The Information Age and the Flipped Chemistry Classroom

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This story originally appeared on the Wildcat Parents website.

The great musician, Duke Ellington, once played a song titled “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” I am constantly reminded of this, looking at my yearly faculty photos, where I see myself gradually transforming into a gnome! We almost take it for granted that we can access massive information storehouses wherever and whenever we want.

Through the years, I have realized that I am no longer the primary gatekeeper and information-distributer of chemistry, because access to chemical content is not a problem. My tasks now focus on helping students take the massive amounts of data and distilling it to what is critical, modeling the application of the knowledge and helping identify the questions that need answering. I also want to work myself out of a job, helping my scholars transform from students to peers, and I desire to be an effective mentor to every one of my students, something that requires quality relationships.

So how does a cute, often misunderstood, physical chemistry professor such as myself, take into account all of these factors and change with the times? Well, I am slowly but surely “flipping” my classrooms. This teaching method seeks to maximize learning by moving the content delivery online, where students can be more self-paced in their digestion of the material, and utilize class time to focus on student-centered active learning. In effect, we flip the focus of when and where the critical content delivery and active application occurs in the course.

In my new Chemistry 110: Fundamentals of Chemistry course, I produced 29 videos, averaging about 30 minutes each, that my students work on before coming to class. It is amazing the technology and software available to us. I utilized Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Photoshop, PresenterMedia.com., Adobe Premiere Pro, Echo360.com for visuals, sounds, and accessibility. More than 300 problems, lectures quizzes, reading quizzes, online homework problems and online tests were added to Pearson’s MasteringChemistry site.

The in-class portion of the course involves quizzes, group sessions, electronic polling, and my favorite, chemical demonstrations! Class includes group discussion, homework questions, and short clarifications of content. I often facilitate discussion, and constantly work the room, helping individual students understand and apply the chemistry. The new teaching spaces available to us in the E. Craig Wall Jr. Academic Center have made this type of learning viable and natural. Class has variety, is dynamic and is sometimes loud and definitely more productive.

The results are measureable. Student lecture notes are of higher quality, and more material is covered in the course. Questions and discussions are at a higher level, and I get to hear everyone’s voice. The average overall percentage grade in the class is higher, but more importantly, the standard deviation in the percentage grades are about 35 percent smaller, resulting in higher grade point averages across the board.

My course now has a modern, relevant edge to it, and I feel I have a better chance of connecting with every student in the class. Yes, things ain’t what they used to be … but I can say in the context of my classroom, that’s a good thing.

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Durwin Striplin

Professor Durwin Striplin teaches courses in analytical and physical chemistry.

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