Course design workshop at McGill University coming up

I will be participating in a Course Design Workshop at McGill University for 2 day sessions in the next 2 weeks. Since I have already quite a few lectures under my belt, it is time to take a second look. So I have decided to give Course Redesign a spin, focusing on my Analytical Chemistry lecture.

There are exciting new teaching approaches around, especially for combined theory & lab courses. Interdisciplinary project-based learning [1] provides a better insight how research projects work and are carried out. The project-based approach provides a highly motivating environment and fosters critical thinking in a group-based process. It is something I have been interested in for a while and I certainly want to explore the opportunities the Analytical Chemistry curriculum provides for this approach.


[1] e.g., DL Van Engelen, SW Suljak, JP Hall & BE Holmes, Undergraduate Introductory W Quantitative Chemistry Laboratory Course: Interdisciplinary Group Projects in Phytoremediation (2007)  Journal of Chemical Education, 84(1) 128-131.

Teaching preparations

Next week the new semester will start and so will the lectures I will be teaching part-time at Concordia University in the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department. This year I will teach a section of General Chemistry (168 students!) and Analytical Chemistry I (76 students). Since I taught the latter before, I was not as busy as in the past, and support for the GenChem lecture has been great as well!

Course websites are up and running and the first lecture notes together with course outlines posted (sorry, authorized users only) 😉

I am ready!

Course Design Workshop

I attended a course design workshop this week (5 days all day) and it’s been a fantastic experience. The goal was to set up a framework of an existing or new course; defining course goal and content and breaking it down into different learning objectives. Starting off with a graphical course map I laid out a Quality Assurance Course including the requirements by the Ordre des chimistes du Quebec.

The workshop was extremely well facilitated with inputs ranging from assessment design, Bloom’s taxonomy on learning to “Generation Me” presentations – the latter by a Concordia student counsellor and psychologist. Feedback and sharing ideas, examples of best practice as well as some of our frustrations among participants made it an extremely pleasant experience. It was hard work, but I now have a clear idea, where this course is going with lots of ideas about student participation, assessment criteria, learning objectives,…

Best of all – I have finally begun to close the gap between my previous work as a trainer outside university and inside university; adult learning is a single concept after all!

Midterms done!

I am done marking midterm exams and I posted the results well before the course drop date. Since results were quite good with a class average of > 60% (no significant difference between day and evening sections) I hope that not too many students will drop. The results are certainly (significantly!) better than CHEM-217 last semester and there are several reasons for it:

  • Class size is smaller – quite a few students, who failed CHEM-217 did not take CHEM-218
  • Strategic learning classes helped a few to get a better understanding of the material
  • In-class exercises helped to show that the material covered is not easy; at least not as easy as it seems, when you are guided through it by the instructor

Especially the last point is one that I have heard last semester and in evaluations that the exams were more difficult than the examples discussed in class. Since I profoundly disagree 😉 , I tried to provide more in-class examples and more importantly, in-class assignments that students try to solve for themselves before discussing it through a peer instruction exercise and answering the remaining questions in class. Overall I am quite happy about the improvement.

Marking is done!

Finally all the marks are out for the midterms and I can again focus on my lecture preparations (my stash of prepared stuff is almost used up – I am really looking forward to CHEM-218 next semester; everything is ready to go, because I taught this course before!). Students are coming in to check their results and discuss their exam. All types are there – those that just want a better mark and don’t care about how they did in detail and those sincerely interested in their errors!I am happy with results for Analytical III, most people did quite well and have a good idea about the course objectives and content. In Introductory Analytical Chemistry, results were less glorious – some students have a severe lack of fundamental general chemistry knowledge, which will require them to study hard for the final, if they would like to pass this course.

A kind of routine is now established …

… after week 2 of teaching is over. I still find the evening lectures on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by the morning lecture on Friday quite exhausting, but things are getting better. Content-wise, I have moved from the introductory sections to the main topics of the course, which for now focuses on statistics. Keeping the more advanced and the basic course apart is not always too easy, when teaching the same subject on different levels, but I am going to move to the discussion of chemical equilibria soon in the introductory course.For now the time that I have available is sufficient – I have enough resources to work on student questions and continue my preparation work. In a few weeks I will start correcting the first assignments …

Teaching preparations & administration

Most of last week was dedicated to teaching preparations and dealing with administrative requests. I had a few questions from prospective students, if they could take a particular course – if they would struggle or find it easy.It is quite clear that I cannot answer such questions – I can give advice (course content, workload, assignments,…) so that the student can make an informed decision (information that I happily provide). But if a course will be difficult or easy depends on many factors that I do not know – so without a crystal ball I cannot predict, if somebody will pass or not.


Onehundredandtwelve exams are not a small thing to correct – so I was locked up for a full weekend and spent a couple more days during the week with marking. The goal: To get the results out before the course drop date (the last day, when students can drop the course without getting a “failed” mark). I was quite a bit faster than last year, when it took me 3 weeks to correct 40 midterms of the McGill Chemistry course that I taught, so that definitely is an improvement. However, it still is a lot of work. And it was not easy for me, to keep the marking level for all exams (although I was doing question after question rather than marking a whole exam at a time), so I went over the exams another time to make sure that marking was fair. It also turned out that the exam was quite a bit too long, so I had to factor that in as well. Anyway – it’s done and it was a good test run for the final; and the average was just right as well.