Flipping Intro Chem: Midterm Observations

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[Originally Published March  2015]

Last March, I took a few moments to collect my thoughts mid-semester. As we head into a new semester, I offer these reflections from mid-spring: I hope the insights offered will be beneficial to you:

March, 2014: This semester, I’ve been flipping my Intro Chem course. As we’ve just completed the midterm, I’d like to stop and look back down the mountain. What’s worked? What hasn’t?

Observation #1: It’s a dumb idea to bring a camera crew the first week of class

I wrote about how video lessons lack the spontaneity and fun of being in a classroom full of students. In order to fix this, I wanted to try filming my class, and then compare the live versus tablet-only presentation style. So, I contacted the folks in the TV production department, who graciously agreed to film my class the first week. This didn’t work well for a couple of reasons: First, with my white Powerpoint projected onto the screen, the lighting was all wrong. More importantly, I think the presence of two cameras in the first week of class created an intimidating environment. I’m usually pretty good at helping students relax and speak up in class, but this dampened the tone of the class at the outset, and I’ve struggled the rest of the semester to get my class to engage.

Observation #2: There and Back Again

Maybe because of the first week, or maybe other factors, but my biggest challenge this semester has been getting students to speak up in class. Early in the semester, I used class time to work problems as a group, but the dynamic just wasn’t working. Frustrated, I even tried going back to lecture. The trouble is, if people are not going to speak up during recitation-style problem solving, they’re certainly not going to speak up during a lecture. Ultimately, what seems to work best for this crew is to bring a set of problems, and have them work in small groups. More people are comfortable asking for help in this environment, and students seem to be learning more from this structure.

Observation #3: Don’t Spoonfeed - Challenge!

In my Organic 2 Lab course this semester, I’ve built pre-lab videos followed by an online quiz - and the students are more engaged and prepared than I’ve ever seen before.

With my Intro class, however, I didn’t build in pre-class quizzing - and I really wish I had. Putting all of my lecture content online has been an incredible amount of work for me, and it’s disheartening when only a handful of students have even looked at the material before class. And I think students are more passive if they know they can access the video content the night before the test.

Next time I teach this course, I plan to use our online homework system (Sapling Learning) to build pre-class quizzes for each flipped topic, so I can make sure students are watching the video content before class. I already feel like the online homework is my best tool to challenge and engage students (I typically have 80-90% completion rates, even in Intro Chem). If I can use these graded assignments to help students prepare before class, I think we can really raise the bar.

And you?

I’d love to hear from everyone in the comments section. Have you run into these challenges? What solutions have worked for you?

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.