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University of Wisconsin at Madison is changing the way they teach – some computer science classes are losing lectures in favour of online-tutorials and more labs, some biomed courses are using problem based teaching styles. The chem dept is trying something new – blogging:

Tehshik Yoon: A new formula for classroom blogging

Yoon, a chemistry professor, says he has always been concerned about the communication gap between scientists and the general public, especially in his own field. So he decided to borrow a page from colleagues in English and other humanities fields, who are using classroom blogs more and more to encourage the daily habit of writing.

So what’s the initial student reaction to the Chemistry 346 Blog Project? “They hate it,” Yoon says with a chuckle. “They go in thinking it’s just another task they need to accomplish. By semester’s end, they get it and start to appreciate it.”

Yoon uses the LiveJournal blogging platform based on its popularity among younger users. In the first half of the course, students use it to kick around ideas and naturally work their way through some of the tougher organic chemistry challenges. Its value really becomes evident during the second half of the semester, when each student is assigned to an independent project in chemistry department labs. The course and the blog are great bridges into further undergraduate research, since they push students to convey the value of their work.

“One of the things I really like about the blog is students are encouraged to write at a level where their friends and family can read it,” he says. “I thought at this point in their careers, if I can get students who aren’t already enmeshed in the jargon of chemistry to talk about why what they’re doing is cool, it will have long-term professional value.”

Yoon says he benefits equally from the blog project, which is based on “just in time” teaching concepts that provide real-time snapshots of the learning process. “If I find that I’m teaching something poorly,” he says, “it’s always reflected in the blog.”

Sounds like they are creating a student body that can do the research and also explain it to their parents!!! That is certainly a transferable skill to many many other types of careers….

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Another option for getting out of the lab is to start researching it!

Chemical education is a growing field and this month C&EN wrote two articles on it.
What it is:

C&EN
March 31, 2008
Volume 86, Number 13
Web Exclusive

Professional Tools
Resources For Chemical Educators
Doctoral programs, networking organizations, and a variety of publications cater to the field

Sophie L. Rovner

The field of chemical education research has changed tremendously in the past two decades. Even though challenges still exist for practitioners, more resources are available now than in years past.

For example, many professors currently conducting chem ed research came into the field after completing degrees in other subdisciplines. That’s partially because formal training in the subject was rare until a dozen or so years ago. But it’s now becoming more common for graduate students to take degrees in chemical education and for postdocs to obtain fellowships, according to Renée S. Cole, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg.

and who it is:

C&EN
March 31, 2008
Volume 86, Number 13
pp. 37-41

Chemical Educators Overcome Obstacles
Professors who research chemical education surmount early skepticism to pursue a career they love

Sophie L. Rovner

It’s not easy being a professor of chemical education. Colleagues in traditional chemistry disciplines sometimes discount the value of research about teaching and learning chemistry. Chem ed professors can feel isolated because they’re often the sole representatives of the field in their departments. Furthermore, grants can be hard to come by, and experiments can take months, if not years.

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