Not Your Average Tutorial - EEO Audit of CHM243H5

Test Tubes
Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 12:01pm
Melissa Berger

On a sunny, frigid Friday in February, right before Reading Week we entered IB-110 to the muffled sound of rhythm and bass not expecting to find a packed house of eager and attentive students.  At the helm and leading the charge, was Professor Leigh Revers, Department of Biology & Director of the Master of Biotechnology program, complete with digital turntable enticing the energy in the room and readying the class for the start of the tutorial.

The tracks, masterfully spun, were inspiring us to learn more about what was in store for this class of 298 students in CHM243H5 – Introductory Organic Chemistry II (taught by Professor Patrick T Gunning, Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences – currently on sabbatical).  The music lowers, and Professor Revers turns to the class to announce they are to “Stand Up and Be Counted” – a throwback to the BBC’s Graham Norton Show, a highly popular chat show from the UK.

Everyone in the auditorium was asked to stand, including guests, and Professor Revers would determine who would take a seat, citing various identifiers such as “those wearing trainers can take a seat” or “anyone with a scarf is to remain standing”.  After the exciting and anxious selection process was complete, there was a small group of 10 students who were then asked to come to the front of the auditorium to scribe their responses to problem sets that were provided to the class in advance of the tutorial.

The remaining classmates were asked to swap their problem sets with their peers for review and correction.  An engaging way of having the remaining class participating in smaller groups together working on identifying, solving, and discussing the problem sets as their peers attempt to draw out their responses on the crisp chalkboards.

The questions are then projected on the overhead display for everyone to see, and as the students are jotting down their answers, the class was challenged to discuss their responses with each other.  The atmosphere was electric and students were busily working out the problem sets with fervor.  With those students’ front and centre, they were provided with a microphone and asked to identify themselves and describe how they solved the problems.  Professor Revers working through the problem sets helped to identify where they were successful or perhaps missed a key element.  This provided the entire class with a good overview of how the problems are solved and the reasons for some of the accuracy and inaccuracy of the various responses.

As we sat there, inspired by the way in which this large-class tutorial was engaging students on challenging subject matter in a unique and captivating way, we wondered how could Professor Revers possibly know which of the many students who were randomly selected in the auditorium would be identified to obtain participation marks.  He has a crafty solution for this - each student in the class is provided with a name badge that has a unique QR code which he scans into his computer for identification.  In addition, prior to the tutorial coming to a close, Professor Revers displays a 7-letter chemistry-based word and students are asked to fill in this word on their problem sets to submit for participation marks.  Yet another distinct way that Professor Revers establishes that students are attentive and experimenting with their learning in his class. 

This tutorial provides a very unique way of ensuring that students are awarded with a problem-based learning approach using engaging and dynamic teaching methods.  Large classrooms can be challenging when looking to experiment with experiential learning-based approaches and often times are not engaging students in these methods due to size of the class, there is also the fear of exclusion when isolating groups, or when trying to create meaningful experiences on the whole.  This tutorial exemplifies just how large classrooms can be both educational and engaging.  Experiential learning is about expanding learning environments to inspire the learners, and Professor Revers’ approach certainly fits the bill.  This is a wonderful model of experiential learning taking place at UTM and we are proud to call Professor Revers one of our own.