11 Jan 2010

Student-Led Organometallics

Literature Discussion

Submitted by Adam R. Johnson, Harvey Mudd College

I teach my organometallics course, a junior/senior level half-course, entirely as student-led presentations of the primary literature.  In the past, the course was populated almost entirely with seniors who had already taken a one-semester advanced inorganic course.  This past year, I taught it to juniors and seniors, and the juniors had not taken inorganic yet.  A description of the course first appeared in J. Chem. Educ. in 2007 (link below).  This VIPEr learning object is an update of the original paper based on my experience over the past two years.

Learning Goals: 

There are two overarching goals for the course.  Depending on student preparation, they will achieve one or possibly both of these goals.

1)  Learning to read and understand the primary literature

2)  Learning the major facts, reaction types, and experimental techniques in organometallic chemistry

Implementation Notes: 

Before this year, a group of 2-3 students prepared a 45-60 minute presentation on two papers during the course of the semester.  This year, I divided the papers up and had 2-3 groups (of 5 groups total) present parts of the paper.  I also had each group prepare a major written report;  four groups prepared activities for the VIPEr site; they will be linked from here when they go live.  More details on the course are in the attached syllabus.  I also include the list of papers from Spring 2008.  Some papers I keep for a few years, while others rotate in and out.  This is a good opportunity for me to be 'forced' to read a paper I've been meaning to, but haven't had a chance.

Based on several years of student evaluations, I think that splitting the papers up so that two groups present each week was a good switch.  In the future, I think I will reserve 10 minutes at the end of each class to "hit the highlights" and make sure the most important points are covered.  I need to figure out how to give more timely feedback in the course.  I give students qualitative feedback when they meet with me in my office.

Evaluation Methods: 

Each week, I kept track of whether a student posted the required number of times on the class discussion forum and participated substantially in class.  I also rated their presentations on a +, √, - scale.  Grades in this course are high.  I give mostly As and Bs.  The students do a lot of work in the course and learn a lot, but assigning grades is very difficult.

Evaluation Results: 

Students self-report that this is a good way to learn organometallics, or, at least, a good way to learn to read the primary literature.  By the end of the term, the discussions were usually self-sustaining, but occasionally I had to give a push to keep the conversation going.

Creative Commons License: 
Creative Commons Licence


Posting on my own thread...

a good example of a back-and-forth (like the Bercaw vs. Bergman lit discussion) would be the Robinson/Cotton debate on the galllyne (https://www.ionicviper.org/five-slides-about/12-slides-about-african-ame...).  Thanks Sibrina!

I'd like to add that this was a great experience for me (I was in the class in 2005 taught by Adam and Drew Duncan), and prepared me well for grad school.  I highly recommend this teaching model for upper level classes.  Have a breif introduction, or make sure everyone had an introduction to the field in an earlier class, then dive into the primary literature. 

Chemistry students need to be comfertable reading, analyzing, and presenting primary literature before going to grad school, and this is a great way to do it.  

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