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Science faculty members immersed in teaching and learning research

C-LAB program supports course redesign work
August 8, 2014
Nicole Sandblom, chemistry instructor. Photo by David Bininda, University of Calgary

Nicole Sandblom, chemistry instructor. Photo by David Bininda, University of Calgary

David Feder, associate professor, Physics and Astronomy. Photo by David Bininda, University of Calgary

David Feder, associate professor, Physics and Astronomy. Photo by David Bininda, University of Calgary

Chemistry instructor Nicole Sandblom and David Feder, an associate professor in Physics and Astronomy, aren’t taking a break from thinking about their teaching this summer. They’re both hard at work redesigning elements of courses they’ll be teaching in the 2014-15 academic year.

Sandblom and Feder are participating in a teaching development program offered by the Faculty of Science for the second time. C-LAB (Classroom Learn Assess Build) gives academic staff the opportunity to design, implement, and evaluate a teaching and learning research project with the goal of enhancing student learning.

The program began in June with an intensive two-day workshop for the 10 participants. Sandblom explains, “In the workshop, we learned about best practices in course design and started to figure out what our individual research projects would be. I’ll be making changes to CHEM 209 — General Chemistry for Engineers, which can be a challenging course as students sometimes think it’s too much like what they covered in high school.

“I want to incorporate more active learning techniques into the class and make the material more relevant by using examples that suit this particular group of students,” Sandblom adds. “I taught the course last year and did a small survey of the students’ knowledge about a few topics but this fall I would like to do a more structured assessment of prior knowledge so I can use the results to shape what is happening in the classroom. The bottom line is I don’t want to just lecture and I don’t want to cover all the content they already know from high school.”

Feder is teaching the introductory physics course How Things Work (PHYS 271) for the first time this winter. What does he hope to gain from being in C-LAB? “My main focus is to learn how to effectively flip a classroom so that classtime is spent more on activities and discussions and less on students listening to me. I’d like to learn how I can initiate and sustain interesting group activities that promote learning.”

Feder is also interested to find out how to measure learning and grade effectively in the "flipped" classroom as well as handle the range of student abilities. “Ultimately I’d like my students to be active participants in their learning to maximize the absorption and retention of the material, so I am keen to learn anything and everything that I can!”

Over the summer, C-LAB participants meet in smaller groups with program staff to report on the progress of their research projects as well as give and receive feedback on their ideas and discuss any challenges they may be encountering during the design phase.

This article is second in a series profiling C-LAB participants and their teaching research projects. Learn more about the C-LAB program.