Moving Toward the Flip

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[Originally posted 8/29/14]

Lecture format used to be the teaching standard. In fact, I became an educator because I loved to lecture! Like an artist/entertainer, I find great enjoyment formulating analogies, developing examples, and articulating concepts to a live audience. However, in the last 12 years, pedagogical research has forced me to question the lecture format, and technology has changed student-teacher interaction, assignments, course structure, textbooks, and dissemination of information. Teaching innovations are being introduced at an unprecedented rate. The days of teaching uniformity, as was created by lecture and paper, are likely over!


I am still not convinced any single teaching approach (new or old) is best, let alone best for everybody. Although I'm experimenting with in-class group work and the "flipped" classroom, I am not completely divorced from lecture. The more I talk with people, the more I realize most are developing their own composite style. There is wisdom in diversity and strength in flexibility.


For years I have prepared daily lectures with daily reading assignments and homework problems. Structure was provided by one PowerPoint file for each lecture day, forcing me to stay on task. In addition, this structure allowed an easy (but time consuming) transition to a "flipped" classroom. All "lectures" were already organized and prepared, I just needed to convert them into a "flipped" format. This new format allowed students to better review course content and come prepared to class, or so was the intent. Apparently, a daily reading assignment from the textbook with lecture PowerPoint files online are not enough to prepare the student for a chemistry class. The current YouTube-viewing generation does not want to read (as much as it hurts me to say), they want a video.

Changing It Up


Last year I prepared 40-min videos of all my Quantitative Analysis lectures using my iPad and the Doceri app. I experimented with ShowMe, Explain Everything, Educreations, Vittle, and ScreenChomp; but nothing seemed to have the versatility offered by Doceri. Although the app was free, the price to remove the water mark ($5), and the software to interface with a computer ($30) made it the most expensive. The app allows for a quick upload of PowerPoint files as screen shots, saved and animated annotations, and recorded presentations before, or even during, class.


The most significant challenge I have had teaching Quantitative Analysis was finding classroom time for practice problems, and for the last 10 years, this has been the greatest student complaint. With pre-class lecture videos, classroom time was partitioned into 20 min of group discussion with submission of lecture questions using, 20 min of a short lecture (recorded using Doceri) specifically focusing on lecture questions, and 20 min of group practice problems different from homework. I was surprised to find the majority of students staying after class and continuing to work problems until lab started 15 min later.

Early Results


About mid-semester, several students participated in a focus group sponsored by the university to evaluate the class. I quickly learned most students found 20 min of group discussion ineffective. Most requested more lecture and more in class practice. For the second half of the semester group discussion was limited to 10 min. I was encouraged by the format when the students scored the highest I have seen on the American Chemical Society final exam!


Shortly after preparing lecture videos for Quantitative Analysis, I prepared lab videos for general chemistry to help students prepare for lab. These videos included a "chalk talk", Excel instructions, and lab photos. This improved the students preparedness, slightly reduced the time students spent in lab, and allowed for more in-class time to review and work practice problems. A colleague recently adopted the same lab videos for general chemistry.


The most common objection to the Quantitative Analysis videos was their length. So I encouraged the students to watch the videos at 1.5x or 2x speed (a simple fix), and many were satisfied. However, when recently preparing lecture videos of all second-semester general chemistry PowerPoints, I decided to keep them to 20 min. This was accomplished by being more efficient with my script and having all of my annotations prepared ahead of time. These videos will be used for the first time fall 2014. Wish me the best!


I plan to continue experimenting with a blend of ideas. I will continue with the "flipped" format for a while, but I don't believe I will ever completely leave the lecture.


About the Author
David C. Collins earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Weber State University in 1997 and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Brigham Young University in 2001. After a short stint as an assistant professor at Weber State University teaching forensic science, he worked as an assistant professor of chemistry at Colorado State University - Pueblo from 2003-2006. While in Colorado, he additionally worked summers as a visiting scientist at Palmar Technologies. Currently he teaches chemistry and conducts separation science research at Brigham Young University - Idaho. Publications include both scientific and pedagogical articles, including forensic science educational material. David has a great interest in chemistry pedagogy. He was honored in 2005 with the Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, and in 2013 with an Exemplary Faculty Award from Brigham Young University - Idaho.