An Interview with Heath Giesbrecht, part 1

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[originally posted January 2015]


Heath Giesbrecht teaches intro, general, and organic chemistry at Houston Community College-Southeast College.  He came across my radar because of his terrific library of teaching videos on YouTube.  He has some of the best whiteboard presentations I've seen, and covering a wide array of topics.  I'll be adding some of these to the Tools and Resources section over the coming weeks.


I had an opportunity to talk with Heath recently, and am happy to share the conversation here:


  1. Heath, your video library is fantastic.  How did you get started with this? 


Thanks, Kevin! As a chemistry educator myself, I really appreciate what you are doing on, so the compliment means a lot coming from you. I want to start off by saying that more than anything I am happy to have been able to produce a library of videos that so many people, students and instructors alike, have expressed to me they found useful. The response from everyone has been wonderful.


In Spring 2010, while I was teaching chemistry at a different institution, I was assigned to develop and teach an online Introductory Chemistry class. While working on this project, I felt the project necessitated me to record videos of the live lectures from my face-to-face class for the online version, both for consistency and impartiality. These lectures lasted about 1-1 ½ hours and consisted of my voice over the PowerPoint slides. Honestly, the student response in the online class to these long videos was poor to say the least. This led me to start thinking of and pursuing alternative ways to engage the students online.


I started to experiment with recording short videos, either as a mini-lecture, a laboratory demonstration, or a solved problem format, with the camera recording me at the whiteboard in front of my class. The students found these to be more appealing and attention-grabbing than the monotonous voice-over lectures, and were enthusiastic to get me to record videos in this style during class and office hours. Students from my other courses found out that I was making these videos for the Intro class and many of them requested that I record videos for their classes (ie. General Chemistry I/II, Organic I/II). I was excited to do so, particularly because of their overall enthusiasm. Unfortunately, two years down the road, I was informed by the DE & IT Director that the sheer number of videos was beginning to overload the college’s server and they would have to be deleted. After losing several hundred of them, I was compelled to move the whole of the collection to YouTube without thinking much about the external impact of the decision.


After two months from the time I posted them, I had more views on my videos using the YouTube channel, than I had for two years while they were on the institution’s server and their popularity continues to grow three years later. When I first established my YouTube channel there were very few channels or videos that had been created by professionals; most of the channels I found around that time were created by amateurs and had many mistakes and inconsistencies. When I started receiving questions and thank you comments from chemistry students all over the world I knew I had to continue not only because I loved teaching chemistry, but because of the free help that the channel was noticeably providing.

2.  How many videos have you produced?


Whenever my students want me to record one for them I’ll do it, as a result I’m regularly adding videos to the library. I know for sure the channel has more than 1100 videos.

3.  How long does it take you to produce each one?


What the viewer gets with my videos is essentially the raw class recordings of a single lecture topic or example problem, hopefully containing a few student responses and maybe a few questions at the end from the students who prompted the recording.


Since I am not very technologically savvy, save for cropping the end of a few of my videos, I refrain from editing them, thus saving me a significant amount of time. In other words, when a student wants me to record a video, I just walk up to the camera, push the record button, work through a problem during class or office hours, and finally upload the video to the YouTube channel. Overall, from initially pressing record to having the completed video uploaded takes about ten minutes for the average five minute video, if I am only doing one. Usually though, I record several videos on the same day, so before I leave work, I begin uploading and they will be on the channel when I return the next morning. So, really the recording time is the longest portion of the process.

4.  How do you use these with your classes?


For my classes, the YouTube content is used in specific course-dependent ways.


In my hybrid courses, my students do not come to class for a lecture section at all, so the videos are used as the exclusive lecture material. I have complete sets of videos for Introductory Chemistry, General Chemistry I and II, and Organic I, so I can and do teach all of these courses in the hybrid format.


In my face-to-face classes, I use the videos strictly as supplementary material. In saying that, I allow my students the ability to choose individually several format options while attending the class. The way I structure my 3 hour lecture period is as follows, 1-1 ½ hours of lecture then problem solving sessions for the rest of the period. Accordingly, if a student prefers the traditional lecture style, they will come for the beginning of class. If they prefer the flipped style where we go over things like extra problem sets, homework, and practice exams, the student has the option to skip the lecture portion and only come when we are working on the worksheet material. This is the time I often find my students wanting me to record videos. Finally, if a student prefers the hybrid format and has signed up for the face-to-face class, I allow them to watch the lecture videos and only come in for the labs, quizzes, and exams. Conversely, if the student prefers the face-to-face format and has signed up for a hybrid class, they are able to sit in on another section if they so choose.

5.  Which of your classes do you flip?

Introductory Chemistry, General Chemistry I and II, and Organic I can all be flipped solely with the video content I have created. I am also working on completing the set of Organic II videos and I envision that I will be able to flip it within the next couple of semesters.
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About the Author
Kevin Revell received his bachelor's degree from the University of New Orleans in 1995, then his Master's Degree in Organic Chemistry from Iowa State in 2000. After several very formative years working in the pharmaceutical industry, he decided to go into education, and from 2002-2006 he taught chemistry at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. Following completion of his Ph.D. from the University of South Florida in 2006, Kevin joined the faculty at Murray State University in Murray, KY. Kevin's research interests include organic synthesis and functional organic materials. He loves to teach, and is increasingly interested in science education in flipped and online class settings. He and his wife Jennifer have 3 kids, and they stay busy between family, church, school, and playing basketball in the driveway.