What kind of chemistry instructor are you?
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Take this 10-question quiz to reveal your Professorial Persona
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Partway through a lecture, you want to gauge how well your students are following the material. What do you do?
I pose a question to the whole class using a classroom response system.
I present a question and call on students who raise their hands.
I pause and ask, ‘Any questions?’
I scan the room looking for blank or confused faces.
Which of these best describes the purpose of a lecture in your classroom?
I rarely lecture during class.
To set up problems that students will work on individually or in groups.
To review the reading, make sure students understood it, and address any questions.
To present information I know and that the students need to learn.
How do you feel about engaging students with devices (such as smartphones, tablets, or laptops) to ask questions in your classes?
Love them! I use them to determine where my students’ understanding is and which concepts are difficult.
They can be a helpful tool in moderation.
I would never; it’s a recipe for digital distraction.
If you taught remotely during the pandemic, you probably faced the following challenges (and many more). Which did you consider most essential to get right, even though it was harder than it would have been in person?
Preventing cheating on exams and assignments.
Adapting whiteboard-based lectures to put online.
Encouraging class participation.
Developing students’ problem-solving skills.
You’ve polled the class with a question and realize that about half answered correctly and the other half were split among incorrect choices. What do you do?
Given time and other constraints, I do not poll students during lectures.
I explain why the correct answer is correct, then move on.
I repeat the past few slides that covered the concept, then move on.
I advise struggling students to review the textbook and move forward with the lecture. There’s too much to cover and too little time!
I ask students to discuss among themselves, and send them additional, related questions to solve if possible, and poll them again. (I build in time for these scenarios.)
What do you do in your lectures that you think has the greatest impact on students?
Lecturing is not effective; I avoid it as much as possible.
I describe chemistry in real-life contexts.
I include jokes and relevant, witty comic strips.
I incorporate demonstrations, simulations, and some fun videos.
My lectures are super-short and infused with student problem-solving (individually or in groups).
What does active learning mean to you as an educator?
It denotes in-class time during which students discuss, problem-solve, and ask questions.
It describes the cognitive activity in which students must engage to develop conceptual understanding.
It’s a broad term that refers to lectures, simulations, and demonstrations that inspire students by showing them real-world applications and contexts.
It’s a popular term that refers to hands-on, lab-type activities that students do during class.
Your department chair says that the D, F, and withdrawal (DFW) rate is unacceptably high in a team-taught introductory course you’re involved in, and they want you to take the lead on redesigning the class. Which of these strategies do you try first?
Implement a preclass boot camp to target any gaps in students’ knowledge, covering math, study skills, and other basics.
Introduce weekly low-stakes quizzes, monitoring the results and following up with students who don’t understand the material.
Change the course’s grading policies and introduce more opportunities for extra credit.
Flip the classroom: move the lectures to an online platform, and use class time for guided problem-solving.
Which of the following best describes your approach to grading homework assignments?
I grade pretty traditionally: students get points for the correct answer.
I give full credit for a correct answer but sometimes give partial credit if there’s evidence a student was using the right method to answer the question.
I allow students a limited number of attempts per question, with small penalties for incorrect responses. Effort matters, but so does demonstrating mastery.
I allow students several attempts per question without penalty. What matters most is that they try and learn.
Process-oriented guided inquiry learning (POGIL) is a type of group-based lesson plan that usually involves a multipage worksheet. Students assume roles to work with a data set or model, are guided through exploring the data and recognizing patterns, and are then encouraged to apply those concepts to a new problem. How do you feel about incorporating POGIL activities in your classroom?
I use it all the time and think social engagement can help in the active learning process and empower students.
I’ve tried it once or twice. I like that it develops students’ communication skills in addition to their chemistry skills.
It sounds interesting, but I worry that it takes too much time to cover too little material.
I’m not sold. Too many of my students dislike group work.
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Most of your instruction time is devoted to informing students about the material, just as you experienced in college. You prepare thoughtful, well-organized lectures and maybe even crack a joke or two. You assign independent or group-based problem-solving as homework but spend little class time on it; after all, your gen chem course is huge, and you have a lot to cover before the exam.
Traditional lectures are very teacher-centered. Cognitive studies show that passively receiving information, as a student does when listening to a lecture, is not the best way to retain that information. But you don’t have to overhaul your entire course to incorporate active learning; there are some simple tweaks you can make to help students better engage with the lectures you’ve worked so hard on.
Keep in mind that most lecture periods are much longer than the average attention span, which is estimated to be about 20 minutes. Breaking up your lecture by shifting gears for just a minute or two at a time to provoke deliberate recall and concept transfers can help your students engage more deeply with the material and reduce cognitive load.
Even in the context of a large, 100-level class, there are many interventions that can help you serve your students better.
the quintessential lecturer
1. Anna Shahmuradyan and Samer Doughan, “Students as Investigators: Promoting Active Learning through a Case Study Assignment in a Lecture-Based Analytical Chemistry Course,” J. Chem. Ed. 98, no. 12 (Dec. 14, 2021): 4088—93,
2. Maikel Wijtmans, Lisette van Rens, and Jacquelie E. van Muijlwijk-Koezen, “Activating Students’ Interest and Participation in Lectures and Practical Courses Using Their Electronic Devices,” J. Chem. Ed. 91, no. 11 (Nov 11, 2014): 1830¬–37,
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To read more about how you can integrate active learning into your routines, check out a few of these resources.
1. Justin B. Houseknecht et al., Active Learning in Organic Chemistry: Implementation and Analysis (ACS Symposium Series: American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 2019) 1–17, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/bk-2019-1336.ch001.
2. Leilani A. Arthurs and Bailey Zo Kreager, “An Integrative Review of In-Class activities that Enable Active Learning in College Science Classroom Settings,” Int. J. Sci. Educ. 39, no. 15 (2017): 2073–91, https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2017.1363925.
3. Scott A. Reid, “A Flipped Classroom Redesign in General Chemistry,” Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 17 (July 2016): 914–22, https://doi.org/10.1039/C6RP00129G.
You’re familiar with the concept of active learning, and you may incorporate questions or quick discussions in your lectures. Perhaps you include demonstrations or explain how the material you’re covering connects to students’ everyday lives. Those are great ways to break up a long lecture and get students thinking about the material you present! Still, classroom time is dominated by information transfer (that is, you giving information to students.)
Cognitive science suggests that learning is as much about building an understanding of new material for oneself as it is about receiving knowledge from someone else. Students build their understanding best when their brains are actively engaged in grappling with concepts, attempting to apply skills in concrete ways, and discussing their understanding of concepts with other people. In a 2015 meta-analysis of 225 studies on active learning, researchers found that active learning interventions improved students’ final exam performance by half a standard deviation compared to controls.2 In addition, several studies suggest that the students who struggle most with chemistry (those who scored lowest on pretests) also benefit most from active learning.
the interactive lecturer
To learn more ways to help your students succeed in your courses, check out these resources.
1. Mark Blaser, Ted Clark, Liana Lamont, and Jaclyn J. Stewart, eds., Active Learning in General Chemistry: Specific Interventions (ACS Symposium Series: American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 2019), 13–20.
2. Mark Blaser, Ted Clark, Liana Lamont, and Jaclyn J. Stewart, eds., Active Learning in General Chemistry: Whole-Class Solutions (ACS symposium Series: American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 2019) 87–112.
You know a lot about active learning and how it benefits students. You’re aware that students learn most effectively when they get a chance to construct knowledge on their own terms. But you also know the value of a good explanatory lecture, and you use that when you need to get important concepts across.
Perhaps you’ve run into difficulty at some point in your active learning courses: maybe a new activity fell flat and you’re not sure how to replace it, or the gains in student performance you saw after introducing classroom response system questions have started to subside. If that’s the case, be aware that other professors have found themselves in the same position and have found that testing new approaches and having a commitment to continuous improvement can improve student outcomes.
the student-centered mini-lecturer!
the student- centered mini-lecturer!
If you’re searching for creative ideas to encourage your students to engage with the material you teach, perhaps you’ll find some inspiration for next semester here.
You might also be your students’ favorite chemistry professor, because your classes are just so much fun.
You know your way around a flipped classroom, and you could probably rattle off what the acronyms POGIL, CRS, and JITT stand for without breaking a sweat. More importantly, you know that students learn best when they’re engaged and challenged, and that integrating new information with existing knowledge, then applying it to solve problems, is a much more effective approach than rote memorization.
the student-centered active learning enthusiast!
centered active learning enthusiast!
If you’re looking for some creative new ways to get your students engaging in class activities, or you’d like tips for taking your flipped classroom to the next level, check out here.