Teaching methods that exemplify my philosophy

Instituted weekly recitation session for a general chemistry course. The general chemistry students at Oakwood University (OU) take the America Chemical Society (ACS) final exam. It is a standardized final exam that encompasses two semesters-worth of general chemistry.  To give the students more help with the material, I instituted weekly office hours and a 2 hour per week recitation session. Approximately 20 students showed up each week for the voluntary recitation sessions. I went through the lecture material and had students work out problems at the board. I also held ACS final exam review sessions in March and April. The students worked through old ACS exam questions on the following topics- lab chemistry and atomic structure, descriptive chemistry, molecular structure and bonding, stoichiometry and states of matter, solutions, electrochemistry/redox, and dynamics and equilibrium.  The average score on the ACS exam increased by 6 points and the number of high scores increased. Introducing additional office hours, recitation sessions, and final exam review were the major difference between the 2011-12 academic year and the 2012-13. Even with account for different student populations there is a trend to higher scores. These data suggest that my contributions attributed to better scores on the ACS final exam.

Adding in active learning to a graduate level pharmacology course. I taught as a lecturer for a graduate level pharmacology course. The students were first year PhD graduate students most from cancer biology and pathology specialties. The graduate student lectures are almost exclusive PowerPoint lectures by the professor and passive learning by the students. I was scheduled to teach the first lecture in the pharmacology course and had two hours to introduce pharmacology and Pharmacodynamics (the study of how a drug acts on the cell/body). I decided to supplement my lecture with two active learning components. This is rarely if ever done at the graduate school level.

Pharmacodynamics flash card matching. I explained the different ways a drug can act upon a drug target, I handed out cards with either a picture of a receptor interacting with a drug or the name of a drug-receptor interaction and had my students match the appropriate pairs. This allows students the time to think about the content that was taught and make connections between the different drug-receptor interactions.

Jigsaw discussion of oliogonucleotide-based therapies. The second activity was a jigsaw. I split the class up into groups of 4 members each. All of the groups read the introduction and each group read one section of a review on oliogonucleotide-based therapies. After reading the students discussed the section based on a set of questions I posted on the board. Then the groups were split up and reformed so that each group is now composed of one member from the original groups. The same questions are discussed a second time and each group member is an expert on his/her section.

After the first time I gave the lecture, I handed out evaluation forms at the end of class with the following questions and collected student responses. The responses given are exactly what the students wrote on the forms.

1. What did you like about today’s class? 2. What could be improved? 3. How do you think the activities went? Would you like to see more like them?
Interactive activities. (X3) More in depth lecture. Great, Yes (X2)
Group discussions. Nothing. (X3) Sure. Learned more this way
Activities. Be more loud. Yes! I felt like I learned more talking about it than hearing about it.
The interaction was helpful in understanding the topic. Give more examples in the lecture. (X2) They were fun. I’d like to see more of them.
Interaction and group discussion. Some of the cards for the matching exercise were difficult to interpret. I liked the activities. I would like to see more of these activities incorporated into lectures especially one similar to the first one.
Getting up and moving around definitely kept me awake and paying attention. The activities were a little chaotic and took a little too long. Possibly organize better so people aren’t milling about. It went well. It promoted collaboration which is exactly how the research field works. Yes more is better.
Broad introduction. The activities and group discussions. Better explanation of everything. Stay the same or decrease 2nd activity was more helpful
Group interaction was more interesting than the traditional didactic methods. More lecture time. Less activity time. (X2) First one was unnecessary, 2nd one was good
The activities and interactions did make everything more memorable. Provide learning objectives. I think they went well; you’re just dealing with people in the morning
Fun activities!   Went well could be better organized
Group activities engaged the students and allowed us to think through questions and answer them.   Better explanation of the subject before the activity. But definitely more activities would be great
The first activity but not the second.   Went fine. Probably helps to have things stick. May not be good if this is sacrificing talking about other topics just to do the activities.

 Summary. Following my lecture I recorded what I thought went well and what needed to be improved. I did this before reading the student’s comments to make sure that I wasn’t biasing myself. I thought my lecture was rushed and did not have enough examples. It was clear that I needed to contextualize the concepts better but that the multiple choice questions went over well. The first activity was met with a lot of resistance. The second activity went over very well but by the end of it I could see that the students were losing interest.

Adapted the activities for the next year. Based on the feedback and my own reflections I made modification:

Flash cards. To increase visibility of all the cards, I decided to put tape on the backs of the flashcards so that the students could attach them to the board and discuss the matching while looking at all the cards at once. This really helped the students draw connections faster. I did not hand out evaluation forms after the second attempt so I do not have student based evaluations to compare between the first and second time, but, at the end of class one student approached me and profusely thanked me for changing up the way graduate school is being taught. He really appreciated the activities and said he learned a lot. I could also not compare if my teaching was more effective in the first or second year because the exam format was different for the two years (take home vs. In class).

Jigsaw. I decreased the amount of time the groups met and closely monitored the topic of discussion of each group to see when they were getting off task. The review article I used for these two years is now getting dated so I will likely pick a new topic/article for next year.

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