PreLecture Resources: Literature Examples

This post provides some short annotations to literature involving prelecture resources/activities – the annotations are a brief summary rather than a commentary:

  1. Online Discussion Assignments Improve Students’ Class Preparation, Teaching of Psychology, 2010, 37(2), 204-209: Lecturer used pre-lecture discussion activities to encourage students to read text before attending class. It had no direct influence on examination results but students reported that they felt they understood the material better and that they felt more prepared for exams.
  2. Using multimedia modules to better prepare students for introductory physics lecture, Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research, 2010, 6(1), 010108: Authors introduce multimedia learning modules (MLMs) which are pre-lecture web-based resources which are awarded credit to incentivize usage. Authors mention one of the reasons as being to reduce the cognitive load in lectures. The total time required for each pre-lecture was about 15 mins, and they covered most of what was coming up in the lecture itself. the authors argue by presenting exam scores, etc, that the prelecture resources increased students’ understanding of a topic before coming to the lecture, measured by post-prelecture-but-before-lecture questions, and will present in a subsequent paper how the lecture experience changed because of the introduction of these resources. (T. Stelzer, D. T. Brookes, G. Gladding, and J. P. Mestre, Comparing the efficacy of multimedia modules with traditional textbooks for learning introductory physics content. Am. J. Phys.). The authors provide a link to examples of their prelecture resources (Flash resource).
  3. Benefits of prelecture quizzes, Teaching of Psychology, 2006, 33(2), 109 – 112: Tests the use of pre-lecture quizzes and found that students felt that lectures were more organised, felt better prepared for exams, and performed better on essay questions when compared to students who had not completed pre-lecture quizzes.
  4. Student-Centered Learning: A Comparison of Two Different Methods of Instruction, Journal of Chemical Education, 2004, 81(7), 985 – 988: Lecturer introduced pre-lecture quizzes to facilitate just in time teaching – teaching based on student misunderstandings/difficulties identified just prior to the lecture. The students took the approach seriously as they were given some credit for it. the approach was considered successful by staff and students in the programme.
  5. From the Textbook to the Lecture: Improving Prelecture Preparation in Organic Chemistry, Journal of Chemical Education, 2002, 79(4), 520 – 523: This paper describes attempts to encourage students to prepare for lectures. The authors argue that engagement with the textbook results in more active learning by students. Pre-lecture activities (“HWebs”) were to be completed by students prior to each lecture, and were based on the content of that lecture. The lecture itself remained relatively unchanged. The analysis found that student performance on HWebs correlated with their end of semester grade. While students generally liked the material, the felt that the system penalized them for being incorrect on material they had not yet been taught. Students did generally agree that use of the HWebs helped them understand the material in lectures. and the lecturers found that the nature of the lecture did gradually evolve to more explanation and discussion.
  6. Preparing the mind of the learner, University Chemistry Education, 1999, 3, 43: This paper uses examination statistics to demonstrate the effectiveness of pre-lectures, with a particular effect noted for students who did not have a strong background in chemistry. The pre-lecture is defined as an activity prior to block of lectures aimed at either stimulting the prior knnowledge that may be present but inaccessible/forgotten and/or to establish the essential background knowledge so that learning takes place on a solid foundation. The students involves were in a year 1 of 4 (Scottish) degree and included those who had to take chemistry in their first year as well as those who were pursuing a chemistry degree, and students with a low level of prior knowledge were enrolled on the module. The pre-lecture took the form of a short quiz at the start of the pre-lecture, which students marked themselves, followed by the class breaking into groups comprised of a mixture of self-designated “needing help” and “willing to help”.The remainder of the pre-lecture activity allowed for the group to work through activities. The evaluation took the form of comparing the exam results of students in this group (who had little or no chemistry) and the students in the group that did not have pre-lectures but had a good level of chemistry knowledge. The results demonstrated that there was a significant difference between these groups in the years that pe-lectures were not offered, but not in the years pre-lectures were offered. A range of confounding factors, including mathematics knowledge were examined and found not to affect the results. The results are surprising, given that the students without pre-lectures received approximately 10% more teaching time as this was the time given over to the pre-lectures for the group that had them.
  7. Preparing the mind of the learner – part 2, University Chemistry Education,2001, 5, 52: This second paper from the Centre for Science Education on this topic. Based on the evidence from the first study on the benefits of pre-lectures, this work looks at the development and implementation of “Chemorganisers”. These aimed to enable the preparation of students for their lecture course, ease the load on the working memory space and change students’ attitudes towards learning. The structure and purpose of Chemorganiser design is explained in detail, along with an example. Evaluation was carried out by comparing the exam marks between the two groups described in the previous paper. In the year Chemorganisers were instigated, this difference was insignificant.
  8. Developing Study Skills in the Context of the General Chemistry Course: The Prelecture Assignment, Journal of Chemical Education, 1985, 62(6) 509-510: This short paper reports on the inclusion of using instructional activities during a lecture course to allow students develop study habits.Students are asked to read a section of a text book prior to the lecture and are asked questions at the start of the lecture. Evaluation took the form of student survey, who said that they liked the pre-lecture assignments and that it encouraged in-class discussion.

Image Credit

Cognitive considerations… in practice

I posted a summary last time of what best practice from cognitive science research preached about designing online resources. Putting it into practice threw up some interesting considerations. I’ve summarised these below in light of developing my first pre-lecture resource, as well as reflections stimulated by conversations about it with my colleague Claire.

The first pre-resource is for my first lecture in introductory chemistry which is based around the structure of the atom, the main components (protons, electrons and neutrons) as derived from the Rutherford model, the notion of elements and then progresses onto a discussion of isotopes, introducing the technique of mass spectrometry.  There are a lot of new terms – I counted 17 in the lecture notes* – and I derived four learning outcomes for the lecture. Both of these exclude the case studies used in the lecture, which also incorporates a demonstration.

1. The purpose of the pre-resource:

The first step was to define the main goal of the lecture, based on Norman Reid’s advice to me on this. I decided that while it didn’t encompass everything I did in the lecture, the main goal was “to describe the structure of the atom and how this leads to the definition of an element”. This would arise out of a discussion of the Rutherford experiment.  I decided to concentrate the pre-lecture resource on this goal, which threw up my first concern that the content would be very dry. I was torn between wanting to “advertise” the themes in the first lecture and rigidly focussing on the ultimate aim of the pre-resource – to introduce the viewer to some of the terminology. The resulting resource tended very much towards the latter. I suppose this makes sense, as it means the lecture can concentrate on the more interesting aspects such as applications, contexts and so on, but it was hard not to include some of this. I had to keep reminding myself that the resource was not a summary of the lecture, more a preparation for it.

2. Design

I made a simple tabbed design which uses tabs to outline the main structure – so that everything is visible at once. There are some flaws with this – for example a student who just clicks on tabs will miss two pages, although a left hand menu will highlight this.

3. Presentation of text

Keeping in mind the modality ideas discussed in the principles post, most of the text presented in the resource is spoken, with key phrases, aims and terminology given in written form. Having scripted the resource, I added the text to the notes, which can be viewed in the presentation. The first version was a bit robotic, so after reviewing other aspects, I re-recorded the audio to try to make it a bit more casual.

4. Effect on my consideration of how to deliver

Despite having taught this content for several years, being forced to choose a small amount of content meant that I really had to think again about how I introduce this topic. For example, in considering terminology, I had a dilemma about how to phrase the wording about electrons. The Rutherford model is an over-simplification, albeit a useful one, and I like to get the message across early on about its limitations, but discussing with Claire, decided to stick to the particle notion for the pre-resource, and gradually introduce the cloud model of electrons a little later through the lectures themselves. Other changes after initial review included including a definition of the atom to begin with as well as a rationale – why what was being presented was important. I have to say the exercise of distilling down to this core level has really made me think about how this content – the very basics of chemistry – can be effectively presented. One failing that I have not yet overcome is a way to integrate the content into the prior knowledge of students, although the definitions used would relate to what students who had studied chemistry before would be used to, and the lecture is based around one of the most identifiable symbols of science – the structure of the atom (which is how I start the lecture).

I also decided that some active work could be encouraged, so ask students to do some study of their own on the Rutherford experiment before the lecture – this will tie in with changes in the lecture itself on encouraging discussion, which will be discussed elsewhere in a post on scientific literacy.

5. Quiz

At the end of the resource, I had a short quiz. There isn’t much scope with this material at this stage to introduce fading, etc, so it is fairly cut-and-dry. Because I was initially going to tie this in with assessment, I did not include any feedback or right answers. The result was that it was a bit abrupt. Claire also felt the questions were tough, which they were on looking at them again, and suggested an easy starter. Therefore I decided not to include a mark for the assessment – merely to log the fact the students do them (via SCORM), and push the assessment elements to other aspects of in-class work. This freed me up to give feedback for each question (answer specific), and allow students to review the quiz and/or print off the sheet. I think this makes for a more useful learning object.

For comparative purposes, the resource before and after analysis are linked here. the next stage will be to implement them – roll on next week!

*New terms include atom, electron, proton, neutron, nucleus, alpha-particles, radioactivity, element, atomic number, mass number, isotopes, deuterium, tritium, density, atomic mass unit, mass spectroscopy, ionised.

Variety in Chemistry 2010

I attended the UK Variety in Chemistry Education 2010 meeting in September at Loughborough University. Variety is always a great meeting, with lots of talks from practitioners about ideas they have had and how they got on after implementing them. This is my fifth Variety, and every year I come away with useful ideas. I’ve sketched out some notes below. I think the talks presented will be available on the Physical Sciences Centre website at some stage.


Two keynote speakers gave talks at Variety. The first was my own colleague, Dr Claire Mc Donnell, who won the RSC Higher Education Teaching award last year. The winner of this award always opens Variety. Claire spoke about various initiatives she is involved in at DIT, including development of effective learning support for first years, development of project based labs, incorporation of e-learning into teaching through wikis and discussion board support and her extensive work on community based learning. There was a lot of interest from the audience in the latter topic.

Prof Tina Overton was the second keynote. She won the RSC Nyholm prize for chemistry education, which is awarded every two years. Her talk covered a very broad range of chemistry education research – consideration of cognitive overload, measuring students learning capacity and their problem solving approaches – in examining how students approach and learn from the problem-based learning approach in chemistry. The outcome from a practical point of view was that problem-based learning, with problems usually set in a context, can overload students cognitively because of the many new pieces of information they are exposed to at once – so this needs to be recognised and supported by scaffolding and facilitating group work. Tina stated that students do become better at solving open-ended problems with practice through the PBL method, but that there was little correlation between their ability to do this and their final degree mark. There was however a strong correlation between students ability to sove algorithmic problems and their degree mark. Tina also received warm praise from the chair for her work in directing the HEA Physical Sciences Centre.

Ideas from Practitioners

The really great thing about variety is the ideas you get from other practitioners. A few of the best are listed below:

  • The on the cutting edge award: David McGarvey, at Keele, always one to try out and report new ideas, spoke of his use of audio feedback for lab reports. He gave some positive feedback on his trials, reporting that after an initial learning phase, the process of audio feedback took no more time than written feedback, but that audio contained very much more information, as well as tone. Students liked the feedback, seeing it as a good substitute for individual discussion. He plans to extend it so that students can respond, hence opening up a dialogue regarding the lab report. David mentioned a useful resource site for practitioners considering audio feedback: (I have also made an online tutorial on how to use Audacity for recording feedback)
  • The techy award goes to Stephen McClean, from University of Ulster. Stephen gave students videos camcorders to record their lab sessions and provide reflective logs on their lab classes. Stephen created a Youtube-type site where students could upload their videos, comment and rate others. Some more details are available here.
  • The simplest idea award (often the best) goes to Martin Pitt, who gave students two lab classes instead of one to compete an experiment. The result of this was that students could use the second class to repeat an experiment having learned from the first attempt, or try out new conditions of the same experiment. It was a nice idea, and Martin reported some good feedback from students – especially around the area of students thinking about their experiment the second time out.
  • The teaching-research integration award goes to Katy McKenzie, University of Leicester, who reported on an impressive programme of PBL labs, where students interact with research groups at the university as part of their early lab studies. Watch this space – I imagine there will be a publication on this shortly, there’s lots of great work going on at Leicester.
  • The I told you so award goes to Steve Hanson, Physical Sciences Centre, who reported on a large scale study of chemistry graduates. A report is imminent on the centre website – but some take-home points were that while graduates feel that their chemistry degrees prepared them well for chemistry aspects of their job, there was a dearth in the provision of generic skills, such as giving an oral presentation, problem solving and working in groups.
  • Useful resource award goes jointly to Nick Greeves/Kirsty Barnes, University of Liverpool and Paul Chin, Physical Sciences Centre. Kirsty gave a workshop on Chemtube3D – an absolutely fantastic resource for school and college chemistry; while Paul reported on the Jorum resource website, a similar idea to the Irish NDLR. Both of these presentations show the healthy state of the OER movement.
  • The irish eyes are smiling award goes jointly to the many Irish contributors to Variety. As well as Claire, there were several talks from University of Limerick, on student difficulites in organic chemistry and misconceptions in chemistry and a report from Mike Bridge of TCD on the CELLT project – involving several Dublin institutions and based on the ACELL model.

There were lots more – check out the Physical Sciences Centre website. All in all, not bad for two days work!

Interview with John Biggs

Found these on iTunesU from La Trobe University (Australia) – interviews with John Biggs (constructive alignment and problem based learning); Vaughan Prain (teaching science);  Chris Scanlan (New media for journalism students); Lorraine Ling (future of education). Nice, listenable, relatively short podcast interviews.

Link to Biggs interview is here – this will open iTunes and the others are there [would like a nice iTunes embedder…?]

Image Credit

BCCE Day 1

Some thoughts from BCCE Day 1 – including environmental pbl study, lab assessment methods, part 2; research awareness following innovations in lab teaching; cognition studies, using videos of students and developing models if students’ conceptions of acid strength; part 3 – students problems with molarity in chemistry.
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3: