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Physical Chemistry - Physical Chemistry for biological sciences

Wednesday 02 Dec 15


Günther H.J. Peters
Associate Professor
DTU Chemistry
+45 45 25 24 86


Kursusdatabasen: Kursusnummer 26202 

Associate Professor Günther Peters from DTU Chemistry has turned Introductory Physical Chemistry for biological sciences upside down. For several years, the average grades have been too low and the failure rate too high.

Associate Professor Günther Peters had a hard time accepting that students found Physical Chemistry so difficult. He therefore decided to do something about it. It would, however, require a radical change in the form of teaching.

Günther Peters applied for funds for this process and was granted financial support from the pool for special input in the field of e-learning at DTU, and received help from DTU LearningLab.

A different form of teaching
It has, however, not been straightforward for the visionary associate professor to transform the type of teaching on a traditional course where the students are used to attending lectures and then working together in groups. Many of the students felt that they lost their grasp of the course contents when the weekly lectures were replaced by group work, for example, where the different groups themselves were responsible for studying their areas of theory in depth and then presenting their work to each other.

But Günther Peters’ whole idea is that the students must take responsibility themselves for learning the theory, with the lecturer and the assistant teachers offering assistance, that is meeting the students where they are in terms of scientific knowledge and providing the support they need to increase their level of understanding.

Following the reorganization, ‘Introductory Physical Chemistry for biological sciences’ now consists of just four lectures and two experimental studies that conclude with a report.

A number of videos related to the learning outcomes have been prepared, and all are available on Coursera. Here the students can also find quizzes supporting the theory.

Finally, the course comprises a major project that requires students to study theory in depth and present their research to each other. They are subsequently to apply this theory to working with interdisciplinary problem issues.

The course as a whole concludes with an oral exam, where the students are given the questions in advance.

Student experiences
Michelle, Anjila, Martina, Jian Gui, and Stephane are sharing experiences over lunch. They have all followed and completed the Introductory Physical Chemistry for biological sciences course despite their frustrations—especially the feeling of not having had an overview of the syllabus during the course.

“Project work requires that your group discusses theory and plans presentations. This is a good thing, as it increases your understanding of and commitment to the course,” says Michelle.

“But you end up only focusing on your own group’s area of theory, which makes it hard to subsequently understand the other groups’ areas of theory,” several of the students agree. On the other hand, they feel that they have become more independent when it comes to acquiring knowledge and thinking for themselves, and they have had a lot of practice in doing oral presentations.

“I think it’s a cool subject. It opens your eyes to what the world looks like and provides an understanding of the mechanisms behind physical chemistry,” says Anjila, putting a lid on her coffee to keep it heated.

“However, I’ve missed a common thread in the course and an overview of the syllabus, which has been frustrating,” says Martina. This criticism has been noted and taken seriously by both lecturers, teaching assistants, and the study committee, and Martina therefore believes that future students will learn much more on the course.

Tine Frederiksen, a teaching assistant who is currently taking an MSc in Applied Chemistry, is also convinced that these wrinkles will have been ironed out the next time the course is taught.

“The students have been brilliant at providing constructive criticism about the course, which is sure to help the next batch of students,” she says. She herself has also contributed to estimating what the students can and cannot reasonably be expected to achieve in the way of assignments, and to ensuring that they remain motivated and challenged throughout the course.

Tine also thinks it is very positive that Günther Peters has chosen to react to the high failure rate and the previous course evaluations. She has previously seen other course supervisors who did nothing, and who expressed the view that it is simply a matter of the students being less gifted. But not Günther Peters from DTU Chemistry.

“But with this new form of teaching on the course, he’s chosen to do something different to make it easier for the students to pass the course,” she says smilingly.

The common thread
In spite of the fact that the students on the reorganized course have felt a bit like guinea pigs, they all praise Günther Peters for his great commitment, because they really feel that he wants the best for them and has been highly responsive to both their frustrations and their constructive feedback.

Associate Professor Günther Peters says that the new form of teaching on the course has given him better one-on-one time with the students and that the students have become better.

The oral exam has just been completed, and it turned out to be a good experience for both the lecturer and the students—the grade point average was an impressive 7.1.

Günther Peters will now use the summer holiday to clarify the common thread in the course, so that the students get a better overview of the course from day one. He has received many new ideas, based on the constructive feedback from the students, both during the course and from the course evaluation.

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