Green Chemistry: Flipping the Classroom

Course Green Chemistry
Lecturer Chris Slootweg
Context Master Chemistry, track Molecular Sciences (joint degree)
Master Chemistry, track Science for Energy and Sustainability (joint degree)
Master Physics and Astronomy, track Science for Energy and Sustainability (joint degree)
Master Science, Business & Innovation (VU)
Challenge Stimulate students from day 1 in order to achieve an immediate, and lasting, interest resulting in high participation levels.
Intervention Flipped-class pedagogy in combination with team-based peer-review and feedback.
Evaluation Students appreciated the challenge; participation level was high.
Related Topics Student activationFlipped ClassroomMethods to enhance interaction in the classroom

Interview with Chris Slootweg

Could you tell something about this new course? (e.g. context and learning goals)
The course Green Chemistry was created for the new master Chemistry & Physics track Science for Energy and Sustainability as well as for the Master Science, Business & Innovation and therefore targets a multidisciplinary student population. The students learn to work in multidisciplinary teams and present and discuss all aspects of green chemistry from lab to market, such as the principles of green chemistry and green engineering, alternative feedstocks, biofuels, biodegradable and bio-based materials, economics of green and sustainable chemistry, sustainable chemical logistics, governance, policy, and sustainable management. In short, sustainable chemistry at the people, planet, profit level (triple bottom line).

In what way was this course blended? Why did you choose this approach?
To stimulate active learning and participation of all students in the course from day 1, I have applied the flipped classroom concept. The student teams all prepare one lecture (45min) based on the study material (multiple e-books) that is made available. In addition, all other teams prepare a master level exam question (incl subquestions and answers) where they apply the knowledge of the topic discussed in class. All the exam questions provide the students ample material to practice for the written exam. The presenting team is judging the quality of the exams (peer review + feedback). The second part of the class focusses on a case study connected to the topic of the lecture that is discussed in detail in class. Furthermore, the students write an 1 A4-page essay about a new concept, e.g. circular chemistry, or the chemical ladder of circularity.

Are you satisfied with the result? (e.g. design, learning activities, student participation)
Definitely. The student participation is high, the students learn a lot, and also (based on their feedback) enjoy the course very much.

How was the students’ experience?
The students appreciated that they were challenged from day 1 of the course and learned a lot.

What did you think of the process? Did you like creating a course in this way?
In order to flip a classroom you need to master the topic. If this is the case, this teaching format is really enjoyable and stimulates active learning tremendously.

Is there anything you learned that you would like to share with other teachers?
Flipping the classroom is a very interesting teaching concept that can even be applied in all courses of an entire bachelor’s/master’s degree.

Would you recommend this approach/design to other teachers?
YES. I definitely recommend other teachers to apply blended learning to their courses and pick the right educational tool that fits their course, target audience and personal teaching style.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Flipping the classroom is an adventure (freestyle teaching), and very enjoyable.

Preparing for the lab using a digital manual

Course Molecular Techniques
Lecturer Richard de Boer
Context A molecular biology practical course in which students work on one long experiment and continue each day with their own research materials, illustrated with a few bio-informatics tools
Challenge Students came unprepared to the laboratory and had difficulty grasping the bigger picture for the whole experiment
Intervention We set up an e-learning environment using LabBuddy in which we made a digital lab manual
Evaluation Students indicated they liked working with labbuddy and the setup of the course helped them in making the right choices
Related Topics Student activationInteractive & adaptive course material,

Interview with Richard de Boer

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation?
Students came unprepared to the laboratory and had difficulty grasping the bigger picture for the whole experiment. Somewhere along the practical they started to understand the purpose of each of the experiments instead of first making a good experimental design and thinking about the bigger picture.

What intervention was chosen?
We set up an e-learning environment using LabBuddy in which we made a digital lab manual. All protocols and theory were digitized and illustrated with movies. At the start of the practical, students had to set up their own experimental design for the whole experiments and, along the line, had to answer questions about the theory and decisions they had to make.

Did it solve the issue?
Yes, students had a much better understanding of the whole experiment and understood much better how each of the experiments were related to each other.

What was the students’ experience?
The students were very positive. They indicated they liked working with labbuddy and the setup of the course helped them in making the right choices.

Are you going to use it again?
Yes, I very much plan on using it again. In fact, I would like to take it to the next level by no longer planning the experiments for the students anymore. This year, the students had to make their own experimental design, but afterwards they all had to do the same experiments in the same order on the same day. I would like to go further by just providing the students with the materials and protocols, and give them a set amount of time for the experiments, but no longer plan each day for them. Also to encourage preparing more, I will no longer provide them with specific protocols, but rather the generic protocols that they need to make specific for their situation. This way, they need to think about the way an experiment is set up. This will much better prepare them for the bachelor project.

How much (extra) work did it cost you?
Setting up the digital lab manual does cost a lot of time. The company behind the LabBuddy system can do a lot of this work for you, but this will cost money, and still requires a lot of input from the teacher, especially when it comes to the course setup. Digitizing a protocol is quite easy, but integrating it into a whole course in the way you want takes a bit more time. However, the benefits do outweigh this in my opinion.

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers?
I do recommend this to other practical courses. One of the benefits of a digital manual is the extra information that is very readily available to the students. This takes many of the questions away from the assistants and gives them more time to talk about the experiment and the theory behind the experiments. Also because the students have to think about the whole setup of the experiments, instead of handing them a “cookbook”.

Impression

 

e-learning for applied mathematics


Summary


Course Linear Algebra for Artificial Intelligence and Informatics
Lecturer Leo Dorst
Context Basic linear algebra, from vectors to matrix decomposition (SVD) and least squares techniques for a large group of 400 students
Challenge Not enough time/opportunity to provide students with enough feedback on the basics
Design e-learning exercises about the basics with automated feedback
Evaluation Students kept up their basic skills and the TA’s could focus on the difficult parts
Related Topics Digital formative assignments and feedbackLarge groupsHeterogeneityInteractive & adaptive course material

Interview with Leo Dorst

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation?
The students needed to keep up with the fundamentals, in time for the next lecture, but we could only give them feedback on homework once a week, whereas the lectures were twice a week. Also, correcting the basics is not the best use of a TA’s time. And the students tended to plagiarize because of this.

What intervention was chosen? 
Part of the homework, at the basic drill level, became SOWISO exercises to be completed before the next lecture. Some points could be earned by this.

Did it solve the issue?
Yes, students kept up their basic skills, TAs could focus on the next level in the werkcollege and the paper homework. And the randomization made it personal.

What was the students’ experience?
Students liked it, and the distribution of final grades became more of a bell-curve (around 7) whereas earlier it tended to be rather uniform.

Are you going to use it again? If yes, what would you change in the next iteration?
I already did. And I also tried one year to make part of the exam ‘SOWISO-corrected’, in order to correct it more quickly. This I will not repeat, but rather try using ANS – it was hard to ask reasonable exam questions in SOWISO.

How much (extra) work did it cost you? Does it outweigh the benefits?
I actually first did this in ONBETWIST, using mostly exercises that were already present there. Those were translated to SOWISO; the effort was not done by me. It was definitely worth it, and not only for me: now we have lots of LA drills in SOWISO.

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers?
Yes, for subjects that are amenable to this. In fact, I already did, and Calculus and Statistics (by Homburg and van Es) followed the e-drill principle (directly to SOWISO rather than via ONBETWIST).

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There was great supportive help from Henk Kuijpers (ONBETWIST), and from André Heck, Marthe Schut and Jolien Oomens (SOWISO) to enable both the e-drills and the trial with the exams. This was a big surprise, it is rare to have colleagues in such an innovation. It made this innovation much easier than I had ever thought it would; it should be better-known that you do not have to do these innovations by yourself.

 

Impression of the e-drills

Programming with Python – Creating context with video


Summary


Course Introduction to scientific programming (link to course, in Dutch)
Lecturers Ivo van Vulpen en Martijn Stegeman
Context Introduction to scientific programming for every science student
Challenge Planning a traditional course across fields and across years is impossible in our faculty
Design Online course so students can study on their own pace; a few exams are planned during the academic year
Evaluation The course attracted quite a few students during its initial run and with this solid core further expansion is possible
Related Topics HeterogeneityLarge groupsInteractive & adaptive course materialVideo

Interview with Martijn Stegeman / Ivo van Vulpen

Could you tell something about this new course?
The course introduction to scientific programming was based on an existing course for first year physics students. The learning goals are to show students that programming is an essential skill for every science student. By starting from a set of problems closely related to the field of study of the students and introducing programming as a means rather than the goal of the course, we take a different approach from traditional programming courses.

In four modules we try to show the students four distinct areas where programming is used for; basic mathematics, numerical techniques, simulations, and big-data. Students are not allowed to use existing tools, but are forced to build their program starting with a limited set of elementary building blocks. We do this to stimulate creativity rather than testing their skills using Google. To demystify programming itself and build confidence we decided to use Python as a programming tool which allowed students to perform all the exercises on their own laptop.

In what way was this course blended? Why did you choose this innovative approach?
Planning a course across fields and across years is impossible in our faculty. To allow students to take the course in their own time we decided to publish the course online and organize only a few exams during the academic year. Students make the exercises on their own laptop, can check their answers using a tool we developed, and hand in the exercises online.

To make sure we target each population of students we added a few elements:

  • Create clips (small movies). For each module we interviewed a scientist or ex-science student on how they use  programming in their daily lives. It was meant to show students that programming is everywhere and that the usefulness of the skill is enormous.
  • Target different student groups; although the programming goals are the same, it is important that students start from a problem they relate to and would like to solve. For each module we tried to create multiple paths, each targeted at a different field of study. Where colliding particles in a box would be great for a physics student, framing the same problem as a prey-predator model for biologists might work better. Same idea, same tool, but different frame.

Are you satisfied with the result?

The course is in Dutch and already attracted quite a few students. I’m happy that we went for a ‘solid’ approach. The core is now there and we could in principle expand to different disciplines, like the social sciences.

A challenge in these designs is to monitor student participation. How do you organize feedback, collect both questions from the students and figure out where they get stuck? This is something that could be improved by looking at these course in a broader sense. Maybe this could be something that we could organize in a faculty/university-wide recommendations.

Is there anything you learned that you would like to share with other teachers?
One crucial advantage we discovered was the enormous added value you get when combining expertise from different fields. This course was created by a combination of an information scientist and a physicist. Each of us would have come up with a completely different course. It was the combination that created this special mix that works much better than parallel development by each of us.

One more tip, something on the additional layer that we think is still missing – where we have the different paths to target different fields of study it would be good to also have some more practice exercises (or more advanced problems) for students who have difficulty programming (students that are already quite advanced).

A last tip is maybe not to aim too high. Make sure you get a solid course that is sustainable and then expand.

Would you recommend this approach/design to other teachers?
Just try it!

Watch the videos

Quantum Computing: Flipped Classroom and Peer Teaching

 

Course Quantumphysics 1; honours (BSc Physics and Astronomy)
Lecturer Kareljan Schoutens
Context New first year honours module, runs parallel to quantumphysics 1
Challenge No prior knowledge of quantum physics, few contact hours
Design Flipped classroom, peer-to-peer teaching and group presentations
Evaluation The students liked it very much, they learned a lot and because of the peer-to-peer teaching approach they really felt they had to master the content
Related Topics Flipped classroomInteractive/adaptive course materialMethods to enhance interaction in the classroom

Interview with Kareljan Schoutens

Could you tell something about this new course?
The context is the rapid developments in Quantum Information, now that prototype quantum computers are available to the public (and the students!). The learning goals were

  1. The student understands how information can be stored and processed in quantum systems and appreciates the new possibilities this offers.
  2. The student gains experience with the implementation of a simple quantum algorithm on a simulator or on a simple qubit platform.

In what way was this course ‘blended’ or innovative? Why did you choose this approach?
In many ways. The material was offered through lecture notes plus ‘animated slides’. The Q&A sessions on each of the parts were led by students. The final assignment was aligned with learning goal 2. Working in groups of 4, the students implemented a small quantum algorithm on a simulator or on IBM’s public-domain quantum computer.

Are you satisfied with the result?
Very much so. I asked the students if they’d rather see me return to traditional teaching – the answer was “no”.

What did you think of the process? Did you like creating a course in this way?
Yes this was inspiring. It was a challenge to tune the steepness of the learning curve to the abilities of the group (all honour students but still in their 1st year).

Would you recommend this approach/design to other teachers? 
Yes, but only if professional help (creating animated slides and/or clips) is available.

Course Material

The lecture material is in the form of an interactive slide show with voice-over:

Interactive example of the BB84 encryption algorithm: