Chemistry and Biochemistry
What matters most to you in your teaching?
How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?
How have your students responded to your use of technology?
What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?
Focus on the learning process
Show what you're talking about
Teaching Students Beyond The Obvious Topic
Organic Chemistry is considered difficult to study in part because it's not something that we see directly in our day-to-day environment. Trying to teach a concept that is not in our normal frame of reference is one aspect of teaching organic chemistry that helps us focus on the process of learning in and of itself. How to put pieces together in some sequence of events in logical order is one aspect I try to get across to my students. Also, how to make evaluations of these events. This process is applicable to basic critical thinking skills in other areas. Part of my philosophy is to teach them beyond the obvious topic so they can use those transferable skills in whatever field they decide to pursue.
One of my favorite exercises is to show them a picture of something they would normally recognize but turned ninety degrees. I will then ask them what they see, and I will get different answers. Then I turn it back and the students immediately recognize the object. I try to show them that we have frames of references, but when we are not familiar with something it's hard for us to find one of those reference point and we may have to learn new ones.
The understanding of structure and reactivity in organic chemistry, that is where technology really comes in and has been such an incredible teaching tool.
(1) Technology is helpful in showing the structural aspect of organic chemistry. Before, you did this by drawings and by word description. If you were lucky, a teacher would use some kind of hand-held model. When computer programs became available for showing organic structures, it was absolutely mind-boggling what it opened up for teaching. The student did not have to imagine what I saw in my head, but actually we could look at the same images together. Instead of trying to describe in words, I could simply show them images in a comprehensive way. What that did was completely change the way I was teaching. Now I had this tool and had to learn the best way to use it. I had to learn the software and how to best use it in class. It was and is so much fun. I cannot imagine teaching any other way now that I have used these multi-media tools in the classroom. That is the beauty of UCLA -- teachers have access to these teaching tools.
(2) In addition to enhancing the teaching of the structural aspect of organic chemistry, technology helps me with the dynamic aspect of chemistry. If one is talking about events on a molecular level, that is almost more difficult to explain than structure. Thus, the technology comes into use by showing the process in an animated way that portrays organic reactions. I can show the "story" of the chemical reaction. It's just so much more captivating for the students and they understand it better. The instructional value of these technology tools is incredible. This allows me to get in deep in the topic more quickly because the students have a basic understanding from a structural and dynamic point of view. Technology has revolutionized the way I am teaching, and I am not alone in feeling this way.
The one thing about technology that I have learned over the years is that you have to really work out the details of being efficient in that 50 minute lecture time frame. I always have my back-up plans for when my multi-media demonstrations do not work.
The "Ooohs" and "Ahhhhs" were much more prevalent in the beginning when I started using these new tools. It was like "Oh, wow!," but now it's so natural that I do not get that kind of reaction on a regular basis because the students are used to this style of delivery. They are used to computer presentations, but what is extremely beneficial is how quickly they understand. For example, the way they ask questions today are very different. They ask more questions, and the depth of their questions are more advanced than in previous years of my teaching without the technology.
One of things that has improved is the friendliness of the software today. In the beginning, a lot of applications were very intimidating and laborious. Software is more accessible now, and more importantly there are people on campus who are in a position to help a professor get on board. You do not have to be alone during this process, and I believe that is one major reason teachers might not have gravitated to the technology right away.
One of the challenges that I may face is whether or not I am going overboard with the technology. I have done a lot of thinking about whether I am teaching software or organic chemistry. Trying to reach the right balance for the optimal learning by the students is the goal. I believe technology is a powerful tool, if used effectively, to facilitate teaching of a subject that is notorious for its difficulty.
Oral Interview, April 23, 2003