In one sentence, we aim to shift organic chemical education from an instructor-centered to a student-centered paradigm. For students, this means increased personal responsibility and a place in the educational spotlight—we demand that students participate in class and place ourselves in the role of coaches and mentors for the development of enduring skills. Our objectives include:
- To improve student confidence
- To regularly engage students in intense thought
- To sharpen students' skills in filtering relevant from irrelevant information
- To train students to accept and manage intellectual risks
- To improve students' ability to deal with ambiguity
- To help students learn to persevere through, and grow from their daily setbacks
Our aim is to produce students who are well prepared to learn on their own and tackle the complex problems of twenty-first-century science and medicine.
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
Prof. Moore was given the opportunity to extend his Molecular Me curriculum to students of the OLLI program at UIUC.
As researchers continue to identify important genetic factors in many diseases and conditions, conversations about genetic testing have grown. Acquiring personal genetic data is affordable and offers information about one’s ancestry, traits, and disease risks – but also opens up new questions. There is a growing need for education on how to interpret the data and the benefits and risks of acquiring this information. This course will provide valuable information about the analytical chemistry of the method, the reliability of the analysis, and the use of various resources to interpret one’s own data. Students registered for this course will be given the option to confidentially research their own genome sequence using data acquired via an established "direct-to-consumer" genotyping service.
Chem 199: Fall 2014 Discovery Course
In the Fall of 2014 I taught a First Year Discovery Program Course to incoming UIUC freshman, titled The Molecular Me: An Investigation of Self. Acquiring personal genetic data is affordable and offers information about one’s ancestry, traits, and disease risks. There is a growing need for education on how to interpret the data and the benefits and risks of acquiring this information. Instruction will be given on the analytical chemistry of the method, the reliability of the analysis, and the use of various resources to interpret one’s own data. Students were given the option to confidentially research their own genetic data using an established "direct-to-consumer" genotyping service. Registration restricted to freshmen. Students should enroll in only one Discovery course.
Chem 232/332 Course Design
Embracing student-centered learning begins with effective course design. Since 2009, the University of Illinois has adopted a lecture-free, textbook-free format for its large organic chemistry courses (nearly one thousand students per semester). Content that would ordinarily appear in lectures has been "fractionally distilled" into short videos we call webcasts. Multiple webcasts with the same theme, along with a set of PDF lecture notes, constitute a lesson. Students are expected to watch and study these materials independently, much as they would study a traditional textbook. We offer these course materials through a course wiki, on which we encourage students to comment with feedback or questions.
Bundled with each lesson are problems designed to help students test their understanding of webcast material and apply their knowledge to new situations. All problems in the course are delivered to students electronically and machine graded with real-time feedback. Problems of the Day are covered by instructors during class time and emphasize the acquisition of skills, strategies, and attitudes for heuristic (non-algorithmic) problem solving. Pressure Point Problems, or "P3s," are more difficult, timed problems that help students prepare for exam situations. Because training effective problem solvers is one of our primary goals, we strongly emphasize tackling and understanding the problems associated with each lesson.
Placing lecture contents online has allowed us to use class time almost exclusively to sharpen students' problem solving abilities. During discussion sessions, students and instructors communicate online through the web-based conferencing technology of Blackboard Collaborate™. Using this technology, we are able to run discussion sessions for large numbers of students while maintaining an interactive, engaging learning environment. Three live discussion sessions per week allow students to meet in person with instructors. In all discussion sessions, the emphasis is on student activity and participation. We use a variety of strategies to place instructors on the periphery of discussion and bring students into the spotlight, until expert advice or encouragement is needed. These strategies include:
- Allowing students to work in groups and lead one another
- Incentivizing participation through a tracked "game show" format
- Having students present their work to the rest of the class via Desktop Sharing
The Metabolic Pathways Project
Students in the second semester organic chemistry course at UIUC, a course taken by about 300 students, use computational, visualization and databases tools as part of a semester long team project. Students choose an enzyme involved in metabolism, propose a mechanism for the enzyme, and support their mechanism with experiments from the primary biochemistry literature. The project teaches students: 1) how to mine chemical and biochemical databases; 2) how to draw reasonable enzymatic mechanisms; 3) how to search and read the chemical literature; 4) how to translate static, non-interactive graphics from a journal article into dynamic, interactive graphics; 5) how to use online analysis tools to investigate molecular and biomolecular structures; and 6) how to reason scientifically and build a scientific argument from empirical evidence. Examples from the Fall 2012 semester include carbamoyl phosphate synthetase, EPSP synthase, ornithine carbamoyltransferase, sortase, prostaglandin-H synthase. Visit the project’s wiki space for more information.
The foundations of effective research in student-centered courses are healthy, information-rich channels of communication between students and instructors. We employ several technologies and research devices, both ancient and innovative, to ascertain what is and is not working for students in our courses. Since the fall of 2010, we have used the Student Assessment of Learning Gains survey to determine the effectiveness of our instructional strategies at accomplishing key educational objectives. More recently, we have taken an interest in recording students' desktops as they solve problems (using Jing and other screencasting software in conjunction with Blackboard Collaborate™) to ascertain and formalize effective problem solving strategies.