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From Industry Into Teaching?

An email from a former colleague brought up a topic that I don’t think has been addressed here before directly: what experiences do readers have as industrial scientists who have then moved into teaching positions?

I know that this is a fairly frequent move. For the readership here, I’d guess that many of the examples are from the “We really need someone to teach Sophomore Organic Chemistry” part of the job market, so to that end, it would be worth hearing about what texts are being used (any variations by part of the country?), what some of the best web resources are for people starting out in that position, and (of course) personal experiences.

I’m willing to bet that that last category varies quite a bit, because academia in general varies quite a bit in this country. The institutions and their student bodies are all over the place, to an extent that not many other countries (if any) replicate, and it would be good to hear about successes (and failures) in several different categories. I left out a category just there, because the people teaching organic chemistry are also all over the place, in terms of experience and aptitude, so general advice on how to make the jump to teaching (if there is general advice) would also be welcome. Organic classes have their own particular issues, what with the here-comes-a-hard-course reputation it has among undergrads, and the pitfall of teaching it (or learning it) as a gigantic pile of unrelated stuff to be memorized, as if it were anatomy with Erlenmeyer flasks.

Just from what I’ve seen, the two opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum errors that people can make are to be terrified that there’s no way that they can possibly teach this stuff coherently, and to think “Hey, how hard can it be, I know this stuff backwards and forwards”. A glance back at your memories as a student will establish, though, that knowing a field is necessary but not at all sufficient for being able to teach it effectively. Fantastic professors may well be born rather than made, but how does one maximize one’s chances of ending up at least in the “pretty good” category? Or avoiding the “disaster” one?

I’ve never taught per se, but for what it’s worth, my own advice would be for someone to take a good hard look at their presentation style. The professors I remember most fondly are the ones who took an organized approach to the material and were able to stick to it, giving a sense that they knew just where they were and where the class was going. This applies at the microscopic level – I had a professor once who seemed to get distracted sentence by sentence, piling up subclauses in call-waiting mode – and it applies at a macro one, as regards the order in which topics are introduced and how one builds on the previous material. For the first, I’d recommend setting up the smartphone and making videos of yourself trying to teach various topics from the course, just to see if you’re coming across the way that you hope. The second will depend partly on the text that you’re teaching from, but by now, there are several well-trodden paths to presenting the standard material of organic chemistry, and it would be a good idea to take advantage, as much as possible, of the work that’s been put into this over the years.

But that’s all I’ve got – I’ll turn the rest of the discussion over to the comments! I’ll be adding worthwhile links, etc., to this post as they show up.

32 comments on “From Industry Into Teaching?”

  1. A says:

    I’ve taken numerous organic classes and TAed undergrads for multiple semesters as a grad student. My major piece of advice would be to write out your notes on the board. It may be tempting to make slides, but it’s so much harder for students to follow along from slides. It also helps to slow you down when you’re teaching. It’s really easy to just fly through slides, especially those with mechanisms, and students can’t write them down fast enough. Just be sure to write out your notes beforehand (for yourself) so you don’t make a mistake writing a mechanism up on the board. You can even send them out to your students if you want.

  2. Wheels17 says:

    More years ago than I care to admit, I earned a BsChe at the University of Delaware. In the field specific classes, we all clearly preferred the professors that had current or former industry experience. (DuPont around the corner).

  3. Lora says:

    Some universities (the big state ones mostly) have seminars on pedagogy for teaching college students – it’s actually quite helpful. UMass has them (or had, 12 years ago) and I found them extremely useful, especially when slogging through grading 300 final exams at 2am with grades due in two days. Having someone show you how to set up a proper rubric for grading tests which amount to the science version of a ten-page essay will save your sanity, especially when the pre-med students call you at midnight to whinge about the two points you horribly unfairly deducted because you expected them to read the textbook assignment, oh noes! That way you don’t feel resigned to multiple-choice large classes because it’s too daunting a task to write an exam that would really test the knowledge.

    Also, study skills: Most college kids don’t have any. Universities have resources for this, but you’ll get an influx of kids after the first exam attempting to whine, beg, bribe and butt-kiss their way into a better grade, this is the first C+ they’ve ever gotten and it’s the end of the world. If you were the kid who honestly studied and never cheated on exams EVER, be prepared to be shocked by how much actually happens. And, be mindful of international students whose schools were based on the British method of education where you get one big exam at the end of the year. They never developed American style study skills because they literally never needed to, and they don’t grok that when you say “exams are worth X% each, quizzes are worth y% each, take home assignments worth z% each” you really, really mean it.

    Another thing, advising sucks out loud. My undergrad was at a small teeny tiny school that did STEM and a handful of majors (teaching, psych/soc sort of stuff) for kids who failed Organic. They were excellent at shepherding kids into grad school, and publication was required to graduate from a STEM major. Out of the 30 or so kids in my department, about 3 got jobs in industry instead of going to grad school whether it was PhD work, medical school etc. My advisers (I had three) knew me personally and set me up with some fantastic research experiences as an undergrad, and they provided loads of volunteer opportunities and internships and whatnot for the pre-med students so they could get hands on experience working with sick people. At big universities…nada. You’ll meet kids who have absolutely no clue how to get into medical school other than “have really good grades and really really want to”. Their advisers will tell them a bunch of horsepuckey. They will tell you the most clueless nonsense that will horrify you. Be prepared to do a lot of course-correction for kids whose mom and dad want them to be a (whatever) and that C- in your Pre-nursing Microbiology 203 class will not dissuade them and they’ve never given a moment’s thought to their career otherwise.

  4. Isidore says:

    When I received my PhD, some decades ago, from a prestigious institution with a very well know chemistry department, there was no training whatsoever to prepare anyone for teaching, other than being a teaching assistant, which usually did not go past the first or at most second year in graduate school, as professors had money to offer research assistantships in the later years (I was a TA only during my first year). Some of my fellow graduate students, who may have been brilliant chemists, even had rather rudimentary English language skills. I hope this has changed and graduate students are given some instruction in pedagogy. Perhaps it would make sense for those PhD students interested in an academic career to take such optional courses and for colleges and universities hiring junior faculty to give consideration only to those applicants who have done so.
    On a different but related note, my son has had three teachers who had worked in industry before for high school science classes. His AP chemistry teacher, formerly in the chemical industry, was exceptionally good. His AP math teacher, also in industry but I am not sure in what capacity, was also very good. His honors physics teacher, formerly employed in the nuclear industry, was not good. Of course, unlike college professors, primary and secondary education teachers must actually take courses on how to teach.

  5. a says:

    every generation says this, but it’s true. kids now are not like you.

    also, if you succeeded as a chemist, it is likely you self selected by aptitude. 90% of your students – unless at a super elite institution – will not have that aptitude, so what “worked for you” back in the day…. will likely not work for your class

    look into active learning. lots of buzzwords about this, but there is real work being done and some of it really helps. brian coppola is a good place to start
    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bcoppola/teaching/index.html

    practice, and get feedback from good teachers early, and read student evaluations with a thick skin. the signal to noise is poor, but there is signal!

  6. Chimica says:

    A PhD chemist by training, I have taught drug discovery and relevant pharmacology to undergraduates and graduate students ranging from pharmacists/PharmDs to PhDs and MD/PhDs for almost 30 years. It has been a rewarding experience in parallel with a steady job in industry, but it took a few years to figure out what worked and what didn’t. And students have changed over the years, especially now that they can skip class and watch a video when they want to, with a full set of slides for reference. It feels like the rate of change in biomedical science has increased dramatically in the last few years. This year I may need to totally revamp my lecture material, which has been fairly constant for more than a decade.

  7. NMH says:

    I’m a biologist with a PhD in chemistry that, despite not really deeply understanding organic chemistry, have taught it twice at a PUI and an R1 with good scores (4.3/5). Main lesson here: you don’t have to be an organic chemist to be an OK teacher of Organic Chemistry (!).

    I think the most important advice I can give is what the dept chair of Chem at my R1 gave me (who is an Organic chemist who gets around 4.8/5), which I would have never thought of: set a good learning environment in the class: don’t be angry and strict to the students. Set up a friendly environment where the kids feel free to ask questions and where they will be treated with respect.

    After that, Id say just prepare in advance. I’d spend 2.5 hours every morning writing out exactly how I was going to present Diels-Alder so that increased my chance of delivering a smooth presentation withoit hiccups, which the kids use as an excuse to start reading e-mail on there iPhones.

  8. Chemperor says:

    I recently made the jump from industry back to academia (from research scientist to assistant professor). My original intent was to find a non-TT teaching post, but I didn’t really want to move from a good industry job to an adjunct or visiting assistant prof position. Instead, I applied for tenure track positions because I wanted to get the five years of teaching experience while being “protected” under the tenure track system. Also, I’m able to do some fundamental research for a few more years before moving completely into teaching. While it would be great to get tenure, it was never part of my long term strategy.

    We could do a whole post on the challenges associated with moving from industry to academia, but this post was intended to focus on teaching so I’ll speak to 3 points that have been the most important to me:

    1) Make use of the institutional professional development centers:

    As a few folks have pointed out, many schools have “Centers for Teaching and Learning” or something very similar. These centers are excellent resources, and I get the impression that they are underutilized by many faculty and teaching staff. You can internalize what works for you and dismiss what doesn’t, but most of these centers are staffed by seasoned pros whose advice is usually quite valuable.

    2) Learn to talk like a teacher:

    During my first semester, I got great student reviews for my knowledge of chemistry, but got slammed for being cold and condescending towards students. I was shocked, as I had developed a reputation in industry for being the “nice guy” in the office. It occurred to me, however, that I’d been treating students like adult coworkers rather than college students. While most students claim they want to be treated like adults, my experience has been that students really aren’t prepared to deal with firm deadlines, candid feedback, or high performance expectations. I’ve had to change the way I present content and the way I speak and use body language to avoid “microagression” and “trigger words”. Scoff all you’d like: these are the new realities of teaching.

    3) Set reasonable pacing expectations:

    As a rule of thumb, you’ll probably only be able to cover 60-70% of the content that you plan on teaching. Every new teacher learns this the hard way, In industry, we get so much training in six sigma and “lean” principles that we become efficiency experts. Unfortunately, that does’t translate well into the classroom. You can only go as fast as the bottom quartile of students will permit. I like to build an escape clause into my syllabus stating that the course schedule is a living document and can be altered to meet the needs of the class. I also assume that none of my students are doing any reading outside of class, which has been substantiated by various polls and studies.

    1. Ted says:

      Regarding “We could do a whole post on the challenges associated with moving from industry to academia”: Actually, I’d be fascinated to read about that specific experience (have always been), particularly in the context of the research component in TT positions. May be worth a careful consideration.

  9. David says:

    I’m curious as to the experience going lower, to the highschool level. My experience and those of colleagues is that despite having BS Chem, they teach math and refuse to teach science, because the mathematical and instruction following literacy are just not there to permit effective instruction, nor safe labwork.

  10. Jacob says:

    As I tell my students, I’ve never held a real job in my life, I’ve been a professor/teacher for nearly 20 years, teaching pre-med General Chemistry for basically all that time. I’m told that students consider me to be a pretty decent instructor, so there’s that.
    What I’ve seen over my career is that students now are not the same as students then. Its cliche, but kids these days have very different expectations and skills than students 20 years ago did. They have a more, for want of a better phrase, “entitled” attitude and are often very averse to any challenging work, or even any work at all. I recently had a student complain to the dean’s office that I had assigned homework and expected them to be able to answer questions on a test on it.
    Students will also do incredibly stupid things. I had a student come to me recently for pre-engineering advice. My employer does not have an engineering school and students interested in engineering careers need to transfer to other schools for that. My advising consists of making sure that they take the right courses to be considered for that transfer. So anyway, this student comes to me and says he wants to do engineering. It comes out during the conversation that he had been in one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the world the previous semester and transferred to my not particularly prestigious third rate liberal arts college. Why would he do such a thing? Because he “likes the campus culture here better”. It took a great deal of effort on my part not to heave him bodily out of my office at that instant.
    Classroom teaching is a performance art. It helps to be a good actor. I present a persona as a slightly daffy mad scientist type in the classroom and out. It helps keep the students relaxed and less intimidated. It’s really important to keep calm, students say and do infuriating things. If you take it personally, you will die young.
    You must know your material inside out, and you must be prepared to admit you don’t know if you really don’t know.
    I don’t like PowerPoint presentations, I like to write on the board because it seems to be more engaging, and by not having slides to download, the students are obliged to follow along in class a little bit more.
    Make sure that teaching is something you really, really want to do. Kids pick up when their teachers are phoning it in and will attempt to destroy you in that case.
    I love what I do and I wouldn’t want to change it, though a bigger paycheck would be nice!

    1. Anon says:

      “kids these days have very different expectations and skills than students 20 years ago did. They have a more, for want of a better phrase, “entitled” attitude …”

      That’s hardly surprising given how much tuition fees have shot up. For sure if I was a student these days, I’d want everything handed to me on a silver platter. And a guaranteed qualification without doing any work since I would have paid all that cash!

    2. Pennpenn says:

      “I recently had a student complain to the dean’s office that I had assigned homework and expected them to be able to answer questions on a test on it.”

      I honestly expect there’s more to it than what you’re presenting here, or else I gotta wonder at the people who coddled them to that point. I mean, I’m not saying the student wasn’t at fault or wasn’t a lazy bugger, but it’s gotta take some pretty heavy shielding through development to not grasp the concept of “school will involve homework and exams”.

      It’s like when parents complain about their kids being on their smartphones all the time, when it was the parents put the phones in their hands in the first place.

      1. Jacob says:

        The conversation I had with the dean went like this:
        Dean: “So, Jacob, I hear that you assigned a reading in your general chemistry lecture that you didn’t discuss in class and then asked questions on it on a quiz.”
        Me: “Yes, so?”
        Dean: “A student in your class said that you spent time in lecture on other topics and you didn’t ask questions on those topics from lecture on your quiz. Perhaps you should reconsider how you structure your lectures so that you don’t need to be assigning outside readings that you don’t cover in class.”
        Me: “This is pre-med general chemistry we’re talking about, there’s no possible way I can cover the entire curriculum in lecture, and it is in my syllabus that I expect students to read and be responsible for the textbook readings.”
        Dean: “Well, that’s a very unreasonable expectation and you should reevaluate your teaching practices.”
        I exaggerate not one bit. I decided that it was time to find a new employer after that.

        1. Lora says:

          Oh boy. I had one named Matthew, who shall be forever burned into my memory:
          Matthew raised his hand in the middle of a crowded auditorium taking an exam.
          Me: Yes? What’s up?
          Matthew: When we went over this in class, it was like this (points to incorrectly drawn graph) and that doesn’t match any of the answers.
          Me: Um, all I can tell you is to think VERY HARD about whether you are remembering this graph correctly. One of the answers is in fact correct and the rest are wrong.
          Matthew: Yeah but what’s the answer?
          Me: I can’t tell you that, all I can tell you is you’re probably not recalling the graph correctly as we went over in class.
          Matthew: That’s not fair! You can’t make us get questions wrong on the exam just because we weren’t paying attention in class!
          Me, choking back laughter: Well. Good luck.
          Matthew complained to the head of the department, who was retiring after that semester and gave exactly zero fks. His response was glorious.

  11. RM says:

    On the “resources for learning how to teach” end of things, the CIRTL network (https://www.cirtl.net/) is a good resource for those people who are interested in teaching in STEM fields, even if your institution doesn’t have a “Center for Teaching” program itself.

  12. Glen says:

    To be happy in teaching you must have a high tolerance for the foibles of, and some affection for, young adults.

    Secondly, you should be an expert on campus life. Master the rules and dynamics of faculty committees. Thoroughly understand the university budgeting and spending processes. Read up on the rules for students: housing, parking, academic review process, visa rules for foreign students. Failure to understand these things means that minor issues will take huge amounts of your time. Know how to retrieve your car (or a student’s) from the campus police. Know how quickly get a student serious psychological assistance. Keep a file of elegant letters for sponsors, scholarship agencies, landlords of students, and consular officials. Good relations with admin staff will be a godsend in troubled times.

    Success on campus involves more than just teaching.

  13. ES says:

    Being clear, firm, and fair is key for managing student expectations and grade complaints. Organization is a huge plus because, if you are organized, your students are more likely to be organized in return.

    Many schools frown upon lecturing and encourage active learning, blending, flipping, etc. Most STEM folks like lecturing because it’s what worked for them and allows the instructor to say that he/she “covered” everything (aka CYA mode). Of course, just because the instructor covered everything does not mean that the students learned anything. There is lots of compelling evidence that an all-lecture style does not give the best learning outcomes. I confess I do take many of these studies with a grain of salt because educational studies seem to have an uncanny success rate! Regardless, while implementing active learning techniques is very easy, implementing them well is not (at least that is my experience).

    I have been teaching for nearly 20 years. Most people of my vintage started lecturing and have slowly implemented the new ideas that seem to resonate with their own style. Each person will naturally have a talent for certain techniques over other approaches. At the end of the day, each person should stick with their strengths and be who they are.

    In all the active learning discussions, few people draw a distinction between fields with external expectations and those without. If I teach Shakespeare, then maybe it matters little whether I cover 4 plays or 6. If that’s the case, then letting discussion drive the course is fine. With Organic I, it matters very much that my students learn what they will need for Organic II. Since exposure matters, it is easy to dismiss any style that sacrifices coverage. What does coverage help, however, if the students aren’t learning anything? It’s a balancing act. The answer will depend on your student population, so nobody can easily answer the question until their are getting their hands dirty in the classroom.

  14. Barry says:

    One barrier I’ve seen teachers and students trip on is the acknowledgement that Organic Chemistry is not taught in English. Neither teachers nor students find a lesson that covers only nomenclature interesting. But to vault over that and expect the students to pick it up while they’re being confronted with the conceptually interesting material will leave many behind.

  15. Peter Shenkin says:

    Perhaps this falls into the area of memoir rather than advice.

    I’m a physical chemist; I worked in industry for 4 years after grad school, then decided to return to academe. I took a post-doc, and while that was going on, I was asked to teach evening courses in general chemistry at a prestigious university. I did well; students were degree-holding individuals who had decided to switch careers and go into medicine. Not all made it, but those who didn’t found that out quickly, and some appreciated that and let me know. I was impressed by these students; they were highly motivated, asked interesting questions, and I enjoyed the experience. I mean, how often do you get an electrical engineer from Bell Labs coming up to you after class to pursue an offhand remark you made about the relationship of information theory to the physical entropy?

    So then I got a tenure-track appointment at a prestigious undergrad institution. I did poorly and was fired. To echo @chemporer, students are not necessarily ready to be treated as adults. I’m not trying to be pejorative, and, to be honest, I really was not either when I was an undergrad in the ’60s. My mistake was that I tried to teach undergrads the same way I had taught the adults in the evening classes. The result was that the only students who liked me were the best students, and not even all of those.

    So, my last year there, after having been told that it would be my last, I said to myself, “Dammit, I’ve got to prove to myself that I can do it.” So I went out of my way to be more user-friendly, and it worked: I got the best student evals possible, and my students even took me out to lunch my last week. These students needed someone to fill the roll of coach and, to some extent, a friend, as well as teacher, and they blossomed with that approach.

    So I went into a research position at the aforementioned prestigious university and that led to a satisfying career back in industry. I have no regrets, but the lesson learned, applicable everywhere, was to “temper the wind to the shorn lamb.”

  16. Retired professor says:

    With over 45 years teaching experience at a private R1 university, I was successful as a teacher by 1) treating students with respect, 2) realizing that students are your customers, 3) delivering very well-prepared lectures and 4) relating lectures to the real world.

  17. Anonymous says:

    As a grad student TA, one of my sections was the night school students (exact same course / lectures / labs as the undergrads): older, working, looking to get ahead or change fields. Compared to the majority of undergrads in my other sections, they were much more serious about learning and doing well and they asked great questions.

    Having taught other courses sporadically over the years and from comments from other college adjuncts (not just STEM) and others (not just STEM) I have known, I think that “college” is just not for everyone. Some students will never acquire the skills to write a decent 500 word essay or learn enough algebra to understand various charts or data in the daily news (science, economics, etc).

    Those students can achieve success writing reports in their jobs (even if the report doesn’t get published in The New Yorker) and making and doing stuff even if they can’t solve the equations. They don’t need a college degree to do well. They can even become successful bloggers (thinking of Food Babe, not Derek)!

    On this point, I strongly disagree with folks like Senator Warren and “free college education for everyone!” Maybe she taught top students at Harvard but that’s not reflective of the majority. The City College of New York (and other CUNY colleges) was once a great institution that educated 13 Nobel laureates (and other great scientists) prior to 1963 but then they broke the system with open admissions in 1969.

    Some colleges have become nothing but advanced high schools, rather, places to repeat high school classes. Even top-notch universities often have remedial programs for poorly prepared frosh. Let those students take adult ed or other classes and THEN enter traditional college. Some will do well, Some will not. But if you can’t read or write you should not be a candidate for a free ride to college.

    1. David says:

      I have absolutely no quibble with free/subsidised college – it works well in Australia. But, and this will be a big but for America it seems, you have to meet standards to get in, and then continue meeting standards to stay in. A pass/C wasn’t looked down upon there like it seems to be here.

      1. Crocodile Chuck says:

        Mate, university education hasn’t been free here for > thirty years.

        Rip van Winkle?

        1. David says:

          Free/HECS…almost the same thing compared to paying off tens or hundreds of thousands in student loans. But yes, you’re right, not quite free. AUD$15k for my 5 years, vs USD$45k+ for my wife’s 4 years of university…is there a comparison?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Forgot to include a story from Carl Djerassi: In the early days at Syntex in Mexico, one of his assistants was charged with repeating one of the standard preps. She was not a trained chemist but she was trained to run the prep following a typical chemist’s protocol. Oddly, she always got the same yield as reported in the standard procedure. He finally asked her, “How?” She said that sometimes she gets more and puts the excess in a drawer; sometimes she gets less and takes from the drawer.

  19. Laser Pointer says:

    I have sat nodding my head and laughing whilst reading the comments about student expectations and attitudes. Two questions spring to my mind:
    1. An industrial medicinal chemist would be extremely valuable for teaching REAL MedChem courses, so why the emphasis on pure Organic? From what I’ve seen, not many academics have the medchem experience but most have deep organic understanding and experience;
    2. How hard is a move in the other direction? What are the chances of industry hiring, say, a 6-years-in-post academic at a salary to match the academic one?

  20. James says:

    Relevant link: Chemjobber’s interview with Edwin Willhauer, former medicinal chemist at Novartis (and discoverer of Vildagliptin) who now teaches organic chemistry at Morristown High School in NJ. http://chemjobber.blogspot.com/2016/11/interview-edwin-villhauer-medicinal.html

  21. Anon says:

    I always found the professors I remember most fondly where the ones who remembered what it was like to have little knowledge in the subject. Some professors just assume topics are obvious when they are anything but.

    I never taught a course, but as a TA that was the quality my students liked about me the best. I really made an effort to remember what gave me a hard time when I was learning the material and to teach those topics extra carefully.

  22. Nick K says:

    “In teaching we learn”, as the old adage goes. It’s also absolutely true. I made the transition from Pharma and contract synthesis to teaching (high school) some five years ago. My own understanding of the fundamental concepts of Chemistry such as equilibrium, thermodynamics, kinetics, and electronic structure is now vastly deeper and more secure than when I started.

  23. Brian says:

    I used to be a med chemist in big pharma and have now moved into teaching full time at a two year college (Gen Chem and Organic Chem). One thing that people who are considering making this transition should be aware of is that many academic institutions will hesitate to hire you for a full time tenure track position without some amount of recent teaching experience. The easiest way to get this experience is to try and get a job as an adjunct (part-time) professor. In this case the school will offer you a job for one semester at a time for (in most cases) very small amounts of money vs the work involved. If they like you, they will keep offering to rehire you for upcoming terms as long as there are students who need to take the class and not enough full time faculty to go around. This gives you the needed experience to put on your resume for when you apply to subsequent full time positions and also gives the hiring institutions confidence that you have some idea of what you will be getting into if they do hire you. The simplest way to try and land an adjunct job is to put together a CV and cover letter that you send out to chemistry department chairpersons at schools in your area telling them you are available and interested in teaching. They will stick the documents in a file for when an opening becomes available. Typically, hiring of adjuncts occurs in July/August for the fall term and October/November for the spring term, so there can be some issues with timing.

  24. MrRogers says:

    I teach medical students, rather than undergrads, but I think the following thoughts are still useful. Effective teaching requires both a mastery of the material and good understanding of the process of learning. I assume that this group has the former down. For the latter, the basic principle is that repeated, effortful recall over time solidifies knowledge. This is the basis of many “newer” teaching techniques, but really any strategy that includes repetition over time with the correct level of difficulty will instill knowledge. My colleagues and I have settled on a flipped classroom approach. We assign reading and follow it up with an online “readiness assessment” that is a few (4-6) simple problems to allow students to determine whether they have a basic understanding of the material. Completion of the RA contributes to the grade, but correct answers (which are provided after the RA is submitted) are not. This policy discourages cheating, but RA scores can serve as evidence of (lack of) effort in the case of complaints. Class time is spent on a few relatively difficult problems. Students are assigned to groups of four that are together for ~1 month. The professor presents the problem and a few questions for discussion. The students discuss the problem in their groups, settling on what they believe to be the solution. This ensures that each student engages in the problem (exposure 2). After ~10-15 minutes we bring the classroom back together and ask one group to discuss their answer, including reasoning. We then ask if other groups came to different conclusions. This step is difficult. Your goal isn’t to identify correct answers. Instead, it is to identify misconceptions. You have to keep a poker face until every perspective has been identified. You then give the correct answer, including reasoning, and try to understand and correct misconceptions. Exams are cumulative (repetition over time), but we ensure that questions on earlier material are slightly simpler. In this environment, one additional key bit of advice. If you have students who aren’t doing well, be sure to give them documented feedback that they are “on a path to failure” as well as specific actions that they need to take to rectify the problem, including referrals to any study helps, counseling, etc. On a second notice, the Chair should be cc’d. This protects you from snowflakes who think that enrolling in the course should be sufficient to achieve the desired grade.

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