University of Wisconsin–Madison

Chemistry 311 Active Learning

What I wanted:

I wanted students to work in groups on conceptual aspects of the course where group interactions might improve their learning and visualizations and online tutorials would contribute.

What I tried

In Spring 2014, I taught the course one class period per week in the three Sterling Hall CLCs. The other two class meetings were in a chemistry lecture room. I had 80 students, so I had to use all three rooms at once. TAs were in each room and I circulated among the three rooms. (In chemistry, all 80 students met in the same room.)

I selected online resources, many of which  I had assigned as homework before, and prepared worksheets to indicate to students which resources to use and some exercises they could do with the online resources. Students had no special preparation before these sessions and there was not time to prepare much to help them learn to interact as a group. Many students did well and interacted well, but some were not clear about the learning objectives and others objected to this way of learning. The experiment was not totally suiccessfull but it was clear that with some tweaking it could be made much better.

Next time I would…

Based on feedback from students and TAs I decided to do another experiment in a different course, Chem 109, in Fall 2015. This course enrolls 350 students in lecture, with 16 discussion/lab sections of  22 students each. We have scheduled four of the discussion/lab sections in Sterling Hall; the rest will be in traditional classrooms. For all discussion sections we have prepared pre-section worksheets thaqt students can use to prepare for discussion. These include questions based on the content for that week in the course. For the Sterling Hall sections, in addition to the pre-section worksheet, students will have a carefully planned lesson that asks them to carry out an online visualization, do a tutorial, or answer an hoemwork question. Next students are given a conceptual question designed to elicit discussion and usually they are given directions for how to interact (discuss with a partner, write on the whiteboard, etc.). We plan to do an evaluation of this active-learning strategy when it is implemented in the fall. We will assess students’ learning but also try to assess how well they interact in groups.

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