agreed upon by Garg and the others. That clip, made by a student in Rainier’s class, is entitled “Meso” (see above). It celebrates meso compounds, those special stereoisomers that have two chiral centers but are not optically active themselves. The student responsible, Spencer Merrick, is a fine arts major taking chemistry on his path toward med school, Rainier tells Newscripts. The song Merrick sings is a parody of “Rango” by the country/folk/Tex-Mex influenced band Los Lobos.

The students who take Rainier’s class have really embraced the video assignment, “to the point that I think they actually look forward to the class,” he says. “This enthusiasm leads to their ‘getting’ the material better than they have in the past,” he adds, although he admits that he doesn’t have any hard evidence for this observation.

And because of the video projects’ success, Garg continues to fine-tune the competition. This year, for instance, he offered his students an early assignment to create a ringtone about substitution and elimination reactions. Garg also says that only the top 10 videos submitted now get full bonus points. “That ups the production quality,” he says. “If you’re going to enter, the video has to be good,” and the chemistry has to be well integrated.

Author: Lauren Wolf

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