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This past semester, I taught a three-credit, standalone laboratory course – Organic Laboratory II. The class meets once a week, for five hours. One of the biggest challenges for this course has been optimizing the pre-lab discussions. If we talk about lab a week beforehand, students often forget the key details by the time the lab arrives. On the other hand, if I we discuss immediately before lab, students tend to be much less prepared. Either way, they spend far too much time figuring out what’s going on.
To be the most effective in teaching chemistry to the present generation, an educator is best served by providing the resources learners need in the manner that is most familiar to them. For the chemistry course that I teach, Allied Health General, Organic, and Biochemistry, I am quite convinced that the flipped format serves the students best. Today’s students have been raised in and surrounded by technology that permeates EVERY aspect of their lives. This, I believe is where educators will most easily connect with students.
On July 10, I had the opportunity to attend a one-day symposium put on by the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching. The event was fantastic, and essentially the entire morning was dedicated to flipped and active-learning classrooms. I especially enjoyed listening to Jim Rolf, a calculus teacher at Yale who has adopted the flipped classroom. I appreciated his stories about putting content online in video format, because his experiences so closely mirrored my own. He also offered some ideas and frameworks which I found very useful.
I started flipping some of the content in my general chemistry class about three years ago. When I began, my classes typically had a maximum of 44 students, but recently I have had classes of 66 and on one occasion 88 students. (Our lectures increase in 22 student increments because that is the number of students per lab. Thus, adding one more lab section to a class increases the lecture by 22.) While there are certainly some obstacles to flipping larger classes, some of which are out of the instructor’s control, I find that it is still a useful and effective instructional method.
One of the first challenges I encountered in flipping a class was how to make short videos specific to a topic I was covering. I’ve found that for short, low-maintenance videos, Jing is a really valuable resource. This free download, available from TechSmith, allows you to record up to five minutes of video, then stores it online (also free). While there is no real editing capability without purchasing the Camtasia software, it is a great resource for its simplicity.
As a chemistry professor, I am always energized when speaking with other professors about how they teach their classes. What keeps students engaged? What techniques and approaches help students perform better? How can the classroom experience be more fun and rewarding for both the professor and the students? There are a lot of good ideas out there.
This year, I’ve heard one topic over and over: Flipped Classrooms.