Thursday, December 6, 2007

Some thoughts on Course Preparation

So here I am, with a month left before I teach my first Chemistry course solo. I've TA'd Organic Chemistry lab courses in graduate school, so that's pretty much old hat to me, but taking the reigns for a lecture course is a new and different thing for me. I'll be teaching Chemistry 101, Elementary Chemistry for the Spring I 2008 term. It's the Chemistry course for non-Chemistry majors. We have 8 week terms, so I'll have to squeeze in a 14-week semester course into those 8 weeks. I'll have to be innovative - TPTB want me to teach this as a "Blended" course, relying heavily on Blackboard - class "meets" two days/week, 8 hours total. Only 4 of those hours is actual face time; the rest 4 hours will be "virtual" time. I've decided I was going to use "virtual" class time to have the students download lectures in PowerPoint format. I'm going to ask them to visit the website for their textbook for extra on-line quizzing to ensure they're picking up the material. I'm also going to require them to participate in an on-line discussion forum through Blackboard, and to ensure they do that, they will be marked on the extent of their participation.

Dr. Andrew Bryan at the Main Campus is doing his Blended Course opposite to me - he's designing experiments that students will be able to do at home, with a Chemistry 101 Lab Kit they made available for their students. He showed me the cutest portable balance. The cost is reasonable, and after they finish the course, the balance may find uses elsewhere (for me, the Foodie, I'm thinking kitchen). However, I'm not all that comfortable with the thought of having students try to do experiments on their own. But on the other hand, I'm not all that comfortable leaving the students to their own devices as far as picking up the material is concerned either. I will do a one-hour lecture on days we meet in class, but really just to hit the highlights (or the lowlights, if you're not a Chemistry fan), and to give the students the opportunity to ask any questions they have on materials in the PowerPoint files and/or the textbook, as well as to give them a chance to ask questions on homework I've assigned. I may also use that time to administer exams, although there is also the option of having students take their exams on-line.

Most of the face time will be spent doing labs in-class. I just took inventory of materials and such we have in the lab that would be appropriate for Chemistry experiments. We are sorely lacking in materials, so I'm going to have to get cracking as to what experiments we can do with our limited equipment, as well as what equipment we would have to get in the first place just to ensure we'd be able to teach the course so as to be beneficial to the students.

At this point, I hear four students have registered for the course. Most of the registration, however, will take place over the next couple of weeks, so that number could very easily rise, but I believe TPTB will cap the class size to 20, maximum.

We'll see what happens. I only hope I can do the course justice, and that the students will come away from the course with an appreciation of Chemistry, and that it is not the scary science that many non-Chemists seem to believe that it is.


John C. Fowler said...

My advice, as someone who has never done this. :-) Classes like this often have a segment of students who really don't care about the material but are just there because the school makes them take it. If you can aim at this segment and make them interested, it usually makes things interesting for the whole class. I would start with a "look at some of the cool things you can do with chemicals, which we'll be explaining later" kind of show, like you did at the Fair. Then, you can come back to that, as each bit of material comes up explaining why all this stuff works the way it does.

One thing to keep in mind for home experiments is that some students have small children, so be sure to explain any dangers involved.

Lyn F. said...

Hi John,

Thanks for commenting. Yes, that is the intention. It's a shame I'm limited by the Blended Course requirement as it was my hope that I could have made some of our showpiece Chemistry Demonstrations a part of the lecture. The text we're using, however, appears to be good about applying Chemistry to real world situations, so I will be aided greatly by that.

I won't be doing the home experiments though, and I've decided that whatever exams I administer to the students will be on-line, to ensure that they are "attending" their Virtual Class Days and not just skivving off.

Oh, and the students I will be teaching will be the non-traditional students, most, if not all of whom, have full-time jobs as I'm doing this through Campbell University's Extended Campus Education programme.