As I look back through my email, I was “looking forward to this experiment(!)” back in August of 2017. Thinking back to where I was at the time – I had been (somewhat) recently tenured, and found myself wondering when I would finally have my inorganic course “where I want it to be.” Like a lot of faculty (I hope), my first lecture notes cribbed heavily from my notes as an undergraduate student, with occasional insight that I gained from finally reading and understanding the textbook the way I thought I had when I was a student. I knew what I was teaching, I saw a lot of connections, and I was really excited to demonstrate how these related to the applications from my research experience. And then I kept doing that, with a few tweaks here and there, and occasionally updating a handout or two. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I held the line far too long on handing out photocopies of handmade “scrapbook” style materials rather than post PDFs on my course LMS. As a faculty member that was enthusiastic and engaged with ChemEd symposia, I had a sense that I wanted to make some changes, but I had trouble figuring out what I wanted to do with inorganic. My gen chem class always took more time to grade, more time for writing exams, more time in office hours, and I just didn’t think I knew what I wanted to do with my inorganic course.
I’m very data-driven, and the coding of classroom observation (COPUS) reports were incredibly helpful in figuring out what I was actually doing in the classroom. Initially, I had the impression that my lectures were engaging and interactive, but the coding of video showed me that most of it was “students receiving” and me “talking.” The video was really clear – some of my students were either intimidated, or just checked out. I wasn’t meeting their needs, and it was too easy for me to miss this, since I really enjoyed giving the lectures. Within COPUS, the coding of “Students doing” and “Instructor doing” made it obvious that I was going to have to consider both perspectives when implementing any changes. I was pleased to find that the changes I had hoped to make were reflected in the COPUS data. Between fall 2018 and fall 2020 I was able to reduce the amount of time that students were coded as “receiving” and I was coded as “presenting” while increasing the amount of time I was “guiding” and the students were “working.”
Looking back now, what participation in the VIPEr Fellows cohort did was allow me the time to reflect on the course and make it truly mine, rather than an overlap of my notes from (important) mentors and textbooks. My participation helped me focus my efforts, provided tools to shape my course, and introduced me to a group of amazing peers to help create content and lean on for support. That community supported and sustained me during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to be the most welcoming group with which I’ve been involved. Although it took me a little while to get my course to look like it does today, I am grateful for the chance to spend time on it - something that would have been very difficult without a push from my fellow VIPErs.