What Students Do to Help Themselves

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[Originally published by John Osterhout on August 17, 2015]

I polled the students in my flipped General Chemistry II class to see what they found useful for their studies. At the beginning of the Spring 2015 semester, we made a list of things they could do to help themselves learn chemistry. At the end of the semester I asked them to rate the things that we discussed. Here are some of the results. This post is a follow up to my earlier post The Flipped Classroom: To Video or Not to Video.

My Flipped Class

After a class, I post a handout on Blackboard that contains the reading assignments and the learning objectives for the next class. The handout also contains a brief introduction (which few student read) and a list of vocabulary words. When I can find appropriate content, I provide links to videos. The videos that I have used include ChemTours (Norton), ThinkWell videos (Cengage) and Khan Academy videos (more about the videos later). Online homework covering the material in the reading assignment is due the night before each class. I assign on average about six problems, although the number varies depending upon the material. In class, the first exercise is a quiz that has five questions about the assigned material, two questions over the previous day's material and a bonus question that is extra credit. The students have been told that the first quiz question covers the first learning objective and so on down the list. The quizzes consist of the simplest possible questions that relate to the day's learning objectives. The role of the quiz is mostly to see if the students made any effort to internalize the learning objectives. The students work in groups of four for the quizzes and I observe that this engenders some lively discussions. After the quiz, I give the students a worksheet that contains more complicated problems. The worksheet is also done in groups of four. I spend the class time walking around the classroom helping the groups as requested. I post the answers to the quiz and worksheet questions on Blackboard. These became available a few minutes after the end of class. The next homework assignment contains problems from the previous class's material and from the new material for the next class. All of the sections of General Chemistry take group exams so the students are tested over the material on the same day using the same exam.

The Poll

Since there were no lectures or required video lectures, the emphasis was on the learning objectives. I tried to make it clear to the students in the beginning that it was up to them to figure out how to learn. At the beginning of the class, we listed off a set of resources that the student had at their disposal. The poll concerns which of these that the students used and which were useful. The question on the poll was: What did you do to help yourself? I asked them to rate each of the resources that we had discussed. There were five possible answers for each resource: A = Did not use, score = 0, B = Not useful, score = 1, C = A little useful, score = 2, D = Moderately useful, score = 3, and E = Most useful, score = 4. The average score = (0*A+1*B+2*C+3*D+4*E)/100. Forty-one students from my two sections of General Chemistry II took the poll. Not all of the students who were registered in the two classes took the poll.

The Answers



Use by Students (%)

Rank of 17

Worksheets & Keys




Daily Quizzes




Study with Other Students








Online Homework




Hard Copy Textbook








ACS Study Guide




Kahn Academy Videos




Evening Tutorial Sessions




Self-identified Videos




Office Hours




Tutoring Center




UC Davis Wiki




Thinkwell Videos




Online Textbook




Office Appointments




Notes on the resources: “Internet” was not further defined – it was meant as a catch-all for things internet but presumably not the tools named directly, such as Khan Academy Videos. The online homework was delivered the SmartWorks system from Norton. The textbook was Chemistry: The Science in Context, 4th Edition, Gilbert, Kirss, Foster, Daves, W. W. Norton & Compan, New York/London. The online textbook was delivered though the SmartWorks login. ChemTours were short (less than 10 minutes usually) animated tutorials on chemical topics assessed through the SmartWorks system. ThinkWell videos are longer, lecture-like videos from Cengage. Khan Academy videos were either assigned or found by the students. I gave two tutorial sessions per week for one hour from 5 pm to 6 pm on Monday and Wednesday and had four scheduled office hours 1-2 pm (before the chem labs) on Monday through Thursday. Office appointments were tutoring outside my regular office hours scheduled in advance by the students. The UC Davis ChemWiki was listed in the beginning as a resource. The Tutoring Center is run by Angelo State University, and ususally has a chemistry tutor present.

The Fate of Videos

In my previous post, I asked “Do the students need to have knowledge spoken to them in order to learn?” During the Spring semester the students could use four different types of videos: ThinkWell, ChemTours, Khan Academy and other, self-identified videos. The videos were far down in the rankings: ChemTours (7th), Khan academy (9th), Self-identified (11th), and ThinkWell (15th). There seems to be a correlation here with length: the ChemTours were the shortest, the Khan Academy generally longer and the ThinkWell videos were forty-five minutes plus, covered big chunks of content, and were made to replace classroom lectures, which they strongly resembled. In talking with colleagues, I find that they echo this result: students won't willingly watch long videos outside class. In the beginning of my flipping experiments, my students complained bitterly that I didn't lecture. When provided with lecture-like videos, they won't use them.

The Most Useful – The Top Six

  1. Worksheets and Keys. I posted the keys to the daily worksheets immediately after the class ended. The keys provided examples of five or six worked out problems per day for the students. Many students made notebooks of the keys, some simply corrected their own worksheets.
  2. Daily quizzes. The keys for these were posted along with those for the worksheets. These also provided sources of problems to study.
  3. Study with other students. I meant this to mean “out of class” study with other students but many may have construed this as “group work in class” as well. Next time I'll make the choices more explicit.
  4. Internet. Where would we be without the internet? I know from talking with the students that they used the internet to search for solutions for their online homework, for explanations of the learning objectives, and for clarification of the textbook.
  5. Online homework. Talking to the students, you would think that the online homework was the work of the devil. Then it winds up in the top five—go figure. I use the homework to trap the students into engaging the material before they have the quizzes and worksheets in class. If nothing else, they must do some kind of preparation in order to be able to do the homework problems.
  6. The hard-copy textbook. Most of the students bought a hard-copy book. They all had access to the ebook through their online homework system. I was pleased to see that the textbook scored as highly as it did. As time stumbles on, I feel that the students are becoming less capable of or at least less willing to use books as learning tool.

The Least Useful – The Bottom Five

  1. The tutoring center. I was surprised that the utilization of the tutoring center (44%) was as high as it was, but a utilization of 44% had the effect of lowering the score, since "did not use" = 0 score.
  2. The UC Davis Chem Wiki. The students had a hard time navigating the wiki. They couldn't find the appropriate information by searching the wiki and when they did, the answers were too involved or the nomenclature was too different from the textbook to be useful.
  3. ThinkWell videos. As a professor, I think these are great. The students, not so much. The knock on these videos is that they are too long (45 minutes plus). Why forgo lectures in a flipped classroom if you just have to sit through them outside class?
  4. Online textbook. About four students brought laptops to class and used the online textbook in class. The rest brought or shared a hard copy book. There were a few students who tried to use their cell phones to access their textbooks, which proved difficult since the screen is so small and since I outlaw cell phone use in class.
  5. The big loser, office appointments. Two students used office appointments regularly because my regular office hours conflicted with their classes. The others would mainly drift in before the exams for a quick tune-up. Note on office hours in general: only one male came to my office hours during the entire semester. This has been my experience over a number of years and seems to the be the experience of others as well. The ratio of women to men in my evening tutorials was about 6:1.

Moving Forward

I can correlate these data with the grades and with scores on the American Chemical Society final exams. I am sorting through the data now. I can tell you this: there is not a simple correlation between the number of resources used and the final grade. I will look at what the A and B students found useful and compare that to the student will lower grades. I'll let you know how it turns out.

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.