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Exploring physical chemistry using mobile devices

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Sean Garrett-Roe, Department of Chemistry, thought very carefully about last year’s course evaluations and acted on them.  While maintaining his primary goal of prompting students to critically evaluate fundamental principles of physical chemistry, Garrett-Roe restructured the delivery of his course material. While the time demands involved in shifting from a traditional lecture-based format to a primarily Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL)-based format were on par with a typical new course preparation, in the end, as Garrett-Roe reports, the course redesign paid off, “The evolution of overall teaching effectiveness on course evaluations went up by 4 deciles.  Everything moved in a positive direction.  Several things moved strongly in a positive direction.”  Garrett-Roe isn’t stopping there, though. This year he will use an ACIE grant, “Computer Assisted Guided Inquiry Activities for Physical Chemistry,” to integrate computer simulations into the in-class POGIL exercises.

Not only did POGIL  help unearth Garrett-Roe’s gift for making fundamental principles of physical chemistry accessible, students in his class also took control of the learning process through the completion of carefully constructed assignments. Simply put, instructors create the dots, students work in small groups to help one another connect these dots. And connect the dots, they did! As Garrett-Roe explains, “POGIL really helped the students to break things down, to look at it on a really granular level, and to help each other. It gives them the opportunity to really ask about what they are confused about without the power difference between professor and students. It’s peer-to-peer, which really loosens things up a lot.”  His assessment of student learning with POGIL was validated further when the best students in the class approached him to thank him for presenting the course material in this way. He recalls one student saying, “Normally when I go to lecture classes, I don’t listen at all because I have to go home and work through it all by myself anyway, the lectures don’t help me to think about it.”

Next spring, computer simulations will accompany the in-class POGIL worksheets. Using their mobile devices, students will be able to directly manipulate the simulations, allowing them to interactively explore physical chemistry processes such as Brownian motion and heat transport.

By Carolyn Barber, CIDDE


SEPTEMBER 2013

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