Teaching Research in a Large Lecture Class

by Seth Barrett
Department of Chemistry

This past semester, I have been fortunate to serve as a Graduate Research Consultant in CHEM 251: Introduction to Inorganic Chemistry. Working with Professor Miller, the class focuses on the properties and reactivity of metals. We designed two research-based projects that allowed nearly 170 students to gain exposure to the aspects of chemical research that take place outside of the laboratory.
In the first project, I encouraged students to draft, edit, and submit clicker questions designed to test understanding of the material and reinforce concepts from class though the use of chemistry in real world applications. The research-based clicker question encourages students to think about chemistry beyond the classroom, looking through the scientific literature to discover new, real world examples using inorganic compounds. The questions illustrate how basic concepts of inorganic chemistry appear in cutting edge technology and research.

Once students drafted their research based clicker questions, I held peer review sessions in which students reviewed and edited their neighbors’ clicker questions to further improve the question. This process exposes the students to the peer review process, a critical component of scientific research and publishing.

In the second project, I created a research-based question for each of the five problems sets assigned during the semester. The research-based questions were designed to connect a concept discussed in class to a real word application. In one example, I asked students about ruthenium(II) tris(bipyridine), a transition metal complex that was made famous by the renowned UNC chemist Professor T. J. Meyer. The students used two publications from the primary scientific literature to answer questions about fundamental inorganic structure and reactivity. Students learned about a significant scientific contribution from UNC and gained experience gleaning information from primary scientific literature, while connecting the research findings back to elementary concepts in inorganic chemistry.

Through the GRC program, Professor Miller and I were able to incorporate a research component into a large lecture class while taking advantage of existing active learning techniques comprised of group problem solving through word problems, clicker questions, and exam review sessions. Students gained experience searching for and reading scientific articles, applying concepts learned in class to challenging, state-of-the art research. Students participated in the peer review process, writing and editing research-based clicker questions. Through two research projects, students discovered the ever-changing world of chemistry and the importance of using chemistry in real world applications.

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