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Flipped Chemistry

October 6, 2016 Previous day Next day
Kevin Revell

Flipping Prelabs

Posted by Kevin Revell Oct 6, 2016

[originally posted fall 2014]


This past semester, I taught a three-credit, standalone laboratory course – Organic Laboratory II.  The class meets once a week, for five hours.   One of the biggest challenges for this course has been optimizing the pre-lab discussions.  If we talk about lab a week beforehand, students often forget the key details by the time the lab arrives.  On the other hand, if I we discuss immediately before lab, students tend to be much less prepared.  Either way, they spend far too much time figuring out what’s going on.


This year, I decided to flip the prelabs.  Each week, I made a short video overview of the experiment, featuring key ideas, reactions, mechanisms, safety, and technique.  You can see a sample of the videos below .   I made the videos available about 24 hours before the start of lab, and then include a prelab quiz which is due by the start of lab.   The quizzing can be done using the LMS (both Blackboard and Canvas offer quizzing), or through an online homework system – an especially handy option for labs which are integrated with the course.


The results for this class were terrific.   I freed up more of the pre-lab classroom time for spectroscopy, multistep synthesis, and literature techniques, and, as a result, I was able to go deeper with this group than I ever have before.   And I could see a huge difference once we stepped into the lab:  Students know what they were doing, and hit the lab ready to go.

[originally posted July 2014]


One of the first challenges I encountered in flipping a class was how to make short videos specific to a topic I was covering.  I’ve found that for short, low-maintenance videos, Jing is a really valuable resource.  This free download, available from TechSmith, allows you to record up to five minutes of video, then stores it online (also free).  While there is no real editing capability without purchasing the Camtasia software, it is a great resource for its simplicity.  Here's an example of one of my early Jing videos:



These days, I mostly use the full Camtasia and edit carefully, but I still use Jing occasionally for a quick and less formal screen capture.  For example, I’ve used Jing quite a bit to show people the basics of navigating around a software package, or to briefly review a topic with which my students should already be familiar.  I can record, upload, and send a link in only five or ten minutes.

David Collins

Moving Toward the Flip

Posted by David Collins Oct 6, 2016

[Originally posted 8/29/14]


Lecture format used to be the teaching standard. In fact, I became an educator because I loved to lecture! Like an artist/entertainer, I find great enjoyment formulating analogies, developing examples, and articulating concepts to a live audience. However, in the last 12 years, pedagogical research has forced me to question the lecture format, and technology has changed student-teacher interaction, assignments, course structure, textbooks, and dissemination of information. Teaching innovations are being introduced at an unprecedented rate. The days of teaching uniformity, as was created by lecture and paper, are likely over!


I am still not convinced any single teaching approach (new or old) is best, let alone best for everybody. Although I'm experimenting with in-class group work and the "flipped" classroom, I am not completely divorced from lecture. The more I talk with people, the more I realize most are developing their own composite style. There is wisdom in diversity and strength in flexibility.


For years I have prepared daily lectures with daily reading assignments and homework problems. Structure was provided by one PowerPoint file for each lecture day, forcing me to stay on task. In addition, this structure allowed an easy (but time consuming) transition to a "flipped" classroom. All "lectures" were already organized and prepared, I just needed to convert them into a "flipped" format. This new format allowed students to better review course content and come prepared to class, or so was the intent. Apparently, a daily reading assignment from the textbook with lecture PowerPoint files online are not enough to prepare the student for a chemistry class. The current YouTube-viewing generation does not want to read (as much as it hurts me to say), they want a video.


Changing It Up


Last year I prepared 40-min videos of all my Quantitative Analysis lectures using my iPad and the Doceri app. I experimented with ShowMe, Explain Everything, Educreations, Vittle, and ScreenChomp; but nothing seemed to have the versatility offered by Doceri. Although the app was free, the price to remove the water mark ($5), and the software to interface with a computer ($30) made it the most expensive. The app allows for a quick upload of PowerPoint files as screen shots, saved and animated annotations, and recorded presentations before, or even during, class.


The most significant challenge I have had teaching Quantitative Analysis was finding classroom time for practice problems, and for the last 10 years, this has been the greatest student complaint. With pre-class lecture videos, classroom time was partitioned into 20 min of group discussion with submission of lecture questions using, 20 min of a short lecture (recorded using Doceri) specifically focusing on lecture questions, and 20 min of group practice problems different from homework. I was surprised to find the majority of students staying after class and continuing to work problems until lab started 15 min later.


Early Results


About mid-semester, several students participated in a focus group sponsored by the university to evaluate the class. I quickly learned most students found 20 min of group discussion ineffective. Most requested more lecture and more in class practice. For the second half of the semester group discussion was limited to 10 min. I was encouraged by the format when the students scored the highest I have seen on the American Chemical Society final exam!


Shortly after preparing lecture videos for Quantitative Analysis, I prepared lab videos for general chemistry to help students prepare for lab. These videos included a "chalk talk", Excel instructions, and lab photos. This improved the students preparedness, slightly reduced the time students spent in lab, and allowed for more in-class time to review and work practice problems. A colleague recently adopted the same lab videos for general chemistry.


The most common objection to the Quantitative Analysis videos was their length. So I encouraged the students to watch the videos at 1.5x or 2x speed (a simple fix), and many were satisfied. However, when recently preparing lecture videos of all second-semester general chemistry PowerPoints, I decided to keep them to 20 min. This was accomplished by being more efficient with my script and having all of my annotations prepared ahead of time. These videos will be used for the first time fall 2014. Wish me the best!


I plan to continue experimenting with a blend of ideas. I will continue with the "flipped" format for a while, but I don't believe I will ever completely leave the lecture.


[Originally Posted Sept 18, 2014]


This year, I’ve spent a huge amount of time developing video content for my classes.  So far, I’ve done a tablet-only video style, using a skeletal PowerPoint presentation, which is annotated with a tablet as I narrate.  This works well for presenting information cleanly and concisely - but it’s boring.  I’m continuing to ponder how I can improve my format to be more engaging and effective.


To be honest, I really love standing in front of a class, communicating an idea.  I like reading student’s faces to see if  they’re with me.  I like the spontaneous, lively, and  sometimes very funny twists that a discussion can take.  I love dropping a quick joke when things are lagging, and bringing people back together.


So, how can we capture (or at least imitate) the interactivity and engagement of a face-to-face lecture in a video format?  Fortunately, this is not without precedent:  The television industry has been experimenting with delivery formats for seventy-plus years, and success in TV is all about engagement.  As I think about connecting with an audience and/or communicating information, here are a few that I find particularly effective:


  1.  The Nightly News.  The anchor creates a personal connection (think Walter Cronkite, P
    eter Jennings, or Katie Couric), but there is usually a screen with key information that is overlaid, and then a cut to a narration-and-footage story.
  2.  The Blue Collar Comedy Tour.   One of the keys to any stand-up production is that it’s recorded in front of a live audience.  The camera always  pans to show the audience laughing and engaged, and the viewer is caught up in the feeling of sitting in the audience.  The million-plus hits on Bill Engvall’s Dork Fish bit on YouTube testifies to its effectiveness.
  3.  The Daily Show.  Similar in style to the nightly news, but designed to be a comedy show, with a live audience that is never shown, and so similar in many ways to a laugh track.  
  4.  Glenn Beck’s Chalkboard.  An incredibly simple way to convey information, and Beck used it very effectively.  The advantage here is that the student can watch the instructor interacting with the problem.  Unfortunately, most professors (myself included) lack the artistic ability to really make this work.  
  5.  The Ted Talk.  An increasingly popular format, but I confess I’ve never gotten into it.  It mixes the screen and the narrator pretty well, but involves an extensive set and production.


There are a number of other video formats which have been used on the web for teaching STEM subjects, such as Tyler DeWitt's hands-and-face format, the very cool behind-the-scenes set from Simon Walsh, founder of Maths Doctor, and even the occasional artistic production that is visually stunning, but well out of the range of my capabilities.  And, frankly, sometimes I find that I’m so mesmerized with the artwork on these productions that I forget to pay attention to the content.  Like a song in which you love the tune, but don’t know the words.


I’d love to hear from readers on this one.  What delivery formats you find to be most effective for engaging students and promoting learning?   What are the strengths and limitations of each one?  (Note:  There are a coupled of politically-charged examples above, but this about communication.  Please keep comments focused along those lines).  I look forward to reading  your comments!

To be the most effective in teaching chemistry to the present generation, an educator is best served by providing the resources learners need in the manner that is most familiar to them.  For the chemistry course that I teach, Allied Health General, Organic, and Biochemistry, I am quite convinced that the flipped format serves the students best.  Today’s students have been raised in and surrounded by technology that permeates EVERY aspect of their lives. This, I believe is where educators will most easily connect with students. Furthermore, I know this can be done without sacrificing rigor or lowering expectations.


Having said this, there is so much educational technology out there now from a variety of sources and in a range of quality.  These sources have not, and will not, standardize their language (terminology) and can be contradictory. To simply gather the existing technology and provide those links in a central location would likely be counterproductive to the students’ learning without actually integrating and standardizing the content.


Over the last 15 years I have invested considerable time developing and creating effective, engaging, and often-fun content for the Allied Health Chemistry Course (General, Organic, and Biochemistry). 


As a teacher I believe instructors should be responsible for providing learning solutions to meet the needs of all types of learners so that they can succeed in the class.  I believe the role of a teacher is one of facilitator; we facilitate learners in building their own understanding of the subject.   Learning must be done for one’s self, and “educators" facilitate that learning by giving them the best set of tools to do so. 


There are many "digital resources," but as one who has spent hundreds of hours searching what is out there, there is a huge gap in consistent and integrated quality material. However, not all learners use the same tools.  While a textbook and the primarily monologue style of lecture where the instructor "covers material" during class works fine for some learners, the data that I will discuss in this blog shows an overwhelming student preference for the video lecture format and the flipped classroom. 


The use of quality technology in education will bring the entire population of learners an increased level of achievement.    This generation of students is not served well using the same methods as was done in the past.  In my course, I provide a completely integrated video and text-based presentation of the content that is assigned as homework.  The in-class work includes worksheets, and graded online.  The flipped format class is flexible, student-centered, instructor-powered and adaptive. Students have multiple resources to engage with based on their own learning preference (reading text, watching video, working problems, tutorials, etc.).  The full suite of content and pedagogy enables students from being the product of teaching to the owners of their own learning.  By having the lectures available online, content is accessible whenever convenient for learners and can be started, stopped and repeated as necessary.  Students have varying attention spans.  Some learners are fine with 1-2 hour lectures, other do much better taking it in in small portions.  Our product allows the learner to choose their own learning times and durations!


Times are changing.   The best teaching tool is the one that provides learners with what they need in order to achieve their educational goals and accomplish the learning outcomes the instructor sets for the course!  It is very important for us to acknowledge that what was in the past defined as being literate is changing.  Being literate and perhaps specifically learning now includes the ability to find and process information in various formats beyond just the written word.  We are in the age of the Internet, video, and other forms of digital information and to be literate in today's society includes more than just the ability to read, but also to find and process information from multiple modalities.  The reason that I am a huge believer in the flipped class, in large part, come from the data below.


In an anonymous survey of students from classes that I taught using video lectures, the students were asked, "Which of the following choices was the better resource for you in this class?".  Here are the results:


When students were asked to respond to the statement: "The video lectures made this course less stressful. Circle one:" the response was as follows:


Students also perceived the lectures as advantages in their exam achievement by responding to the statement, "The video lectures helped me to perform better on the exams. Circle one:" as shown below:



I asked my most recent class, Spring 2014, the following question in an anonymous survey:


In traditional classes, the students listen to live lectures in class and do the assigned problems at home.  Our CHEM 108 course was presented in the "flipped" format; you had the lectures available to be watched at home and you did the assigned problem sets in class.


Which course format do you think you prefer for CHEM 108,  CIRCLE ONE:

  • I prefer the flipped format as we did in CHEM 108 (watch video lectures at home and do the assigned problem sets in class)
  •  I would have preferred the traditional class style (have live lectures in class and do the  assigned problem sets at home)
  •  No preference, both are equal for me.

 The student response data for this question is shown below.




I will conclude with a cautionary note.  We all know how the use of technology, for example PowerPoint, can be done well or can be done poorly.  The same is true for the flipped class.   One of the most important components of the flipped class is the video lectures.  I strongly advise against voice-behind-PowerPoint slides, these are very low on the visual engagement scale.  If you plan on making video by recording your in-class lectures, I suggest making several videos of the same lecture and then using video production software to cut and paste the raw video into an engaging, high quality production.  An example of a typical video lecture that I use can be viewed from the following  You can take a look at my entire curriculum at:


If you have any questions or comments about this blog, it is best to email me directly at:



Jim Zoval

David Rieck

Flipping Large Classes

Posted by David Rieck Oct 5, 2016

[Originally published by David Rieck on July 7, 2014]


I started flipping some of the content in my general chemistry class about three years ago. When I began, my classes typically had a maximum of 44 students, but recently I have had classes of 66 and on one occasion 88 students. (Our lectures increase in 22 student increments because that is the number of students per lab.  Thus, adding one more lab section to a class increases the lecture by 22.) While there are certainly some obstacles to flipping larger classes, some of which are out of the instructor’s control, I find that it is still a useful and effective instructional method.

In a flipped class, students watch the lecture on their own time, and then spend the class working problems in small groups. The students work through packets of problems progressing from very simple questions to more challenging problems.  The most significant difficulty I encounter in larger classes is making sure I give each group enough of my attention. With anywhere from 10 to more than 20 groups and a total class time that may be only 50 minutes, it becomes a mathematical certainty that some groups will get very little of my time. I am especially concerned that students might think they are doing things correctly when they are not, and they may continue working additional, more challenging problems when they have not mastered the basic concepts. Ultimately such students will run into trouble and they could end up confused and frustrated simply because I was not able to correct some simple errors or misconceptions before they advanced.

One way to minimize this particular issue is by using 
clickers. During class I monitor students’ progress on the packets and when it looks like most groups are finishing a section of problems, I display a similar problem as a clicker question. Groups who answer incorrectly either figure things out on their own, or ask for help before proceeding. Usually only a few groups need help, but this way I can target my attention where it is most needed.

The clicker questions definitely help, but I also discovered that fewer students need my help than I had anticipated. It seems that students not only work together within their own groups, but they are also usually very willing to help other groups nearby. I encourage this sort of 
inter-group association, and emphasize that this sharing of ideas and information is part of how science is really done – science is much more of a social endeavor than most people realize. 

A few other difficulties are beyond my control so I just work around them as well as I can. For example, large classes are almost always in lecture rooms that are not designed for group work. It can be hard to get to groups in the middle of seating sections, but students seem to enjoy watching me climb over rows of desks to reach them when they need help.

The obstacles I encounter flipping larger classes definitely change how class operates. Most obstacles can be minimized, and others just need to be dealt with as well as possible. In the end, however, even though it is different from a small class environment, I find classroom flipping to be effective, engaging and actually more fun than a traditional lecture.

[Originally Posted August 2014]


Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a one-day symposium put on by the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching.  The event was fantastic, and essentially the entire morning was dedicated to flipped and active-learning classrooms.  I especially enjoyed listening to Jim Rolf, a calculus teacher at Yale who has adopted the flipped classroom.  I appreciated his stories about putting content online in video format, because his experiences so closely mirrored my own.  He also offered some ideas and frameworks which I found very useful.  Here are a few tidbits I brought away from his talk, and a few meandering reflections:

  1.  Jim cited a 2012 DOE study which showed no difference in outcomes in purely online versus face-to-face teaching.  However, the study found that students did perform better when the course was presented in a hybrid format.

  1.  I’m not sure if it was original, but Jim described his pedagogy using an I.C.E. framework:

Inform - prior to class (video)

Confirm - linked quizzes related to the material.  I know from my own classes that this is a critical component; it apparently holds true even at Yale.

Extend - During class, offer just-in-time-teaching, peer-instruction, etc., to build on the ideas.

  1. In my classes, I have migrated essentially all of my previous lecture content to video, including big ideas and detailed sample problems.  This means that in class, I can be almost completely focused on small-group problem solving.  By contrast, Jim limits his pre-class videos to the big story - he talked about developing a narrative tension in his videos - framing the “why” of the idea, and the high-level concept.  (He hopes to add a library of solved problems in the future.)  I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of the two approaches, and don’t have a strong opinion yet.  Do any of our readers have reflections on this?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

  1.  This past year, Rolf did a study on two sections - one using the pre-class videos, and one not.  While he saw slight improvement in exam scores in the class with preliminary videos, he actually saw a slight drop in reading, problem-solving, and peer-teaching activities that took place after class.  This seems like a negative, but I suspect it means that students are more comfortable with the material when they leave the classroom, and therefore perhaps don’t need these activities to the extent they would otherwise.  

There were several other very enjoyable sessions from the meeting, but perhaps the very best one came at the end of the day - a trip all by myself to Modern Apizza, a venerated brick-oven pizza place a mile or so from Yale’s main campus.  Delicious.

modern apizza

[Originally published July 17, 2014]


As a chemistry professor, I am always energized when speaking with other professors about how they teach their classes.  What keeps students engaged?  What techniques and approaches help students perform better?  How can the classroom experience be more fun and rewarding for both the professor and the students?  There are a lot of good ideas out there.

This year, I’ve heard one topic over and over:  Flipped Classrooms.

A flipped classroom is one in which the traditional lectures are delivered outside of class (usually as videos), and the in-class time is reserved for discussion, exercises, and group learning activities.  High school teachers have been moving toward flipped classrooms for several years, and it seems to finally be spilling over into higher education.  It seems most of the professors who have flipped their classrooms absolutely love it.  They mention the jump in student engagement, about how much more interactive and enjoyable their classroom time is, and how much better their students are performing.

On the other hand, many professors (including me) find the process of flipping a classroom to be intimidating, and full of questions.  “How do I find or produce good online content?”  You may have seen some lessons posted on YouTube:  Sometimes I find an amazing video, but a lot of it is poorly done, not quite at the level I need for my course, or just weird.  Creating your own video content ensures that it fits your class better, but it is really time consuming.  And how do you make sure your students are watching the lessons beforehand?  Finally, and perhaps most terrifying:  You’ve taken your beautiful lectures, and put them online…but what do you do when class time comes?


Through this community, I hope we can begin to answer these questions, and share new ideas that will invigorate our teaching and enhance student learning.  We will feature interviews and first-hand accounts from other educators who are somewhere in the journey - from those who have flipped their classrooms to those just beginning the process.  We will also feature a “Tools and Resources” section where you can share content designed for the flipped classroom, and see how others approach the pre-class and in-class experience.  The community is is equally for you to share your ideas and resources, and to draw from others.  


This is going to be fun!