Organic chemistry instructors integrate handheld technology and
applications into course lecture and lab to engage students with tools
and techniques students use in the modern world. This technology and
applications enable instructors to re-visit the Thayer Method of
teaching and learning to create an updated method that works with 21st
century students. The Thayer Method is based on the premise that
students are willing and capable of making substantial preparation
before coming to class and lab in order to maximize efficiency of
student-instructor contact time. During this student preparation phase,
we engage students with handheld technology and content applications
including smart phone viewable course administrative materials;
"flashcards" containing basic organic chemistry nomenclature,
molecular structures, and chemical reactions; mini-lectures prepared
using the Smart Board Airliner Interactive Tablet for upcoming class
periods and laboratory technique videos demonstrating tasks they will
perform as part of laboratory experimentation. Coupled with a student
friendly course text, these handheld applications enable substantial
student preparation before class and lab. The method, in conjunction
with handheld technology and applications, has been used with positive
results in our organic chemistry courses.
Keywords: Undergraduate, science education, chemistry education,
multimedia-based learning; computer-based learning, wireless
application, Thayer Method.
Organic chemists at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) have been
working since 2007 to create an organic chemistry program that embodies
the GGC vision "where learning will take place continuously in and
beyond the confines of the traditional classroom (1)." While
innovative use of educational technology is part of the vision.
President Daniel Kaufman has often stated that "it's not about
the gizmo (holding a smart phone up for a group of newly hired faculty
to see), it's about using the gizmo to enhance student learning
Organic chemistry is the gateway course for students pursuing
training in the health professions as well as upper level biology,
biochemistry, and chemistry programs. Most students find organic
chemistry exceptionally challenging because of the breadth and depth of
content and the rapid pace of the course, referring to it as "the
infamous, dreaded 'orgo', a marathon of memorization."
Such sentiment is common at most schools, where between 25-50% of
students do not continue to the second semester (3). At GGC we seek to
avoid the infamous, dreaded orgo by engaging students with handheld
technology and course content applications to extend learning beyond the
confines of the classroom and laboratory.
Pedagogical approaches to teaching demanding, rigorous courses such
as organic chemistry have been thoroughly investigated. Alternatives to
lecture include active and cooperative learning, student directed and
team learning, grade-study contacts, problem-solving and collaborative
learning, as well as distance-education. Studies indicate enhanced
learning and greater student satisfaction when lecture is supplemented
with other instructional techniques. As long as class size is relatively
small (< 30), an approach that enhances student engagement is the
Thayer Method, named for Sylvanus Thayer, Superintendent of West Point
from 1817-1833. The Method's hallmark is that students prepare in
detail prior to class, so each lesson assignment is published in advance
with lesson objectives, study assignment, terms, concepts, and homework
problems. The tenets of the Method are:
* Students responsible for their learning, which is incremental and
* Small class size (<30 students)
* Students prepare in advance of class/lab attendance via detailed
* Instructor facilitates student learning before, during, and after
* Minimize lecture; maximize active, student-directed,
* In class board work:
* student ownership and responsibility for their actions in the
* students demonstrate mastery in a formal process o students
"publish" and defend
* Frequent assessment and feedback
There is essentially a contract whereby students commit to
preparing before class and instructors commit to flexibility in
facilitating student learning during class by allowing sufficient time
for discussion, exploration of more challenging topics in depth, and
student problem solving under the guiding and mentoring eye of the
instructor (via whiteboard sessions) (4-14).
Students new to organic chemistry typically memorize functional
groups, structures, reactions and mechanisms, at least initially.
Instructors intend that as students progress through the curriculum, the
notion of memorization is replaced with understanding. To assuage
students' dread of organic and help them advance to the point of
understanding, we searched for ways to supplement traditional
pedagogical approaches with instruction adapted to the life and learning
style of today's generation of students (15). Our search led us to
update the Thayer Method for the 21st Century by engaging students with
handheld technology and applications tailored for organic chemistry.
Students already demonstrate facility with handheld devices, so our
intent is to further develop handheld organic chemistry content with
flashcards, mini-lectures, and experimental techniques demonstrations
that enable student engagement, enhance effectiveness and efficiency of
student preparation outside of class, and maximize effectiveness and
efficiency of faculty-student contact time during class and lab periods.
A recent study by the American Enterprise Institute reported a decline
in college student study time from 1961 to 2003 (16). The most likely
explanation for the decline is that academic achievement standards have
fallen. Students report, however, they are using learning technologies
more than ever as noted in the 2009 National Survey of Student
Engagement (NSSE) (17). Therein, students express positive impacts on
learning via course management systems and interactive technologies
(such as course blogs, student response systems, etc.). These results
further motivated us to use educational technology to support student
preparation before class, enabling a modernized Thayer Method.
Educational technology has moved far beyond course management
systems to include "mobile learning" via content and
applications on handheld devices (18). Device mobility determines the
method and frequency of student use. In a recent Educause survey, 51% of
student respondents report owning an Internet-capable handheld device
and access the Internet in bursts of short duration in contrast to
longer duration work via laptop or desktop computer. As a result, course
materials designed for access on handheld devices should capitalize on
student's short duration study efforts rather than duplicate what
can already be done on a computer. Investigators at the City University
of Hong Kong assessed the impact on learning of mobile devices and
associated applications with 2400 students who were provided wireless
PDAs (19). Results indicate learning enhancement for a small cadre of
the students and demonstrate the need for integrated, pedagogically
driven instructor and institutional efforts to make the devices more
widely useful. Indeed, a recent investigation by Conole, et al. found
that students are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of various
technologies and do not use technologies that do not provide direct
personal benefit (20).
There are many computer-based applications for organic chemistry,
but as many GGC students do not own a computer or are not inclined to
use a desktop or laptop computer, these applications are not
particularly user friendly for them. In addition, computers do not offer
the 24/7 convenience of handheld devices. For example, while electronic,
web-based based reaction flash cards have been shown effective in
enhancing student ability to learn reactions, they require a desktop or
laptop computer and students miss the learning opportunity of creating
their own flash cards--distinct disadvantages (21-22). As an indication
of how the younger generation is using new media tools, the UCSD Organic
Chemistry program was recently featured in a Physorg.com article titled
"Organic Chemistry for the YouTube Generation" in which
students perform organic techniques, pre-lab briefings, and
demonstrations in short audio-video
clips (23). With the advent of the iPhone and other handheld
devices, students can access this organic course content 24 hours a day.
This degree of access is likewise available with "podcasts"
that are appearing in instructional efforts in many disciplines (24). As
students migrate to the versatility, mobility, and convenience of cell
phones--they can listen to music, watch videos, text or call friends,
email, surf the web, play games--all on a pocket size device, the allure
of the laptop computer is rapidly waning. A challenge for educators is
to capitalize on the pervasive use of cell phones by younger students
for educational purposes.
Organic chemistry courses at GGC are taught in small sections with
no more than 24 students, and as a result, this offers many
opportunities for instructional flexibility. Instructors use a version
of the Thayer Method to enable 21st Century student preparation,
providing students the following course materials, viewable on a
handheld device. These materials are published on the course Blackboard
site and are also available on the public GGC web page via the
University of System of Georgia (USG) podcast server (25).
* Detailed syllabus
* Admin info
* College Integrated Educational Experience (IEE) Goals
* Academic Program Goals
* Course Goals
* Lesson Objectives
* Daily lesson outline w/study assignment, terms, HW problems
* Faculty contact information: phone text/voice messaging
faculty[square box] student (faculty phones and data plans are provided
by the college administration)
* Student-friendly text and solutions manual
* Flash cards (computer or handheld device operable)
* Airliner podcasts (computer or handheld device operable)
* Lab techniques videos (computer or handheld device operable)
Students prepare before class using these materials so that class
time is not spent with the instructor lecturing, but rather by focusing
on students' specific questions and issues from the homework. The
75-minute class period becomes a student-led discussion and problem
solving session with a faculty facilitator. As the instructor has no
fixed agenda during the class period, he or she is more responsive to
students and guides the class based on student-driven discussion,
questions, and issues. The typical class session sequence is described
* Students prepare before class using detailed syllabus
* Targeted query gauging student understanding at beginning of
* Student driven discussion, Q/A, focused on daily lesson
* Chemical demonstrations and discussion
* On-the-fly instructor mini-lectures as needed
* Student whiteboard work (individual and groups) and recitation
demonstrate achievement of lesson objectives
* Frequent quizzes to provide rapid feedback to students on their
progress and reward student preparation of the daily assignment
This interactive and engaging class format allows for student
recitation under the watchful eye of the instructor, offering students
opportunities to develop their oral and written communication skills in
a low stress environment. Figure 1 illustrates typical class activities
using the Thayer Method. The lab program is also directly integrated and
synchronized with the class, using the same instructor for each lab and
class section. This approach has the synergistic benefit of enabling
instructors to incorporate chemical demonstrations which link classroom
topic discussions to the laboratory experiment.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Students have access to digital flash cards for such topics as
functional groups and reactions (Figure 2), to name but a few. As GGC is
an open access institution and many of our students cannot afford their
own handheld device, iPod Touch devices have been purchased for two
sections of students through the GGC Vice President for Academics and
Student Affairs (VPASA) seed grant program. There are also numerous
computer labs throughout campus, as well as free campus-wide WiFi, that
students may use to access material.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
In addition to flash cards, students also use podcast
mini-lectures, created by faculty using the SmartBoard Airliner wireless
tablet, as they prepare their homework assignments. These mini-lectures,
accessible via handheld device or computer through the USG podcast
server, supplement the textbook study assignment and feature faculty
audio "voice-over" of a white board "chalk-talk". A
particularly effective aspect of these mini-lectures is that students
control the pace--they may pause, rewind, or replay the mini-lecture
until they understand the concept and are able to continue their
homework preparation. As a result, students don't get discouraged
and quit preparing homework. Rather, they may use the mini-lectures to
help them overcome the barrier to self-teaching during homework
preparation so that they are able to come to class with specific
questions rather than what faculty dread, that is, students saying
"I don't understand anything and couldn't even get
started with the homework." Faculty members have created an
assortment of mini-lectures for topics students traditionally struggle
with. The listing may be viewed on the GGC iTouch Chemistry Project web
site and examples are shown in Figure 3, that illustrate the level of
detail viewable on a hand held device.
The organic faculty created microscale organic laboratory
techniques videos that demonstrate common techniques students perform
during the laboratory portion of the course, such as "microscale
recrystallization." As with the flashcards and mini-lectures, the
lab techniques videos are housed on the GGC iTouch [R] Chemistry Project
web page. Our intent with lab, as with class, is to enable thorough
student preparation. With such preparation, students are able to more
efficiently and effectively perform the experiment while leaving more
time for reflection and analysis of what they have accomplished.
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
INITIAL RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Our ultimate goal with creating these materials is to enhance
student learning of organic chemistry. Toward that end, we collected
preliminary student attitudinal data concerning our approach to the
course by supplementing traditional course materials with course content
viewable on a handheld device. The faculty began the project three years
ago with cell phone reaction flashcards and have gradually built a suite
of supplemental materials viewable on handheld devices. A VPASA seed
grant awarded in 2010 enabled us to outfit two sections of students with
iTouch[R] devices, so by the end of the year we may be able to collect
sufficient data to make initial judgments about whether the course
content via handheld device enhances student learning. In any case,
initial student feedback concerning the importance of learning organic
chemistry reactions using organic cell phone flash cards as a tool to
help them learn has been very positive. Students appreciate the value of
cell phones that are always with them as opposed to more traditional
tools, so that they may study the material at any time or place. Student
comments below illustrate the positive attitude concerning cell phone
* "... no giant deck of cards to keep track of ..."
* "... more convenient and more fun to look at than paper
* "... who wants to carry pages of paper cards ..."
* "... always have my cell phone with me when I am in the
The mini-lecture podcasts have also been very positively received
by the students, and while we do not have sufficient quantitative data
to demonstrate impact on student learning, it is apparent from their
comments that at least students believe the mini-lectures enhance their
learning. Student comments below illustrate the positive attitude
concerning mini-lecture podcasts:
* "... the prep videos help me understand the material much
more than the book ..."
* "for visual learners, this is exactly what we need. .... It
makes it easier for students to prep for class and come prepared with
* "... the videos are an excellent aid in my preparation for
class. ... they also allow me to focus on the course objectives ... and
... the videos are very convenient-I ... can learn at my own pace
Our implementation of the Thayer Method in organic chemistry over
the past three years has proven very successful particularly with
respect to increasing student engagement and activity in the classroom.
Student opinion of the method appears to follow a pattern--initially,
many students are intimidated by the sequence of class activities and
are somewhat hesitant about the idea of working problems at the boards.
However, over the course of the semester, most students completely
"buy-in" to the Method, growing to appreciate the value of
lesson preparation and the engaging sequence of class activities during
which they are active participants rather than passive observers. The
following statement from an organic chemistry student confirms the
overall positive attitude toward the Thayer Method. "The
whiteboards were the most important part of the learning experience for
me in this class. Working along side peers and having to think
critically was vital for me to comprehend and retain the material. It
basically made chemistry, a difficult topic, easy."
Likert scale quantitative student attitudinal data concerning the
Thayer Method have been positive. Survey results clearly indicate
components of the Thayer Method shown below are helpful to student
* Group use of the whiteboards in class.
* Faculty--student Q & A sessions in class.
* Viewing the preparatory videos (particularly in organic
* Working homework problems before class.
With the positive initial reception of cell phone flash cards,
Airliner preparatory videos and the use of the Thayer method in general,
the plan will be to adopt their use across other chemistry courses when
they are offered at GGC. While the Thayer Method is not a teaching and
learning method that many students have been exposed to before they come
to GGC, the overall student response has been very positive. Many
students respond well to a highly structured class format and feel that
it allows them to study much more effectively for each class, rather
than coming to class (without any preparation) and having no idea as to
what will be covered that day. The expanded I-touch [R] study, which
includes new, interactive chemistry software applications for two
sections of Organic Chemistry I is currently underway. Having already
determined that students respond very favorably to handheld organic
content, our goal is this year is to investigate if the handheld devices
lead to enhanced learning.
The authors thank the Vice President for Academic and Student
Affairs Seed Grant Program and the Vice President for Educational
Technology funding and support for the project.
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Julia Paredes, Richard L. Pennington, David P. Pursell, Joseph C.
Sloop * and Mai Yin Tsoi
Chemistry Program, School of Science & Technology
Georgia Gwinnett College
Lawrenceville, GA 30043, USA
"Author to whom correspondence should be addressed,