No Pain, Lots of Gain

When I was an organic chemistry student, I learned from a functional group based textbook. Fast forward fifteen years, and I was teaching organic chemistry from a functional group based textbook. As a chemistry department, it was what we knew and what we were comfortable with, but the department as a whole was ready for a change. Student retention and general enthusiasm for organic chemistry was low. Common feedback from students included “too much memorization” and “I took a quarter off, and I don’t remember anything I learned in Organic Chemistry I.” I remember feeling exactly the same way after I took organic chemistry. I memorized all the required reactions and then promptly forgot them once the quarter was over. Our goal, as a department, was to switch to a method of teaching chemistry that would take emphasis off memorizing reactions and instead would encourage students to apply mechanistic principles to a reaction to figure out the products formed. After about a year of discussions, the big switch to a mechanistically-organized textbook, Karty, was implemented at Western Washington University.

I think one of my biggest hesitations with changing textbooks and approaches was the amount of work involved with prepping a new course. While all the content would essentially be the same, the arrangement and presentation would be different. Lecture slides would need to be rearranged or remade to match the chapter order and contain figures from the new text. The expected amount of work seemed daunting, especially at the beginning of the academic year.

Expecting a huge undertaking, I started prepping lecture slides two weeks before classes were scheduled to begin. So far, I have prepped chapters 1 through 4 and I cannot stress enough how smooth the preparations have gone. In the past, while using a functional group based organic text, I had to rearrange chapter sections in order to improve the delivery of the material. There was absolutely no need to do that with the beginning chapters of the Karty text. The order and length of each chapter works so well that there was no need to make any adjustments.

Typically, I do not use a lot of slides during my lectures and the slides I do use do not contain a lot of text. Because this is my teaching style, I was expecting to get very little use from the pre-made lecture slides available in the instructor resources. This was absolutely not the case! I was easily able to use the pre-made presentations and simplify them to work for me.

The final key piece that has made the “new class” preparation easier has been the instructor guide. I am able to reference each section of the text in the instructor guide and it has a breakdown of the content, in-class questions, and interesting way to present topics. For example, there is a clever way to help students remember the dash-wedge notation for drawing 3-D tetrahedral geometries. I am really looking forward to using this resource as I prepare more chapters.

The prep-work involved in preparing a new class was one of my big concerns about switching to a new approach, but it was much easier than I anticipated. The chapters are laid out well in Karty and the instructor resources are excellent. It has been a smooth transition so far!

-Jennifer Griffith, Western Washington University
Click here to learn more about Prof. Griffith

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