I really like the idea of teaching inorganic with papers from the literature. I've never done it because I've never been sure how best to do this. (I know, I'm a scientist, I should experiment!) I'd really be interested in hearing about tips (things to do, things to avoid), ways to structure class, important things to look for in a discussion paper, suggestions for leading an effective discussion section, etc... from people who have taught class with lit papers. I'm curious about ways to do things and different models that exist.
I use papers for several reasons, but two major ones.
1) as part of a writing assignment; the student reads the paper and writes a 2-page "executive summary" to me. I pick the papers (something I'm interested in, and know well, so I can ensure that the students got the main points) and grade on writing, whether they "got" it.
2) to illustrate concepts. This is more rare for me, especially in my Junior level course. But, for my Seniors, the entire course is student-based literature discussions. I co-wrote an article in J Chem Ed (“A “Classic Papers” Approach to Teaching Undergraduate Organometallic Chemistry.” J. Chem. Ed., 2007, 84, 443-446.) that describes the approach. The papers illustrate major "classic" points in the field, and I use papers instead of a textbook sometimes, while other times, I use the text as backup resources for the students.
It's really important, especially for relatively inexperienced students, so provide questions that guide their reading. Careful "scaffolding" can make all the difference.
For example, I haven't had much luck with the open ended "define the terms that are new to you." Instead, I think it is important to pick out some of the key words for them to define. When appropriate, I will also walk them through tables and figures ("What is the x-axis in Figure 1. What are the units?")
I also like what I call "connect-the-dot" questions such as "Why did the author say....." In technical papers, authors will often provide evidence and then depend on us as "experts" to connect the evidence to the conclusions. Students need to be guided through this.
I find it challenging to write really good guiding questions, so I am really happy to find good examples on this site.
I use papers to meet several different objectives in my junior level course. I want to expose them to using tools to find chemical information (things like the Cambridge Structural Database, Sci Finder Scholar, Web of Science) related to particular information in a paper. I also want to expose them to picking apart an inorganic experimental section (what special equipment would you need to do this in the lab, what is the stoichiometry of the reaction). Then later in the semester, I try to tie particular recent papers to topics we are doing in class. So rather than lecturing an additional day on organometallic chemistry, I pick a recent paper and ask guiding question that link back to things we've talked about in class, but also take it a step further. Great forum topic, I look forward to hearing other opinons!
In reply to depends what you hope to accomplish by Adam Johnson / Harvey Mudd College
I just want to add that the approach outlined in the J chem Ed paper was a great experience for me when I was a student (2005), and I think that all upper-level chemistry students should have a class like that. It was great practice for grad school.