My charge with this reflection is to try and communicate how being a Fellow impacted my teaching of inorganic chemistry and, more broadly, how participation as a Fellow impacted me as an educator between the 2019 school year, the workshop the following summer, and the 2020 school year. I will start with one of the larger positive outcomes for me and that is there is a tangible benefit to be removed from my insular environment. For many of us we are the lone inorganic chemist in the department and no one inspects our courses that closely. This can create an echo chamber effect wherein I teach my course well enough, the students review it well enough, they do well enough on the ACS exam, and a year passes and when it is time to teach the course again no significant changes are made because it worked well enough the last time. This is not to say we cannot learn from other colleagues, but none of mine care about Ligand Field Theory (like at all) so I tend to just plug along with what I do. I am not particularly proud of this, but for me it has simply been part of my experience. Participation as a Fellow, especially through the 2019 Fellows Workshop, showed me the breadth of the opportunity for me to find new ways to improve what I do in the classroom. It is much harder to say something is ‘”good enough” when you see something else that someone is doing that is clearly better, for example to teach Ligand Field Theory. For me, being around committed and talented people is fuel for the engine.
A more specific outcome from that first workshop, and the analysis of my lectures by the researchers, is that I now have a heightened sense of how time is spent in my class time and what exactly my students are doing. I ask myself all the time, “Is this the best way to get this across? Is this the optimal way to do this? How involved are my students in this process?” Basketball writers sometimes describe things on the court that only show up in really advanced statistics (something like corner three shooting percentage with a defender within 6ft, for example), while other things show up by the eye test, but sometimes things just show up in both. That is how I felt when I looked over my recorded lectures (eye test), and then looked at my COPUS data (advanced stats); they said the exact same thing. I was talking too much and the students were watching too much. I didn’t feel like that material covered in those lectures was student centered enough and that was borne out in the COPUS data. Some changes were made, and I would love to say that the 2nd year was staggering improvement, but it was more like a nudge in the right direction. I am ok with that. Eventually the small changes will move my course closer to where I think it should be.
A more tangible change I made to my 2020 course, as a result of the 2019 workshop, was the inclusion of multiple literature discussions. This is something I considered on a number of occasions in the past, but being a fellow got me over the hump to take the time to create the assignments and, with the assistance of other fellows and the VIPEr site, to implement them in my class. I don’t have any stunning conclusions or sentimental tales about inspired students but I can say that all my undergrads were exposed to current chemistry literature, a departmental learning outcome. The content in the Lit Discussion was aligned with the course content so it served double duty. I talked less, they did more.
There are always other good ideas out there and IONIC helps get them spread out to more people. I just read a recent post by Barb Reisner and therein she discussed the need to build community in a classroom on the first day and the positive effects it can have. Alas, I wish I had read that before I started my Zoom/hybrid/post-apocalyptic teaching this semester. A little more class community is something I need right now in a muted world of avatars populating my virtual classroom. Well, that and a few other nudges I get from the community of IONIC and next time I will be even closer to providing the engaging, challenging, and outcome producing course I want for my students. The community supports growth. That was the point all along, wasn’t it?