For many of us, the past two semesters may have been the most challenging semesters that we have ever had, not only with classes suddenly being shifted online, but also many other administrative issues like a decrease in enrollment and academic support that negatively affect our morale and our ability to teach.
As I reflect over the past two years as a VIPEr Fellow, I cannot help thinking about Raphael’s fresco, Scuola di Atene (School of Athens). Now, to liken the VIPEr fellows with Plato and Aristotle would be far-fetched.
I signed up to be a VIPEr fellow the first year I taught undergrad chemistry. The class was taught traditionally, and I struggled to teach it effectively. Many of my students have families and/or work, leaving little time for studying outside of class (course enrollment ~ 60-80 students). I relied on this website extensively for ideas to make class time more fun and interactive, so being a fellow made sense to me. In addition to being more effective at teaching, I wanted to create a nurturing and inclusive environment.
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.
For VIPEr Fellows, there are two types of people: bonding and solids. Fellows are asked to pick one of these two common topics in foundational inorganic chemistry courses as a specific focus for our course transformation efforts. When I became a Fellow, I joined the “solids” group for two reasons.
As I wind up year two of being a VIPEr fellow, I am happy to be able to think back on what I did, take stock of what I changed as a result of the first workshop, describe how it went, and share what I want to do for the future.
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 had not. It seemed 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.