In part I of this blog series, we explored why Pete, Melanie, and I believe critical thinking is a vital skill that students should learn while earning an undergraduate degree. We also explained our hypothesis in which we believe that the utilization of the flipped teaching model allows us to incorporate more active learning and blended learning techniques that can enable our students to further practice and hone those skills associated with critical thinking. In this video, we explain both the differences in our three classes and how we incorporate flipped teaching; as well as our study methodology and the tools we utilized to assess whether or not flipped teaching promotes critical thinking within our students.
As Chemistry faculty in a small private liberal arts college just miles from a medical school that ranks 22nd in the nation, I have noticed that 90% of my chemistry and biology majors are pre-health. When I accepted my position at BSC, I was asked to continue the Medicinal Chemistry course (CH418) within our department. In my previous experience as a student I have found that a traditional MedChem course consisted mainly of the in depth analysis of various organic chemistry reaction mechanisms, sprinkled with a little discussion on drug targets, drug sources and pharmacokinetics. Although I believe the traditional Medicinal Chemistry course is valuable for graduate school bound chemistry majors, I wanted to focus on some different learning goals. The following learning goals are ones that I felt would benefit my pre-health majors as they continued on to become nurses, doctors, physical therapists and dentists. And of course, still sticking to my flipped style of teaching, this course is designed very much around active learning, discussion techniques with pre-assigned readings from the text and peer-reviewed literature.
From initial hit to market, a new compound has a long and arduous path that almost everyone in our society takes for granted. The number of various agencies, individuals and monies involved to develop safer and therapeutically more effective drugs is quite astounding. One day my students will be doctors prescribing these medications to patients; or nurses and pharmacists packaging, administering, delivering and counseling on these medications; and I want to ensure that they (1) understand the drug's pathway to the market, (2) understand why the drug is effective and how it works, (3) are able to evaluate and relay the pertinent information of that drug to a wide range of patients and (3) are able to effectively answer patient questions. Currently, our society is plagued with an ever increasing amount of scientific illiteracy and public distrust in modern medicine, our emerging generation of health professionals will be at the forefront of this battle, and we as their instructors and teachers need to equip them with sufficient knowledge and skills to be effective in this battle.
In order to approach this learning goal, I have designed CH418 as a discussion based class with pre-meeting reading assignments. Our typical class meeting utilizes a variety of active learning techniques such as "Think-Pair-Share", POGIL, case studies, and "2-minute papers" in order to facilitate classroom discussions. At the end of class, I will sometimes assign a discussion board reflection to continue our conversation. For example, after creating a timeline of events for a drug's path to the market through classroom discussion, I then assigned each student a different stakeholder's role (e.g. Chemical Engineer, FDA Agent, Patent Attorney, Clinician, or Patient) and had them write a short summary of that stakeholder's role and responsibilities and a reflection of how interactions with that stakeholder may impact their own lives or careers. These reflections were then posted on our course management page and students were encouraged to read and respond to each other's posts.
In order to measure students' success in reaching this learning goal, students will be given 3 take home exams consisting of short answer and multiple choice for content testing, and short essay questions to further explore their understanding and ability to evaluate, apply and communicate complex processes. In addition, I also utilize Sapling Online Learning to create weekly online homework assignments, as Sapling does not yet have a Medicinal Chemistry unit, I am working with my TA to help design a bank of questions.
Overall, I have arranged a guest speaker series bringing in 5 different professionals through out the semester, giving my students the opportunity to learn directly from the source, make new network connections, and discuss their questions with someone other than me. To see the schedule of speakers for Spring 2015, click here.
To prepare my students for our guest speakers, I will assign one or two published peer-reviewed articles authored or recommended by our speakers and then have them post at least one question to our course message board prior to the event. Often questions in the take home exams will arise from these talks or assigned readings.
In order to further understanding (and allow me another opportunity to assess their learning) students work on a literature review paper and prepare an oral presentation detailing the path to the market of a drug of their choosing. This project is assigned at the beginning of the semester and students are given detailed guidelines, rubrics and a timetable of assignments to follow and opportunities for peer review in order to help keep them on track. During the last week of class, students then give oral presentations summarizing their findings to the rest of the class, and questions from these presentations do show up in the final take home exam.
Although this class strays from the path of a traditional medicinal chemistry course, it does so to service my non-traditional students. In this course students are able to utilize a variety of resources from peer reviewed literature, texts, and guest speakers to explore in-depth current topics related to medicinal chemistry. So far, the students seem to enjoy the course, they have found the guest speakers engaging, and our classroom discussions have been pretty productive! I will report back at the end of the term how the course reviews go! Till then, happy studies everyone!
It's that time of the year again where the turkey has been roasted, eaten, sandwiched, casseroled, and sworn off till next year (or next month for some); and if you are in academia you are now preparing for final exams and course/instructor assessment. It was just earlier this week that I passed out our standard institutional assessment forms to my first flipped biochemistry course and because I wanted to gauge the various blended learning techniques I employed over the semester, I added my own additional assessment. In this survey, I asked my students to rate the various tools I utilized in order to "help deepen student understanding on a variety of biochemistry related topics and to facilitate the development of critical thinking skills". These tools included: video lectures, 10 minute "muddiest point" lectures in class, Sapling Online Homework, lecture powerpoints, Facebook "Journal Club" Discussions, Facebook Course Management, exam study guides, exam study sessions, POGIL workbook activities, case studies, metabolic pathway posters, and the Moodle course management page. Students were asked to rate these tools on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not beneficial at all and 10 being very beneficial) and then comment on the tool they found most beneficial and least beneficial. The average ratings for these tools can be seen in the graph below.
The standard deviations for these responses where quite large, ranging from 1.8 to 3.0, which to me indicated that these students varied greatly on the tools they appreciated, which should be expected since these tools target a wide range of learning styles. However, I will note that I inadvertently left out one of the most important tools - the textbook. It would have been great to see if there was a correlation between students who valued the lecture videos as little to no benefit but highly valued the textbook, and would be something I look into next year. And while the overall averages may seem disheartening at first glance (particularly the POGIL workbook and video lectures), reading the students comments have been very reassuring; so I wanted to take a moment and discuss some of the common disparities between student perceived gains/values and instructor perceived gains/values that I noticed as a result of this assessment. In their comments students asked me to:
"Improve lecture videos (so that they are) strong enough to stand on their own w/o needing text"
So okay, yes I admit, I took the "good enough" approach this semester because I had over 25 video lectures to make in less than 13 weeks, I do see reflection of that approach in the student evaluations and am planning to revamp a number of the lecture videos this summer and next fall to incorporate interactive features such as questions, polling, and feedback, but I do not want my lectures to ever be good enough to stand alone. I want to encourage my students to continually seek out a variety of resources and to never be quite satisfied so that they keep trying to learn more. As an instructor whose primary goal is to create life-long learners, I am actually encouraged with the student quote above because it indicates that he or she wanted to learn more. That being said, I am learning that it is important in the flipped classroom to constantly remind my students that the lecture videos (as they currently are now) would have been identical to me lecturing at a podium for an hour in a traditional lecture, but now they can pause, rewind, and fast forward as often as they wish, and access these videos throughout the entire semester; and that in traditional lectures, the classroom lecture is meant to help clarify and supplement the required text reading. And, as I said, there was a wide range of disparity in the student valuation of the videos which was reflected in their comments from "The lecture powerpoints and videos were beneficial because it helped identify the most important points from the chapter" to "More in class lecture, flipped classes are very confusing and do not allow the professor to lecture to the students the knowledge they need".
"POGIL - some concepts, actually most, were too complicated for the scope of this course"
The POGIL workbook, surprisingly to me, was one of the least valued tools by the students. Based on the comments, the students were frustrated both at the level of challenge and that there was no answer key given at the end. Again, I believe I need to be clearer about the overall purpose of utilizing POGIL activities in the classroom; however, I believe students will always be frustrated and uncomfortable when challenged and it is important to teach them (especially a class made up of 99% pre-med majors) that they will not be given an answer key on the job. As I was reading over the POGIL "How-To" I ran across this statement :
"Students are missing the experience of science as the exchange and evolution of ideas, and gender and ethnic issues are being ignored in the design of courses. Poor performers withdraw from learning, and even the best performers may disengage because they are not challenged. The results are low levels of learning and high levels of attrition... To address this situation and to help students become better learners in our courses, it is essential to recognize that education has two components, content and process, and that the process component often is not given adequate attention. Science education needs to be concerned equally with both the structure of knowledge, which is the content component, and with the development of the skills for acquiring, applying, and generating knowledge, which is the process component."
I believe to help our students become better at processing the knowledge they gain from lecture, we have to push our students hard, make them uncomfortable, and challenge them. Therefore, when I was reading these comments such as "they weren't beneficial because there weren't clear answers, and they were pretty extreme cases, some really hard to understand", actually pleases me as an instructor to no end. But I will agree with the students in that it is important to incorporate some sort of post-activity reflection/discussion, and I will be spending time during the Holiday break figuring out how to do this given the in-class time constraints (and, as always, am open to suggestions from my colleagues).
"I think the class should be more lecture based. While the flipped idea is fun, I think that for a class with this much information, we need a lecture"
This is actually one of my favorite quotes. While I couldn't agree more that an undergraduate biochemistry course meant to prepare both pre-med and pre-graduate students for their post-baccalaureate careers does cover an immense amount of material, I believe this, in particular, is one of the biggest reasons this course begs to be flipped. By incorporating engaging lecture videos (yes something I need to work on), text readings, and challenging/provoking in class activities, we as flipped instructors, can encourage our students not only to gain fundamental knowledge they need to "make the grade" but to develop the skills they need in order to apply that knowledge critically allowing them to derive new connections and new ideas in their future careers.
At BSC, our mission statement specifically says "Birmingham-Southern College prepares men and women for lives of significance. The College fosters intellectual and personal development through excellence in teaching and scholarship and by challenging students to engage their community and the greater world, to examine diverse perspectives, and to live with integrity." If I were to simply "concentrate on the things we absolutely have to know" as some of my students have request, I would not be living up to the expectations of the college, and even to the students themselves. While flipping the class, such as a biochemistry course, may not seem to have instant gratification for the instructor, I do believe my students will (eventually) see the benefit of this course. In the meantime, let us continue to teach, assess, reflect, and modify!!
No, no, no.. I am not verbally expressing dismay with Biochemistry, I am talking about a teaching method that has gained momentum in the STEM disciplines recently: Flipping the class. Instead of spending class time lecturing, students are given lecture materials and reading assignments to complete on their own time before class. This method allows class time can be spent working on practice problems, group learning activities or discussions. Since this was my first experience with a full lecture course of my own, and because I prefer active learning techniques, I decided "why the heck not!!" and dove head first into creating a flipped biochemistry course. The major advantages I have found for flipping the class is that we, as a class, now have time to delve deeper into the material, allowing my students to further develop their critical thinking, communication and creativity skills necessary for developing as life long learners. However, as rewarding as the results of a flipped classroom may be... there are still some major challenges... a flipped class is hard work (on both the instructor and the student)! So I wanted to spend some time describing the challenges of a flipped class, my method for flipping an advanced undergraduate chemistry course like biochemistry, and resources that can help you flip your own course.
Pre-Class: The Video Lecture
During Class: Group Learning
Because this is my first year teaching biochemistry, as well as my first year doing a flipped class, I have been devoting most of my time on the development of lectures and videos, and not on developing my own group learning activities. Thankfully, there are a number of great case studies, and group-learning activities already developed for Biochemistry. For this semester, I have been utilizing the POGIL workbook "Foundations of Biochemistry" and so far have been very pleased with both the level of challenge and the amount of time to complete the activities ( about 45 minutes). For units that do not match well to an activity in the biochemistry POGIL, I often turn to case studies provided by the textbook publisher or from the NSF Case Study Collection. As the semester continues, should I find an exceptionally good activity or design one, I will share it here!
After Class : Homework
To help reinforce the material from the text, lecture and group learning activities, I also offer my students weekly interactive homework assignments using Sapling Learning. This wonderful tool was first introduced to me by my colleague, Dr. Melanie Styers from the Department of Biology at BSC, who also utilizes this website for her Biochemistry course. At Sapling, instructors are able to design homework or practice assignments, as well as quizzes or exams from a bank of questions ranging in difficulty developed from the class' text book material by educational professionals. The instructor can set the point value and distribution as well as the number of times students can attempt a problem (and whether there is a point penalty for each attempt). Sapling also provides a range of review exercises, tutorials, hints, and answer solutions. Each instructor is paired with either a masters or PhD level teaching assistant with a background in the course material who can assist in developing the material as well. In addition to helping students further understand the material, students are able to access their course materials for as long as they are a student, allowing them to utilize this tool for professional school entrance exams such as the MCAT,
In addition to online homework, I also utilize current media or interesting studies related to the current unit's material to spur online discussions. And I have to say, these students do exceptionally well discussing topics such as the increased rate of the ebola virus genetic mutations, and the effect of climate change on specific ecosystems at the cellular level.
So far, I have really enjoyed this method of teaching. It has allowed me to cover the immense amount of material required for an undergraduate Biochemistry course, while at the same time allowing my students to further explore these topics much as graduate students would in a more advance course. That is not to say there hasn't been any push back, the students do realize they are working harder and doing more. However, my students are starting to realizing that instead of being challenged by the material for the first time in an exam, they are instead being challenged by the material for the first time while working in groups of their peers with unlimited resources at their hands. By learning how to solve real world simulations, delving deeper into the material, and learning how to work with their peers, my students are quickly gaining not only a working knowledge and understanding of Biochemistry, but also the skills necessary for becoming life long learners.
Some other bits of advice... don't be so hard on yourself, even in traditional lectures, the class doesn't always run as according to plan. You may run out of time, an activity may not have worked as well as you hoped, or you may finish waaaay to early and didn't prepare. So first, keep a teaching journal and immediately following class go back and right down what worked and what you could change for next year. If you finish early, never under estimate the power of classroom discussions, keep a few think-pair share questions on hand, a good one is to have students jot down 3 things they already know about the next unit's material, or have them come up with 3 possible exam questions. And always remember, if your students watched the lecture videos and read their assignments, then even if the day's group activity fail short of expectations, it was still above and beyond what they would have gotten from a traditional course.
Per my Facebook and Linkedin timelines, I started graduate school in mid August of 2009. Eager, brave and idealistic; I decided to dive head first back into academics to earn my PhD, mainly because it was always a life long goal of mine and partly because the idea of obtaining my PhD was intimidating (and I do not like to be intimidated). Now, five years later (almost to the day), the evening before my final defense, I find myself reflecting on the previous years and the path that has lead me now to this moment: sitting in my office at Birmingham-Southern College, avoiding even more practices of my final defense talk and preparing my first video lecture for class this fall....
Advice to new students
Recently, a 2nd year graduate student in the department asked for my one piece of survival advice and without hesitation, I responded simply "Perseverance!". You can also call it "determination", "tenacity", the recently popular term "grit", and some may call it "stubbornness"; however you term it, you know what it is. It is that somewhat large rock that rolls around in the bottom of your stomach when things just do not seem to go right, and forces you or reminds you to never give up. This trait, or "grit", has actually been a recent topic of conversation for those in education. As educators, and hopefully as students, we understand that success in college is largely dependent on both self-discipline, dedication, determination, and yes, grit. But how can we teach "grit"... and how can we measure "grit"?... If this is one of the most important tools with which to equip my students, how is it possible? Let them fail.. over and over and over? Inundate them with work work work? Demonstrate the value of what they are doing even if those around them are saying "just give up!"??? How can i do these things without them throwing their hands up in the air in despair and walking away? Easy. Let them partake in research.
An authentic research project, one in which the student is passionate and has a stake in, where the student had a part in developing, implementing and disseminating the project, can allow us as educators to "teach" grit. In research the student, if he or she feels a personal or professional stake in the project, will work tirelessly despite failures and obstacles to complete and answer the research question successfully. Often times, that answer is complicated, and more questions than answers tend to arise, but always the student is proud! Proud of his or her accomplishment, and instead of being nervous or afraid of presenting their work, he or she is excited and anxious; ready to answer questions and receive feedback from faculty and peers.
Always more questions...
Even though research is a great tool for teaching students "grit"... we still have trouble measuring it. Sure we can say "Sally never gave up" or "Tom just kept at it till he figured it out", but at this moment, I don't think there are any quantitative measures for "grit". And it may not have quantitative levels. It may just be a "pass/fail" attribute, but surely everyone has their limits. I may make a great Chemistry Professor, and I may have survived graduate school, but I do not think I have the mental or physical perseverance and dedication to be a Navy Seal. Also, can we give each and every student that comes through our department their own authentic research experience? How do we reach those students? Internships? Work study? I don't know these answers yet. However, I am thankful to be an instructor within the STEM disciplines, that I do have "research" as a tool for instruction, to help me prepare young scientists who are dedicated and stubborn!
Here's to the future, whatever it may hold, I will face it with pure GRIT!
The first day of class sets the tone for the entire semester, this same principle can also be applied for the first day of a project in industry. Commonly, on the first day of class students file in, excited knowing that it will be short class while they (sometimes) listen as the instructor goes over the syllabus, describes how the class works and expectations, so on and so on. Sometimes students will be able to introduce themselves, if class size and time permits, but usually its just a passive experience of watchful waiting till they are dismissed.
Hi, my name is.....
Last semester in my Current Research Methods in Chemistry course (CH201), I decided to break the ice utilizing more active learning techniques. After a brief, and I mean brief, introduction of myself, I had students introduce themselves with their name, major, and after school goals (grad school, med school, industry, etc). Because this class only consists of 10-15 students, this is easily do-able. For larger classes, this introduction could still be used utilizing current technology from polling software such as polleverywhere.com , clickers, and social whiteboards such as padlet.com.
Grouping it up!
After introductions, I went into a brief explanation of the course, why the course is important. A large portion of CH201's grade is based on a semester long group project so I take the time in this class meeting to set up groups. Now the instructor has a few ways in which students can be divided into groups such as allowing the students to form their own groups or assigning groups randomly. I decided to merge group formation with another active introduction technique : "mix to rank". Here, students had to form a line, ranking themselves based on their previous research experience from most experienced to least or none. Again, this is a technique easily employable in a small classroom size such as CH201, and allows students to talk and get to know about each other's previous research experience AND gets them up, out of their seat and moving after having to sit and listen to me drone on and on about the course syllabus for 15 minutes. Again, if you are in a larger class, you can use polling software or clickers to try and discern previous experience or knowledge. Once the students are ranked, I then have them count off 1 through 3 or 1 through 4 depending on class size. All the people with the same numbers are then in a group. This allows for an even distribution of research experience within the groups, so that each groups has someone with lots of experience, someone in the middle and someone with little or none.
Shhhhh. It's quiet time.
Now that we have groups formed, introductions made, and have gone over the syllabus and course expectations, it was time to get them thinking. WHAT... wait? You make students think on the first day of class? Yes, In class time is precious on the college campus, its the only time we as instructors have where we can focus on our students 100% without distraction of research, faculty, administration, etc. So I try to pack as much into each class as I can. Do I want to overload my students? No, so I try to employ as many active learning techniques so that the students can learn through guided activities without feeling overwhelmed or without getting bored from listening to me yammer on and on about the scientific method. In this activity to help teach students the elements of a good experiment, I employed "silent discussions". In this activity each group of students (formed previously from the "mix and rank" activity) are instructed to pick a team leader, handed a stack of post-it notes and sharpies, and are instructed to write words or phrases on at least 5 post-it notes per person that describe the elements of a good experiment. And they are to do this without saying one single word to each other. Once the words/phrases are written, students then arrange the notes on a whiteboard or wall into categories... again in complete silence. Once each group is satisfied with their groupings, the team leader is allowed to do one final rearrangement at his or her discretion, again without talking. In the end, the team leader from each group reads the words/phrases and explains why they are grouped together. This activity then naturally progressed into a whole group discussion about what makes a good experiment good, and got them thinking about what general elements or factors they need to consider in their upcoming research project. If this class size is too large or the course is online this activity can easily be adapted with virtual whiteboards such as padlet.com,
Reflect and Adapt
So now the students were so engrossed in our discussion that we didn't just run out of time, we ran over by 10 minutes before anyone realized. On the first day of class! That, to me was, a huge success. I was able to engage 15 freshman chemistry students for an ENTIRE hour (and 10 minutes) on the first day of class, got them talking to each other, sharing research experiences, discussing the scientific method and thinking about their future projects. At the end of class, I had students share and record their group's contact information (which ever they are comfortable giving) and sent them off on their way till next time!
Upon reflection of this class meeting, I have been pondering ways in which to adapt this course for an online environment. I believe everyone agrees that the undergraduate research experience is an invaluable aspect of college life, but those who are distance learners are at a serious disadvantage if they are unable to participate in research. In order to achieve this, I think i need to first reflect on each class day by day. To adapt the first day, we could hold a synchronous class through a platform like Blackboard Collaborate where students can still introduce themselves using video and audio feed just as we do in the face to face class. We can still share information about previous research experience, and even rank students with polling questions, and can even still form groups for classroom activities. The group project however may be difficult due to location barriers and each student may then have to do an individual project or if location allows, groups can form based on location. The "silent discussion" activity can still easily work on an online platform by utilizing either Blackboard's whiteboard in Collaborate or by using padlet.com. And then we can try to moderate discussions by "raising hands" so that not everyone talks at once and we just end up with noise and feedback.
As an educator, researcher, wife and mother, I am dedicated to developing and assessing innovations in chemistry education, medical diagnostics, and the biophysical characterization of non-helical DNA structures found in the non-coding regions of the genome.