Online tutorials can teach us how to do just about anything-- knit a sweater, fix a broken appliance, or pick up a new language. But what about learning molecular structure, oxidation, and chemical reactivity?
When professor of practice Suzanne Fernandez wanted to introduce video tutorials into her organic chemistry course she turned to Lehigh’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL), which offered not only a One Button Studio but also TRAC fellows and staff eager to help.
After launching a peer-led team learning program for her course last year and presenting its outcomes at the Spring 2017 CITL Symposium on Teaching and Learning, Fernandez consulted with Greg Skutches, director of the TRAC fellow peer tutoring program, to explore additional options for peer learning, the One Button Studio, and other resources available through the center.
Enter student-to-student teaching
Fernandez began by asking undergraduates who have successfully taken her course (Peer Leaders) to create instructional videos where they explained problems and concepts she knew her students struggled with. Over time, she expanded the program to include not only her own tutorials but also those created by students taking the class, with assistance from TRAC fellows selected by Skutches.
“The goal was to elucidate the differences in how students explain concepts to other students as opposed to how the course instructor would,” Fernandez said. “While many have studied the effectiveness of the peer learning model in different disciplines,” she explained, “there are very few studies on whether there are specific differences in how organic chemistry students explain things that makes peer learning so effective in that discipline.”
Making it easy
Fernandez and the students use the One Button Studio, opened in fall 2016 as a CITL initiative to simplify the creation of quality instructional videos with minimal technical assistance. Users need only insert a flash drive and press a button to start and stop recording.
Located in the EWFM Library, the studio also features a Lightboard, a transparent glass "chalkboard" pumped full of light. It allows instructors to face their viewers while presenting written content. The writing glows in front of the audience.
Because users aren’t saddled with assembling cameras, lights, and other equipment, they’re up and running in minutes.
“The simplicity of the One Button Studio makes creating videos effortless,” says Skutches. “It lets students focus on their assignments or projects rather than on the technology.”
TRAC Fellows lend a hand
Nadine Elsayed ‘18, one of three TRAC fellows contributing to the project, leapt at the chance to be part of it. She and other fellows, Omar Ahmed ‘19 and Tim LaRowe ‘19, are responsible for running the studio, collecting notes and paperwork, and uploading all the videos for review. Together, they are on track to produce about 200 student-made tutorials this semester.
Elsayed, a Global Studies and Journalism student and TRAC fellow for two years, described how the project enriches the learning experience. “Students were asked to explain the problem and solution to another who didn’t understand -- a little like Khan Academy,” she said. Having students teach their fellow classmates how to solve complex problems using the Lightboard turns traditional instruction on its head.
“As the saying goes, you learn best when you can teach others,” she said.
Fernandez lauds the TRAC program and CITL for providing support services that help students produce the best videos possible. “Our TRAC fellows have been an invaluable resource for the organic chemistry students,” she says.
Seeing the thought process
Preliminary project results show how the series of tutorials can be used not only as a course supplement for students but as an assessment tool for instructors.
“Teachers often see mistakes students make on paper, but don’t always know what the student was thinking that led to that mistake,” Fernandez says.
“By watching the students explain their thinking as they work through the problem, I can tell exactly why the student made the mistake and can clarify any misunderstandings the student may have about a concept.”
A hidden gem
The One Button Studio has proven popular, and is used for about 150 recording sessions per semester, according to Stephen Sakasitz, senior instructional technologist for Library and Technology Services. “We’ve seen it used for everything from mock job interviews to conversational ESL practice to recording first person oral history narratives,” Sakasitz said.
Elsayed considers the One Button Studio a hidden gem among the resources available to the Lehigh community. “I was flabbergasted that something this cool existed on campus and that students weren’t clamoring to use it.” She adds, “Students can book the studio for an hour and embark on a creative journey. They can practice their presentations. They can design a doodle for their social media. The possibilities are endless!”
Fernandez echoes that enthusiasm. She credits the studio work with helping students gain comfort in front of the camera, refine their presentation skills, and bolster their confidence.
The One Button Studio is open to all students, faculty, and staff. For more information or to make a reservation, see go.lehigh.edu/onebutton.
By: Kathy Frederick