Hybrid Course Showcase: CHEM-313 Survey of Biochemistry and Biotechnology – Anya Goodman

by Tonia Malone on September 22, 2010

co-writen with Ayna Goodman

Brief Course Overview:

The CTL has been providing a grant program, Course Design with Technology in Mind (CDTM), to support faculty with the use of technology and/or hybrid course design for the past three years. Anya Goodman was a grant recipient for the CDTM program in Winter 2008.

CHEM 313 is a prerequisite for a wide range of majors: food science and nutrition, animal science, biology, kinesiology, and biomedical engineering. Students prior experience with chemistry ranges from two quarters of to two years.

Anya has been teaching this course for five years. The course content includes the structure of biological molecules and their function, principles of metabolism, and a survey of biotechnology. Typically this course is taught in a traditional lecture/lab format: four hours per week of lecture time and a once a week three-hour laboratory.

Course Challenges:

  • Non-chemistry majors have a fear of chemistry.
  • The course content is difficult because biochemistry requires:
    • integration of knowledge across disciplines (e.g., general and organic chemistry, biology, physics and math)
    • abstract thinking (e.g., graphs represent behavior of tiny invisible molecules), while most of these students are concrete thinkers and have not developed “abstract thinking” skills.
  • Different levels of preparation among students result in unpredictable knowledge gaps.  As a result, it is difficult to deliver lectures that are both accessible to students with minimal background and interesting to students with stronger prior knowledge.  A lot of lecture time is spent on the basics (even vocabulary!) and when exciting applications of science are discussed, a large number of students feel lost.
  • Students have difficulty seeing the larger picture, beyond the bits of information they learn; in other words, the significance of scientific knowledge and impact on our everyday life. (For example: Realizing that understanding connections between genes and diseases leads to development of genetic tests, and the availability of genetic tests requires people to make informed decisions about using the tests.)

Methods Used to Address Challenges:

Carnegie Mellon's OLI Bio screen image

Carnegie Mellon's OLI Bio screen image

Online course content prior to lecture
Two years ago, Anya began using online materials developed by the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University. These materials deliver static content (text and figures), dynamic animations and simulations, as well as assessment tools (embedded questions, graded and ungraded quizzes). As result of the CDTM, Anya modified how she taught her course to require students to complete readings and quizzes on-line before the face-to-face lecture. This allowed Anya to prepare (front load) her students before the lectures. Students were able to work at their own pace and bring the level of their knowledge to some common level. The OLI online course provides instructor with reports on student progress, including percentage correct responses on individual quiz questions, “free response” answers to some questions, and student reflection on their understanding of the material.  Anya used this information to modify each lecture and addressed misconceptions.

Carnegie Mellon's OLI Bio screen image

Carnegie Mellon's OLI Bio screen image

Exam Study Guides Anya used Blackboard to post exam study guides with specific learning objectives for each topic, Powerpoint slides, and additional links to web resources.  The study guides were used to narrow down the scope of the material and make expectations explicit, making the course material seem manageable and helped students overcome their fear of chemistry.

Carnegie Mellon's OLI Bio screen image

Carnegie Mellon's OLI Bio screen image

Discussion Boards Every week, a new forum was revealed containing posts by students discussing the week’s popular press articles related to the course material.  The rules of the forum were explicitly stated and included an example from the instructor.  Initial post had to contain relevant molecules (explicit connection to the course material), a brief summary of the discovery, and questions for discussion, which were subsequently addressed by other students.  The discussion board was used to help students see the relevance of course material to their everyday life, which helped motivate them to study. This assignment also engaged students in higher order cognitive tasks (analysis and application).


Teaching in hybrid mode placed more responsibility for learning on the students.  Dealing with basic content (definitions, facts) outside of class freed up more class time for discussions and higher level cognitive tasks (synthesis, analysis and application). This made lectures more interactive and enjoyable for both the students and the instructor.

The biggest challenge with respect to the students, was getting them to buy into the idea that it was “fair to quiz” them on the material they had not heard in lecture. At the start of the course students appeared to lack confidence in their ability to learn on their own, but they eventually found that they could.

If you would like to also read about Neal MacDougall’s hybrid course redesign experience, please click to view the Hybrid Showcase for AGB-460.

Ayna Goodman was highlighted in a Chronicle of Higher Education article in August, 2009. If you would like to read this, please click on Obama’s Great Course Giveaway.

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