Flipping Prelabs

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[originally posted fall 2014]

This past semester, I taught a three-credit, standalone laboratory course – Organic Laboratory II.  The class meets once a week, for five hours.   One of the biggest challenges for this course has been optimizing the pre-lab discussions.  If we talk about lab a week beforehand, students often forget the key details by the time the lab arrives.  On the other hand, if I we discuss immediately before lab, students tend to be much less prepared.  Either way, they spend far too much time figuring out what’s going on.

This year, I decided to flip the prelabs.  Each week, I made a short video overview of the experiment, featuring key ideas, reactions, mechanisms, safety, and technique.  You can see a sample of the videos below .   I made the videos available about 24 hours before the start of lab, and then include a prelab quiz which is due by the start of lab.   The quizzing can be done using the LMS (both Blackboard and Canvas offer quizzing), or through an online homework system – an especially handy option for labs which are integrated with the course.

Video Link : 1783

The results for this class were terrific.   I freed up more of the pre-lab classroom time for spectroscopy, multistep synthesis, and literature techniques, and, as a result, I was able to go deeper with this group than I ever have before.   And I could see a huge difference once we stepped into the lab:  Students know what they were doing, and hit the lab ready to go.

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.