Flipping Out–Organic Chemistry

One theme prominently highlighted at the Digital Pedagogy workshop was the “flipped” model of learning. In the “traditional” course, class meeting periods are predominantly designed for information transfer via lecture, and students process the content outside of class via homework, problem sets, exercises, etc. A flipped approach inverts this design; information and content transmission takes place mostly outside of the classroom, and meeting time is then devoted to more interactive forms of learning and processing of content, such as guided problem solving, question and answer, discussion, and peer instruction. Often (though not always) the flipped model involves the production of short video presentations by the instructor, which replace the in-class lectures. Students watch and rewatch the videos prior to classtime, in addition to doing assigned reading, and hopefully come to class better prepared to engage the material.

Several grantee projects incorporate elements of the flipped model. In this post, we feature the work of AC chemistry professor Andy Carr, who flipped his fall 2014 course, CHEM 221, Organic Chemistry I. Here are the slides to Andy’s presentation, followed by his narrative description of the project:


I have successfully completed my first run of CHEM 221 with the flipped model. Over the course of the Fall 2014 semester I learned how to edit videos and compress them so that the files could be placed directly in Moodle. Overall this has been a very satisfying project for me and for my students. Over 70% of the students in my section reported that they learned much more or somewhat more than they would have in a traditional lecture. Many students have stated that they liked viewing the lectures at their own pace instead of frantically taking notes during lecture.

Besides student opinion, I had other markers of success. I had the lowest DFW (a grade of D, F, or withdrawal) rate in my career. Only two students did not complete the course, and only two students did not earn a C- or better. I started with 27 students; 23 moved on to second semester organic chemistry. Typically, organic chemistry has had a DFW rate of around 30%, and it has been as high as 56%. Overall, grades were slightly higher than they have been in the past.

Not only were students in my own classes benefiting from the videos; they also began to share them with their friends in other sections of organic chemistry. I then decided to make the videos available to the other sections of CHEM 221. So in total my videos were watched by approximately 80 students last semester. At the end of the semester students wanted to know which section of CHEM 222 I was teaching so they could make sure to stay in the sections with the videos. I told them that there may not be videos. This statement actually caused several students to beg and plead for me to continue making videos for CHEM 222. I was inundated by requests from students that were not even in my current section for me to continue the videos. I have never had students petition so strongly for anything like this (other than for a passing grade).

As part of the next iteration of the course I plan to use the quiz feature in Moodle to track student understanding of the videos/lecture material and to better link homework problems with the lectures.

Overall I think this has been a great experience for me and my students. I plan on flipping CHEM 222 and making the videos accessible to all organic chemistry students.

This is an outstanding example of the transformative possibilities for teaching and learning made possible by the smart application of technology to pedagogy. In upcoming posts we’ll present other projects embracing aspects of the flipped model, include Jennifer Johnson-Cooper‘s Beginning Chinese I (CHIN 101) and the team-taught course by John Richardson and Jim Hebda, Biochemical Metabolism (CHEM 352).

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