Innovative Practices Spotlight

CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight

Dr. Steven Kennedy

Dr. Steven Kennedy, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

The Center for Academic Excellence is recognizing a faculty member each month in the CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight to highlight his or her innovative classroom practices and outstanding contribution to Millersville University.

Dr. Steven Kennedy is being recognized in October for his exceptional use of Flipped Classrooms and Blended Classrooms in his Organic Chemistry courses!

Please continue reading to learn more about Dr. Kennedy’s exciting experience and to learn ways to incorporate innovative practices into your classroom…

1. What innovative practice did you incorporate into your classroom?

I have been incorporating Flipped Classroom and/or Blended Classroom instructional methods into my organic chemistry courses: Advanced Organic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry 1 and Organic Chemistry 2. These strategies allow for more face-to-face class time for active learning, discussing examples that incorporate Bloom’s higher-levels, collaborative learning activities, and impromptu student presentations including informal peer questions and debate.

Flipped Classroom

For Advanced Organic Chemistry I use a fully inverted classroom model in which students watch up to two and a half hours of lecture videos prior to weekly face-to-face class meetings. To ensure that students actively watch all of the video content, I use a free site called EDpuzzle, which keeps students from fast forwarding. Each video has questions embedded. This formative assessment is invaluable for the student’s meta-cognitive analysis and for my evaluation of their learning.

During the weekly two and a half hour class meeting, a collaborative learning activity provides most of the instruction. Students break into pairs to work challenging problems related to the lecture videos. This requires them to apply, analyze, and synthesize both prior and new knowledge along with understanding obtained from the lecture videos.

As students work to solve their problems, I provide assistance by bridging prior knowledge from previous chemistry courses, just-in-time learning, and scaffold the student’s problem solving process as needed. This in-class format models the type of interactions, problem solving, and discussion that students will encounter as they move into industrial and/or graduate-level research groups. Although the course is inverted, student learning is still evaluated in the form of a traditional mid-term exam, a final exam, and a final presentation.

In my larger enrollment (60 to 70 students) Organic Chemistry courses I use a blended class model. Before the beginning of each textbook chapter in lecture, students are required to watch 10 to 15 minute pre-lecture videos in EDpuzzle and answer the embedded questions. The videos cover much of the lower-level content knowledge that students will need to understand the more difficult concepts of each chapter. The pre-chapter lecture videos supplement the traditional reading assignments; the videos are intended to help students prepare for lecture.

Making the videos is fast and relatively easy. I make the video content quickly using hand-drawn lecture-style notes. I record the short videos with a document camera and microphone connected to my computer. After uploading the raw footage to EDpuzzle, I add multiple-choice and short answer questions. From start to finish a 15-minute video and EDpuzzle assignment takes about one hour to create.

The videos open lecture time for more discussion, more examples of problems that illustrate complex concepts, and active learning activities. This course also benefits from online formative assessment. The online end-of-chapter assessment is intended to help the students and I evaluate learning outcomes prior to higher-stakes in-class quizzing and exams.

2. When did you implement the new practice into your classroom?

For Advanced Organic Chemistry the fully inverted design was implemented in Spring 2014, the first time I taught the course. For Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 it has been more of a gradual process. The courses have been blended—using D2L, online assessment including just-in-time learning resources, and TIPS—since Spring 2014, but Fall 2015 is the first that I have used pre-lecture videos with EDpuzzle.

3. Did the students willingly accept the use of the new practice? What were the reactions of the students?

In Advanced Organic Chemistry, many students are often intimidated at the first face-to-face class meeting. They like the videos, but they are not used to the group work, challenging problems, and presenting their thought process with limited preparation. After about three or four weeks, the initial anxiety to a completely different learning format has dissipated. By week five or six they start to have more fun with it. By the end of the course students seem to value the structure, time spent thinking about chemistry, and time spent learning how to verbally discuss complex chemistry problems.

In my current Organic Chemistry 2 course students are sharing mixed feedback about the pre-lecture videos and the online formative assessments. Some of the students have trouble seeing the value of what they consider to be extra work and more due dates. In order to manage student expectations, I actively attempt to create buy-in by periodically reminding them of the benefits.

In these sophomore-level courses, some students so strongly resist the non-traditional forms of instruction, that I maintain a contract for a course evaluation scheme. Students are allowed to opt out of all online work, pre-lecture videos, and instructional technology. On average a small percentage (about 10%) of the students choose to opt out.

4. How has the use of the new practice positively affected the classroom-learning environment?

In both courses, the majority of students arrive at class with a familiarity of vocabulary and content that we will discuss. During class, students ask more informed questions and are more likely to use correct language and vocabulary, as opposed to rudimentary forms of talking about organic chemistry. Students in my organic chemistry courses talk about chemistry with each other, study together, and are very willing to ask for guidance from other students and me when they need it.

5. How has the use of the new practice affected student engagement in the classroom and the level of participation?

I find that the pre-lecture videos help them stay much more engaged with course content. The extra weekly assignments (pre-lecture videos and online assessment) help them keep pace with the course. They seem less likely to cram. The majority of students participate in the online portions of my course.

Only in my Chemistry 231 and 232 courses do I see students opt out. To generalize, the few students that opt out seem to be three types. The first type of student is very good at metacognitive self-analysis and already knows how to effectively succeed in an organic chemistry course by studying almost every day of the semester and working (not memorizing) hundreds of problems over the course of the semester. The second type of student does not have the time and/or motivation to devote to the course and opts out because they cannot keep pace with the online assignments or the pace of the course. Unfortunately, there is also a third type of student that does not have the economic resources to purchase the required materials for the course.

6. What challenges did you encounter when you were implementing the new practice?

Student buy-in is the hardest challenge to overcome at the beginning of each semester. My hope is that the students will initially be more receptive to non-traditional learning methods as more instructors adopt instructional styles that incorporate learner centered, active learning, and inverted methods that employ instructional technology.

7. How did attending a CAE Professional Development or Information Technology session contribute to your learning and use of the innovative practice?

The CAE Professional Development and Information Technology Sessions have been invaluable to my development as a more effective and more confident teacher. Prior to my first interactions with the CAE during new faculty orientation, I had only a rudimentary understanding of pedagogical options. The CAE organizes multiple sessions, conferences, faculty learning communities and workshops, which have provided me with information and ideas concerning learning theory, active learning practices, learner centered teaching methods, instructional technology options, inverted course design (flipped classroom methods), and much more. From there, I have been able to more selectively choose chemical education resources that align with my teaching philosophy. I feel very fortunate that Millersville University is a place that so strongly values excellence in teaching, learning, and research.