Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Drawbacks of Blended Courses

Somehow, I figured I would receive a comment like this.
Suggestion: As we begin to get further into the term with this class the chapters are beginning to get harder. I myself believe that we should go over the chapters that we are assigned including some examples to explain more in detail about each chapter. I know you ask the class as a whole if they have questions about the chapters and everything but if you don't understand some the material how can you ask a question when you do not know where to start from. The labs are alright but I myself think that we should spend less time with them put more focus on the chapters even though we are reading them outside of class and having exams on them. [...] This is just my opinion about class and assignments.
I had a dilemma when I was asked to teach Chemistry 101 (Elementary Chemistry) and its associated lab, Chemistry 101L this term. It's an 8-week course. The class meets for 4 hours once a week, and the other day is supposed to be "virtual class time," in which they log into Blackboard to download PowerPoint presentations and the like. At this point, I am leaving the face-to-face class time for discussion of previous chapters/homework, sometimes quizzes and exams, and then leaving the majority of the time for the labs, whilst leaving more detailed PowerPoint presentations for the students to download and peruse during their Virtual Class Time. They also have a Participation requirement in that they are to post thoughts, questions, and the like on the Discussion Board that comes along with Blackboard. I also remind them, constantly, that they may feel free to contact me at any time with questions (giving them only my email address, as well as my Skype username as their means to contact me).

I had been rather uncomfortable with this, because honestly, Chemistry is not an easy subject to grasp when left to one's own devices, as the set-up of this Blended Course is doing. Dr. Bryan over at Campbell University's Main Campus has the opposite thought from me: design the labs such that the students will be able to conduct their experiments at home, using a kit they purchase from the bookshop (I think he said it costs something like $75 - $100 or thereabouts), and leaving face-to-face class time for lectures and exams.

I was hoping to make this work, but I also understand that students who may be struggling with the material might find this set-up to be rather frustrating. I can sense a sense of frustration from my students, especially as they are quite disappointed with their performances in exams. (Dare I tell them that when I was taking GenChem a lifetime ago at UCSD, the classes consistently averaged ca. 40-45% on exams? This lot is averaging in the 70% range. C range, I realise, but then again, I had the impression that the profs strived to have their classes average a C so that only the truly extraordinary would excel, and the average do, well, average.)

I've been asked to teach Chemistry 111/111L (Introductory Chemistry for Science Majors), as well as Chemistry 227 (Organic Chemistry) during the Summer 2008 term. Again, it will be for an 8-week term, which may prove to be an advantage, considering the other universities would be offering similar courses over an intensive 5-week term. What makes me uncomfortable, especially as far as Organic Chemistry is concerned, is that these are to be Blended Courses (50% of the course is administered on-line through Blackboard). These are not easy courses to grasp in this manner, and both have traditionally been face-to-face courses. As far as Organic is concerned, I've always told my students that studying Organic Chemistry is akin to studying a foreign language. Plus, trying to learn what is essentially a 3-dimensional science in 2-dimensions adds to the difficulty.

So I wonder if there are any successful models out there of Blended General and/or Organic Chemistry courses. I want to be a source of help to the students, and to encourage them to do well in these courses; the last thing we need is widespread discouragement if this model doesn't work very well.

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