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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Archived Lecture Update

We are about midway through our fall term at Drexel.
Here is a brief update on my Organic Chemistry CHEM241 class, where I assigned the archived lectures as homework and held workshops instead during class time.

1) Performance. The grades are in for the first test and the make-up for the first test. In both cases, the averages are within 1% of what they were in the spring term. This tells me that the bulk of the students are learning the essentials of the course from the archived screencasts.

2) Attendance. The attendance is about the same (about 10%) whether I am giving lectures or holding workshops. There is a core group that shows up routinely and others only when they really need help.

3) Type of interaction.
a) Help with assigned problems. If they do not understand where they went wrong in a problem or quiz or test question, I ask to see their work and can show them quickly where the misunderstanding took place.

b) Help with concepts. For some there is not an issue with specific assigned problem but rather with an abstract concept used in the course. The way we work through these is with a discussion around what-if scenarios. Molecular models are usually very helpful in this case.

c) Technical issues. Most students bring their laptops and I can show them directly how to subscribe to the class RSS feed, how the podcast works, how to install Unreal Tournament, etc. If they don't have a laptop I bring one that they can use.

d) Course rules and procedures. Although I have an FAQ students sometimes want to reiterate how to find out where and when the tests are, the open book policy, how the make-up tests work, etc. I hate reading manuals also and I have to see something several times before I really learn it so I can understand this. But what I have found is that many students use rumors to learn about the class rules instead of reading the syllabus and FAQ. A face to face conversation is a good way to dispel those rumors.

e) Games. So far we have run 2 Unreal Tournament races (with prizes) covering much of the material on the first test. Also one student has constructed doors that we incorporated in the second race and I think that was a good exercise for her to consolidate her knowledge the subject matter.

f) Additional Problems. For students who have no problem with any of the assigned problems I usually give additional problems that really make them think about the basic concepts from new perspectives.

Overall, I think the workshop model is working well for the students who choose to take advantage of it. The learning is driven almost entirely through conversation, which is well suited to consolidate the basic material in the archived lectures.

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