Flexibility and depth: Hallmarks of One Course At A Time
By Chemistry Professor Craig Teague
Flexibility abounds with One Course At A Time. In chemistry, we take advantage of this flexibility on daily, course-level, and curriculum-level timescales.
On a daily basis, our only time constraint is that courses must end by 3 p.m. to allow time for music ensemble rehearsals and athletic practices. For example, in my physical chemistry courses we simply go to lab when it makes sense within the rest of the course content.
At the course level, we are free to choose lab activities for their educational value rather than for their ability to fit within a more artificial time constraint. It is hard to overstate the importance of this fact, and it is a key advantage in teaching science. Another example is my Forensic Science: Real Life CSI class, where we take a day-long field trip to the state crime lab.
At the curriculum level, One Course gives us the ability to innovate in distinctive ways. For example, our organic chemistry curriculum is unlike any other. Other schools have a two-course sequence with a lab component alongside the lecture component in both courses. Ours is a three course sequence with the third course being lab only, and One Course allows a lab immersion experience that is unique. The result is a compelling and rewarding experience for our students.
The flexibility afforded by One Course allows us to be creative in our teaching. This alone makes our calendar very valuable. However, this flexibility, when paired with the intensity of One Course, allows something more important: uncommon depth of experience and understanding. This serves as great preparation for our summer research program, for graduate school, and for employment.
To take full advantage of the depth allowed by One Course, I adopted an active learning, student centered approach called Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) in most courses. In a POGIL classroom, students work in groups to discover the material themselves through carefully designed activities. In addition to developing deep content knowledge, this approach specifically targets lifelong learning skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and communication through collaboration and reflection. Our calendar is an ideal place to implement POGIL because we are not constrained to 50-minute class periods.
And speaking of a lifelong skill, our students develop excellent time management skills. As a new assistant professor, I used to say there was no procrastination on One Course At A Time. After observing students (and, yes, myself) for a little while, I realized that procrastination still exists here—it’s just on the hour timescale instead of the months-long timescale I observed on the semester plan.
Chemistry is a content-driven field, but our content is ever-expanding because of new discoveries in research. More important than any specific content is the ability to think deeply, to ask and answer questions, and to integrate knowledge. These ideas are at the heart of the liberal arts. Our calendar affords us all a distinctive and advantageous mechanism to experience the liberal arts.