Reaching Students in the Digital Chemistry Classroom

Reaching Students in the Digital Chemistry Classroom


Professors who teach chemistry to undergraduates face particular hurdles. Students, especially non-majors, often expect that the subject is dry and difficult. Many are there to fulfill requirements for other programs, such as pre-med, with no real interest in chemical education or research. And then there are the various challenges associated with teaching digital natives—profs are contending with short-attention spans and constant digital distraction.

Last week, we brought together an expert panel at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco to discuss this very topic: how to engage millennials in the classroom. The four panellists all come from schools that contain very different cross-sections of the student population.

Great #ACSSanFran talk about the upcoming generation of #chemistry students dispelling the myth that millennials are lazy and perennially attached to their screens. The panel (Neil Garg, Donna McGregor, James Ross and Michelle Newsome) focused on what lecturing means in the 21st century. If profs aren't standing and talking, they need to show extra effort—and they need to value their classroom's time. Dr. McGregor of @cunynews suggests that you can "integrate devices into the room, so that [your class's] need to be on it drives their participation in your course." To learn about how we can help, we're at booth 628 for the rest of the day—there's still time to book a demo. See bio link for details! #sf #millennials #tophat #chemistry #paneltalk #demo #mosconecentersf #sanfrancisco #edtech

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From left to right:

  • Dr. Neil Garg, Professor of Organic Chemistry at UCLA, and creator of the BACON project, an interactive online supplement that connects Organic Chemistry course materials to everyday applications using pop culture and media;
  • Dr. Donna McGregor (CUNY, Lehman College), co-creator of a fully flipped, video-based General Chemistry curriculum currently used at multiple CUNY schools;

  • Dr. James Ross (East Los Angeles College), professor, contributor to Top Hat General Chemistry, and chemistry education researcher focusing on student attitudes and self-concept as a predictor for achievement;
  • Michelle Newsome (Wright State University), an active learning advocate and professor for Wright’s only 100 percent active SCALE-UP chemistry classroom.

The solution is to bring the subject to the device. Chemistry must be taught digitally to be relevant, as Dr. Ross explained: “If you’re not using digital, that will be the main divide with your students.”

Dr. McGregor addressed the issue of student devices in class head on, asserting that “if you can integrate the [student’s] device into the room, so that their need to be on it drives participation in the class, then [the device] shouldn’t be an issue.”

Still, many students and many professors still believe the only way to teach chemistry is the traditional way—with a chalkboard and a 50-minute talk. It’s hard, but rewarding, to push expectations, said Dr. McGregor.

Students come to class with different levels of study skills, motivation and background knowledge. Professor Newsome said that to reduce any deficits, she uses Top Hat to facilitate in-class group work that enables her students to pull one another up.

And whether a class is mainly millennial or Generation Z, full of budding Marie Curies or medics, everyone can agree that class time is worth more than sitting passively.

Bring modern chemistry teaching into your class. Engage your students and save them money at the same time—check out our General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry digital texts in the Top Hat Marketplace.

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