Chemistry has been developed over an enormous timeline and its applications span a vast domain of fundamental understanding of the universe. Therefore, it is an inherently daunting topic to teach and understand, yet paramount to many students’ success pursuing science and medical careers, or applying critical thinking skills. One method in disseminating that knowledge would be to lecture rapidly and expansively at the front of a classroom while students listen attentively and take notes, acting as a performer for an audience that absorbs this information. That is not the method I choose to employ, however. My belief is that students are better served, develop greater understanding, retain knowledge, and truly begin to master concepts through active learning with deliberate assessment and reinforcement.
What’s great about this style, is that it really allows the professor to gauge understanding of the class as a whole, as each student is forced to participate rather than sitting in a corner confused, leaving the instructor no way to know that there might be a problem, until more formal assessments like an exam come around. It forces engagement with the material by students at early and more regular stages and alleviates the concern that a student might be mentally elsewhere during a lecture. In my own courses, I will use a mixture of lecture and interactive learning to circumvent these problems. If I notice that the consensus of the class is facing difficulty, I can take a break from these activity-based learning techniques to lead a more traditional discussion over certain topics, or spend more time on them before moving on.
I realize that this type of teaching may be novel to many students who have spent much of the academic career under traditional lecture-style tutelage. As such, they may be wary, at first. This is why I also think it’s important to be upfront and well structured from the beginning of the course. Well developed intended learning outcomes and a strong syllabus, while not sexy topics, can help detail to students why this type of course structure will be beneficial to them.
Finally, I believe that true predictors for success in chemistry, as it is with most things in life, are based on grit and hard work more so than innate ability or perceived genius. I believe instilling this confidence in students, not just at the beginning, but throughout the entire course, will drive them to succeed because they will be the captains of their ship with this type of learning. I will make myself available for one-on-one meetings and ample office hours where I can provide advice, help, and care for those in need. Not only will this help students develop a mastery of chemistry, but also teach them critical thinking skills and independence over their own education. The students in my classes will be responsible for traversing the grand scale of chemical knowledge while I merely guide, direct, and get out of the way of the greatness they can achieve.