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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Archived lectures and workshops post-mortem

The 2005 fall term has just ended here at Drexel and it is time to report on my organic chemistry class, where I assigned recorded lectures (screencast and podcast) and ran workshops during class time instead.

1) At almost every workshop I was able to help every student who came on an individual level and answer all of their questions. This was probably most helpful to a hearing impaired student in my class. He not only had transcripts of the archived lectures but also my full attention much of time as we communicated through a transcriber.

2) The average class performance was slightly better than last term, when I held lectures in class. Since most students chose to take the class fully online, holding lectures or workshops should not have had much of an effect on the average and it didn't.

3) My initial plan to schedule workshop topics ahead of time and post them on the wiki was abandoned midway. Not a single student made a request. I just dealt with whatever topic that was causing them the most difficulty.

4) Some students came to the workshops and watched my screencasts, listening through earphones. I thought this was a clever way to simulate the experience of attending a lecture and being able to ask questions in person immediately. Of course, if I were giving the lecture during class time, I could not just stop, pull out a molecular model kit and talk with a student for 10 minutes until they understood.

5) Other students came to the workshops unprepared and did the assigned problems during the class time, asking me for help when necessary. That seemed to be a fairly efficient approach for many.

6) Aside from the odd pair, students did not spontaneously form groups with common questions. However, if I noticed that a student had many questions about the same topic, I would address the class and ask others with similar interest to form a group.

7) I had gone to some trouble to identify a computer classroom that we could use for the activities requiring that (such as games) but it turned out that most students had laptops and for the few that didn't I just lent them my tablet PC. We had a decent wireless connection most of the time. Being able to show them exactly what to do on their computers was also the best way to resolve confusion about the technical aspects of the class (subscribing to Bloglines, podcasts, etc.). Also this made it a lot easier to run the EduFrag races. I handed out molecular model sets and chemistry books as prizes.

8) For their 1% extra credit assignment, students could either create a map or 5 true and 15 false doors for the EduFrag project. One student who was a bit familiar with Unreal Tournament made very nice maps. A few other students created doors. An advantage of this constructivist approach is that the false doors gave me a very good insight into what they thought were common mistakes and thus how they conceptualized the material. Yet another opportunity to talk to them about some of the finer points. And, of course, all of these map quizzes will be available for the next group of students (or anyone) to help them learn.

9) Only one student chose to do a blog assignment (instead of a game map) for the 1% extra credit, finding one of the reactions covered in class in a real world application (she did ozone depletion). Just like the previous term this type of assignment was selected more from the higher level CHEM243 students than the introductory CHEM241.

10) For students who were completely on top of everything and wanted a challenge, I provided extra problems, many of which were taken from real world applications not yet solved (such as the synthesis of potential anti-malarial and anti-HIV agents). This was a chance to review class material in an applied context and to introduce some reactions that we don't have to time to cover in any of the undergraduate organic chemistry classes.

11) Contrary to other reports, I do not find that this generation of students is any more tech savvy than the faculty that I help. You cannot assume that they are familiar with podcasting, blogs, wikis or any RSS technology or even games. They can, however, learn quickly. Although I have used screencast tutorials and took an entire class to go over most of the technical aspects, there is nothing as effective as helping a student with their laptop in a workshop environment.

12)Overall I spent as much time in the classroom as I did when I gave lectures and this was sometimes exhausting, especially after our 2 hour sessions on Fridays. But it was more rewarding also. I felt more like a teacher because I observed the learning take place one student at a time.


  • So how long until you need to re-record the lectures that you assign outside of class? Do you fear the electronic equivalent of 'yellowed-lecture-notes' that plagues many old-school teachers? Have you found the best way to teach (?) the material in the podcasts and do not want to change them?
    I once had a colleague who was taking some classes to become a college professor at the University of Michigan. She was assigned to talk to some tenured professors to get tips on teaching techniques. She chose to interview a professor she looked up to as an esteemed academic. His only sagely contribution to her education was a suggestion that she photocopy her notes every once in a while so the students don’t see them turning yellow. He was not joking.

    By Blogger Doc Ott, at 2:27 PM  

  • The basics of organic chemistry are pretty much the same as when I took it or when my father took it. The archived screencast lectures are there to explain that material with words and images. There is no way around the fact that the students have to learn the basics in order to do anything else. (It is like the rules of grammar in a language) In the workshops I can use problems that are completely up to date (e.g. UsefulChem to practice implementing that basic knowledge. That will change every term.

    By Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley, at 2:47 PM  

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