The workshop was an eye-opening experience on how I develop, implement, and assess my inorganic chemistry class. Information shared by the other fellows were highly valuable and instructive. I learned a lot about different styles and new ideas of teaching. I have to be honest that I was (still am) more of a traditional instructor and I was skeptical of implementing online materials such as those in the IONiC VIPEr website. However, the workshop included many hands-on experiences which gave me directions and built my confidence in incorporating online materials in class.
I had been teaching Advanced Inorganic Chemistry for three years before the workshop. I was struggling with various students' backgrounds: some are undergraduate students, some are graduate students; some graduate students already learned advanced inorganic chemistry when they were undergraduate students; some are not. It seems impossible to set up concordant goals for the class.
The opportunity to be a VIPEr fellow has provided me with a new network of colleagues that share a common objective – teaching inorganic chemistry. This program has given me the opportunity to reflect on my teaching and adopt new strategies that I can bring to the classroom and share with my students, and for that I am forever grateful. For example, I plan to include more current literature discussions, not only in my inorganic chemistry courses, but also in the forensic chemistry course I teach.
Let’s be honest, everyone. Being a VIPEr Fellow is not always as easy as enjoying beers at Ford’s Garage in Dearborn or discussing the nuances of hard soft acid base theory while walking back to the workshop hotel in the Michigan sunshine. Being a Fellow is hard work! There are consent forms and surveys to organize, classes to video record, and conceptual questions and an ACS exam to deliver. And all of this work falls on top of teaching our usual engaging and thoughtful foundation-level courses. Some days, you may wonder if it’s all worth it.
I have been teaching Inorganic Chemistry for over two decades. Amazingly, the workshop gave me both the motivation and the tools to improve how I conduct my classes. In particular, I plan to make two major changes this fall.
As part of the first cohort of VIPEr fellows, I was excited to meet and work with other inorganic chemists from around the country. However, I was a little more cautious about one part of the program - recording and reviewing several of the in-class lectures from the past fall. I felt pretty confident that I had done a good job preparing and presenting the material those days, and I was even happy to show off some active classroom approaches that I had tried out.
One year complete as a VIPEr Fellow, what a ride! Along the way there were questions on whether or not my IRB was actually approved (it did get approved, thank you Justin!), plenty of surveys given, a video camera in the class, questions on what to expect, questioning myself am I doing this correctly, questioning is my class like the others participating, wondering do I need to start covering everything on the ACS exam and finally a frantic compilation of course artifacts to submit.
One of the biggest hesitations I had coming into the VIPEr workshop is that my class is a bit different from the courses of other VIPEr fellows because I teach a large (55-85 students) general chemistry course rather than a sophomore or junior/senior inorganic course. We cover a lot of foundational inorganic content in my course, but there are special considerations for a course where the students are primarily first years, with some sophomores. For many students, this is their second college chemistry course (and second semester on campus).
Sweat equity; I frequently mention this term to my students as a simple expression of how you develop as a chemist, that you develop yourself through effort. (I also have a painted picture from a weightlifting magazine of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing on my office wall with the sage advice “Keep Pumping” written on it, for students that need an object lesson. Yes, it’s as awkward as it sounds.)