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Teaching Philosophy

Learning is a complex process of acquiring new knowledge based on current or previously acquired knowledge. Albeit a rich knowledge base is important for thinking and problem solving, "usable knowledge" is more than an accumulation of "disconnected facts", as shown by research. Accordingly, efficient teaching goes beyond pure lecturing. It takes the students preconceptions under consideration, and helps them to organize knowledge, to see contexts, and to recognize patterns. Traditional lecture courses can address these tasks while forming a knowledge base, while the next higher levels of understanding, such as interpretation, extrapolation, application and analysis can be taught by involving students in a research project. Research projects offer a high impact education experience that is more likely to foster inquiry-based learning while improving problem solving abilities. Students actively involved in research do not just memorize an answer; they collect - based on hypotheses - data and evidence in order to find an answer.

Consequently, learning is more than passing information from teacher to students. Learning is an active process in which students discover new knowledge and construct new ideas based upon their current and past knowledge. Learning is a dynamic process and requires both motivated and active teachers and students. The students should take an active role in the whole process, since the extent and type of student participation strongly influences (and enhances) the extent of learning. On the other hand, a learning process that concentrates only on objective tests or expository presentations will encourage short term memorization and will result in superficial (and transient) understanding.

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
William Arthur Ward

Teaching Goals

My teaching goal is not only to provide information. Teaching should enhance the learning abilities of the students. Students have to be an active part of learning and scientific processes, which requires a variety of skills and techniques. Goals of successful teaching activities are improvement of reading and analytical skills, the ability to see the context and to draw conclusions from given facts, problem-solving and discussion skills, and to be able to present scientific data and to defend hypotheses. Other important goals are communication skills and teamwork. Students in colleges and universities should understand the need to master the whole spectrum of scientific work: setting a hypothesis, gaining information and evidence, discussing and drawing conclusions, drafting a prospectus and presenting and defending results.

Design and Implement

To achieve those goals, I want to stimulate an active role of the students in the learning process. Especially for undergraduates, the "traditional" lectures in the classroom nevertheless play an important role. Although new technologies (like computers) are important for teaching, certain subjects (such as reaction mechanisms) can be descriptively developed at the blackboard. Especially in organic chemistry, blackboard work facilitates classroom contributions and discussions. Planned and structured board work is important as well as maintaining eye contact with the audience. A careful preparation of the lectures is critical to be accepted as an authority in a subject. However, to give students an active role in the learning process, additional methods are necessary.

Final year senior seminars are especially suitable to go beyond lecture-style teaching towards a student-centered instruction. For example, the joint reading of a paper in any current chemistry journal, followed by a discussion, can improve the reading skills of the students. The students will learn to recognize the scope and the important content of a scientific publication and how scientific results evolve. The same goal can be achieved by the joint visit to scientific talks or conferences.

Short presentations of specific subject matter by the students followed by a discussion will improve their ability to extract information and to present and to defend their interpretation. In my experience, students feel sometimes uncomfortable with giving presentations or asking questions. In this case, the teacher should play the role of a moderator, who encourages the student in discussion. Those presentations also can be prepared and given by a group of students to advance team work skills.

Problem sets for homework can enhance the problem solving skills of the students. However, problem sets should not only be for the purpose of an assessment. It is important for the instructor and the students to thoroughly discuss them afterwards in the classroom.

Ideally, lectures are accompanied by interplay between principle and practice. For example the Grignard reaction first can be discussed in the classroom. A few days later, the students practice the methodology in the laboratory. Afterwards, their experience with that reaction can be revisited in the classroom again. In general, hands-on training is very important in a learning process.

Ideally, the students should be involved in a research project as early as possible, where one-on-one instructions takes place. This forms the basis of adding new knowledge to their current knowledge base. Thus, I place a very high value on undergraduate research. Undergraduate research not only allows for the students to develop an independent work style, it also encourages problem solving skills. Undergraduate research allows the students to collect and analyze data, to draw conclusions and to present and defend their results.

However, other aspects of successful teaching are also important. Motivation of the students plays an important role. If students experience setbacks, those problems must be addressed. If students are successful on experimental procedure or in their problem solving, they deserve praise. I want to stay in contact with the students and actively encourage dialogue during office hours, by appointment, by walk-in or by email.

Refining my teaching skills

Of course, a teacher also has to learn. As with learning, teaching is also a process that has to be developed and refined. It is important for me to review my own teaching effort. I am constantly expanding my teaching skills by discussion with peers, reading relevant journals (such as Chemical Educator and Journal of Chemical Education) and books, by joining further education and teaching seminars or visiting conferences.
Seeking student feedback also is important. Through these evaluative and informative processes I want to continually refine my teaching practices and grow as a teacher and scholar.

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Courses taught in Spring 2019

CHEM2633 - Organic Chemistry Laboratory

CHEM6905 - Graduate Research in Chemistry

CHEM3905 - Undergraduate Research in Chemistry

Students see Canvas for further information and course material.

Latest news

February 2019:
Our latest article on propargylic substitution catalysis can be downloaded here.

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