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A promising experiment in organic chemistry: Mixing teamwork into the course load

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Teamwork Organic Chemistry PanoCapitalizing on an opportunity to recreate Augsburg College’s advanced organic chemistry class, assistant professor of chemistry, Michael Wentzel, has developed a highly attractive approach to a complicated subject matter. He forces his students to work together.

“Originally, I wanted to make it so everybody understood how to write a reasonable organic mechanism,” said Wentzel. “But after taking a step back, my major goals became communications, and group work, and teaching students how to work together and how to communicate better as scientists.”

Each week Wentzel breaks his students up into teams of four. The groups are then given a simple assignment: prepare to send a randomly selected group representative to a guest lecture at the University of Minnesota.

Teamwork Chemistry FlaskAfter the lecture, each group is required to put together a presentation on what they feel is the essence of the subject matter. “Every person got a chance to be the point person for his or her group,” said Wentzel, in reference to his first class. “I wanted to see people work together. To force them to be uncomfortable.”

Inside the lab, Wentzel’s unique approach to teaching ensues. He delegates his workload by directing his students’ questions to other students. He assigns individual students specific pieces of lab equipment, has them write out instructions for that equipment, and then dubs them the go-to person for that instrument’s technical support moving forward.

The results of this interactive style of teaching are compelling. “The biggest thing I’ve seen is the students are confident in talking about science,” he said.

Using the confidence learned in his class, some of Wentzel’s former students have landed internships and entry into competitive graduate degree programs following graduation from Augsburg. Wentzel is clearly proud. “We had a Goldwater Scholarship winner and an honorable mention [this year]. These were kids that were in [my] classes,” he said.

As for the class itself, Wentzel’s methods are driving enrollment. “You can imagine how many people are excited to take organic chemistry, let alone advanced organic chemistry,” joked Wentzel. “I think the most students to ever take the course at one time was maybe five students before I got it,” he said. “And now we have [another] 20 or at least 15 people for next year. It’s been exciting.”

Editor’s Note: An integrated course design grant from Augsburg College’s Center for Teaching and Learning funded peer-review sessions and other opportunities allowing Wentzel to revise the advanced organic chemistry class.

Reprinted with permission. Article by Phil Meagher for JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments. JoVE is a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to publishing methods and research in a visual format.

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