More with Less

Current pedagogical research also tells us that often “less is more” when it comes to content and learning: less content can engender more learning. A good discussion of this may be found in “What to do When you Stop Lecturing” by Kersey Black JCE 1993 70(2) 140-144. It is tough for a classically trained professor to let go of even the slightest bit of content. This is especially true for standard courses like Sophomore Organic Chemistry that are taught in every college and university in the world. How embarrassing for me if an alumni from Cal. Tech. asks one of my former students if they studied the Bayer-Villager reaction and my former student answers, “I never even heard of that one!” On the other hand, I realize that I expend a lot of effort driving my students to “learn” an ever-increasing flood of content that they could not possibly understand at more than a superficial level – if at all. The same goes for lab, a full-scale organic chemistry lab complete with prelab preparation and laboratory report every week is a very intense task and does not promote much real interaction with and understanding of what they are actually doing at the lab bench. This last semester (Fall 2007) I had my student extend the traditional “Isolation of Caffeine from Tea” experiment an extra week by bringing in their own caffeine source and extracting the caffeine. Several students really seemed to get buzzed about this little gesture to engage them. This Peer-Developed Peer-Led approach seems like an opportunity for students to get excited about at least one lab in the semester.

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