21 Jun 2019

Making Connections

Submitted by Eric Eitrheim, University of Central Oklahoma
Cohort 1
Reflection Piece 1

One notable experience from the VIPEr fellows program was getting together with other Inorganic faculty.  Most of us are the only Inorganic instructor in our respective departments, so being able to connect with 20+ others who you can bounce ideas off of and get some idea of what they are doing in their course has been extraordinarily helpful for me. It turns out many of us struggle along similar themes, and some have come up with better solutions than myself. 

Seeing the video of myself teaching was also very informative. I am interested to see the COPUS data that will accompany it in the future. One thematic trend that everyone mentioned was that they talked more than they thought that they did. This was certainly true for me. My “groupwork” time digressed into mini-lecture after not-so-mini-lecture. I am not sure this is a bad thing, but I should be aware of what is occurring at the very least to ensure that what I am doing is intentional.

Based on this workshop, I would like to change my Inorganic Chemistry course in several ways. 

First, I would like to change the order and introduce coordination chemistry right away, since this is vital information for the associated lab. I have found that there are numerous times in the course that I am dealing with information that would have been very helpful for some of the labs. Little of this information is required to be introduced late in the semester. I originally thought that this couldn’t be done well since discussing Crystal Field Theory (CFT) was done immediately preceding Ligand Field Theory (LFT). I thought that I would need to think more about how to discuss LFT and CFT before explicitly talking about Molecular Orbital Theory. Someone mentioned that I could just split them up and discuss CFT along with coordination chemistry early in the semester, then after talking about MO theory, review CFT and then introduce LFT. They would be familiar with d-orbital splitting, and would have some time in the past to become comfortable with these ideas before utilizing MO theory to show a similar idea, which students tend to be less comfortable with.

Secondly, I would like to introduce some literature discussion that appropriately introduces students to the literature in a way that is not as intimidating as usual. This will require a fair bit of planning and finding appropriate sources and “guided reading”-type infrastructure. Using a real system in the literature may help them use the theory that we have discussed previously. Connecting the models to a real system is something that I need to incorporate more.

Thirdly, I would like to implement a research component of the lab in which the students are coming up with, and perhaps optimizing, some experiment in which the outcomes are not as certain as the “cook book” styled labs that are most common. This comes with a significant amount of prep and could be a little unwieldly with a larger class. I do, however, believe that I will have some semesters with a very small number of students, perhaps 6-8, that might be well suited for kicking something like this off.

Lastly, I would like to include some topics that have slowly been excluded over time, including organometallics, catalysis, and perhaps some crystallography in the lab setting. I would hope to add these topics as “elective”, which will give students the options between a few different topics so they have some control over what is covered in the class. I would like to avoid the “broad but not deep” that can often accompany trying to fit in too many topics, but since this is the only Inorganic class at my institution, we should attempt to give some overview of some of these important topics. This may mean pushing some of that content to the lab setting, which does come with a little, currently underutilized, lecture time. The first topic that I plan to move into the lab component is the coordination chemistry section which will include CFT. This will hopefully alleviate some lecture time to reintroduce some of these special topics.



Great ideas for change! I'm thinking hard about lit discussions, too. In the past, I've just sort of thrown them at students. This usually works okay because most lit discussion LOs on VIPEr have carefully written and scaffolded questions that help the student find/learn what they need. However, I think I want to be more explicit about "how to read a paper." Hilary Eppley has an LO on how to read a paper that emphasizes digging through the experimental info. Maybe I'll try that. There are other LOs on VIPEr that describe asking students to do lit reviews as a method for learning how to read a paper. I welcome other ideas and suggestions.

Eric - it was great to connect at the workshop. I love the idea of incorporating a research component using the chemical literature as a jumping off point. I can't wait to hear about how it goes or how you implement it. Seems like a lot of fun with a group the size you are describing. 

Eric, you have so many great ideas for things you could change. I'm excited to hear how things go the next time around. Your comments about moving coordination chemistry reminded me of ideas I've read about "spiral curricula" where you introduce an idea and come back and build on it later. I really like your idea of how this can be done in the inorganic course for coordination chemistry. I too introduce CC late in the semester, but my students love it because we get to discuss the pretty d-block metals. By covering a topic that they're enthusiastic about, especially if I do it using papers, the students may be more enthusiastic about and engaged in the course. Thanks for sharing!