[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.