One of the biggest (and sometimes the most difficult) decisions to make when teaching a course is the textbook choice. Knowing if you made the right decision can be tough to tell. Well, last semester I got some unsolicited feedback from students that put my mind at ease about deciding to adopt Joel Karty’s Principles and Mechanisms, and most importantly, his mechanistically organized method to teaching organic chemistry.
The first piece of feedback on the Karty text was from a very good student who I know reads the book before class and takes diligent notes on the reading. She is the student that always catches me if I present a mechanism slightly different from the book (really those two proton transfers can be in any order!). This student commented that she was excited and proud that she has actually read almost a whole textbook…willingly! I was surprised by her astonishment because she is clearly an avid reader in general, but evidently she hasn’t gotten through an entire text in her other courses.
The reason it’s possible to make it through the whole book is that it’s so well organized. User-friendly, the book enables you to teach the material in a customized way. I don’t go over all the biological material in class, but the students can read it throughout, and very often do. I don’t personally choose to cover all the MO theory; we just breeze over those sections, and nobody feels they are getting cheated since it is an interchapter, making it easier to choose when and how to teach it. We don’t cover every page of the text, but we get to the end and that is a huge accomplishment to students (and faculty)!
The second comment came when I handed a test back and a student asked if his score was an April Fool’s joke. He couldn’t believe he had done that well! I asked what he had done differently to prepare and he said he actually read the assigned text for the first time. After I was done being shocked that he had waited until chapter 20ish to start reading the book, I was thrilled that reading the text had made a dramatic improvement in his grade. I believe that the moral of his story is that this textbook can make a huge difference in learning and retention of information for all types of learning styles, and manages to grab even the less motivated student. Teaching a a course organized by mechanism doesn’t turn the students off or scare them away from the material because they are really learning rather than just memorizing.
Both of these occurrences demonstrate that Joel has written a book that is clear and accessible to students, but another unique benefit comes in the form of self-directed learning. Having a book that students can learn from on their own terms has allowed me to help students who are working a “real job” but need to take Organic Chemistry to further their careers. These are usually post-baccalaureate students with good jobs, but they are embracing life-long learning and are pursuing their dreams of professional or graduate school. These students are so motivated they have approached me to teach the course as independent study. I already had the good practice of using a Livescribe pen to record my notes and audio from class, and armed with a great book, lecture recordings, and lab times on the weekends, we tried it out. The first summer we ran the course as independent study and three students participated. It was a bit nuts to be in lab on Sunday afternoon in the summer, but it worked. Since then, I’ve had more students complete the course in a similar way with success. I couldn’t hope to have successful independent study students if the book wasn’t the perfect compliment to my course and their differing learning styles.
This self-directed learning using Karty’s approach all started because, last fall, I was approached by a friend of a former student to see if I could work something out with her for Fall and Spring 2018. She works in a lab at Mayo Clinic, but wants to prepare for professional school and needs the course. I agreed to work with her as an independent study student and do labs on the weekend. As I thought more about it and talked with my current students, I realized that there are quite a few students that this would work for. I got approval to have one section of the course as an independent study with a Saturday lab on the schedule.
“What about the MWF lecture?” you might ask. The lectures will still happen, and I will still record it. Students will have the choice of coming to lecture or listening to the recording. My hope is that students come to class, but I will understand if they aren’t able to. The independent study students have proven to me that motivated students are able to master the material by reading the book, listening to lectures, and doing online Smartwork assignments and worksheets.
A key component will be the lab where I touch base with the students and see how things are going. During that time, I can ensure that students are engaging with the recordings, reading the book, and keeping up with the homework. I can also pepper them with questions and ensure they are mastering the basics of the material.
Karty’s approach to teaching organized by mechanism is great at accommodating different learning styles and changing schedules, which affords me the confidence to try such an experiment in the first place. I believe allowing students to learn from a variety of sources rather than in-class only is just one way to embrace non-traditional modes of learning that can potentially make a huge difference in a student’s life, which is why I highly recommend this book.
-Heather Sklenicka, Rochester Community and Technical College
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