Activating blended learning approaches in two freshmen chemistry courses

Teaching freshmen students in their first semester remains a challenging task, not in the least place due to the concurrent transition from high school to university-based teaching approaches students are expected to make. Activated learning has been postulated to have benefits in science education. In recent years, we therefore investigated the use of an activating blended learning approach in two major freshmen chemistry courses (4 years General Chemistry and 2 years Biochemistry) taking place in the first months of the first semester. Our hypothesis was that an increase in activating content would benefit the performance of these students in the subject matter as well as increase their motivation to embrace academic learning. Toward this end, for both courses all lectures were recorded in preceding years using both existing and novel recording technologies and edited for re-use during the subsequent years of the blended learning study. About half of the traditional lecture blocks were exclusively offered online as slidecasts supplemented with in-cast MC questions. In one of the two courses the students were offered the vote on which lecture blocks would appear online and which blocks would remain in traditional 'live' format. The substantial amount of contact hours released by moving content online were used in both courses for activating sessions such as extra problem-solving sessions, 3D viewing of (bio)molecules on the devices of students, occasional article viewing and other activating approaches. We will present the encouraging multi-year results of our study addressing key parameters such as course setup, online engagement, exam performance, and student/teacher evaluations.