Online 2021 Active Learning Workshop

Online 2021 Active Learning Workshop

The workshop has concluded successfully! Twenty-five organic faculty from a variety of institutions participated in activities that included a variety of active learning classroom techniques. They were able to attend through Zoom at no cost. The workshop was funded by the NSF (award numbers: DUE2021170, DUE2021175, DUE2021285). Nine faculty from a wide range of backgrounds in organic pedagogy led the sessions (Table 1).

Table 1 Workshop Leaders

Matt Casselman

University of California, Riverside

Jennifer Muzyka

Centre College


Cathy Welder

Dartmouth College


Justin Houseknecht

 Wittenberg University

Josh Ring

 Lenoir-Rhyne University


Leyte Winfield

 Spelman College

Alexey Leontyev

North Dakota State University

James Shattuck

University of Hartford

Katie Wissman

 North Dakota State University, Department of Psychology


The workshop sessions were modeled on active learning techniques. Six, 3-hour sessions were conducted in June on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Participants were divided into teams based not only on the organic chemistry topics that they would use to develop questions and activities for students (Alkenes, Alkyl Halides, Spectroscopy, Aldehydes and Ketones, and Carboxylic Acids and Derivatives), but also on principles of diversity and inclusion.  For example, faculty at community colleges were placed in a team with at least one other CC faculty member.  Faculty of color were not placed in teams in which they were the only person of color.  Similarly, groups were mixed gender, paying particular attention to not form a team with only one woman participant. For each session, participants were given readings, videos, and assignments to complete for specific active learning topics. During the Zoom session, there was a mini lecture followed by breakout sessions where participants discussed aspects of active learning or developed pedagogical materials. Often there were post-session assignments. Those familiar with these techniques would recognize that participants were able to “improve their understanding of these methods by experiencing them as students and by working collaboratively to develop learning activities that conform to best-practice” (Cathy Welder). Table 2 provides a list of the topics covered over the six sessions. 

The workshop concluded with discussions of how to implement and promote active learning at their institutions. Jim Shattuck, a previous ALOC workshop attendee, shared his successful incorporation of flipped classroom pedagogy into his courses.  As Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies, he also discussed how to gain support from participants’ administrations. The schedule of the workshop and some still active links can be found at (Links to some readings and videos cited in the following session summaries can be found there.) Faculty Learning Circles were established so that participants will continue to discuss, learn, and develop their specific areas of interest in active learning with workshop leaders.


Table 2 Session Topics in Active Learning and Other Pedagogy

Backward Design

Desired Learning Outcomes

Research on Active Learning in Organic Chemistry

Just-in-Time Teaching


Collaborative Learning Techniques

Cognitive Psychology in Teaching Organic Chemistry

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Active Learning in Large Classrooms with Lecture Tutorial

Open Education Resources

Specifications Grading

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


Session 1

Introduction to Research on Active Learning

Alexey Leontyev

Workshop participants were assigned three papers describing research on active learning effectiveness in organic chemistry classes. During the session, participants worked in breakout rooms to prepare summaries and group presentations of the key findings of these papers in groups.

Backward Design and Learning Outcomes

Cathy Welder

Prior to the workshop Cathy provided participants two short videos describing the importance of using backward design and learning outcomes as the foundation for course revision. During the session participants met their workshop teammates and developed team rules. Participants then worked with their teams to write course and topic-level learning objectives as well as one problem that could be used to assess how well students had achieved the topic-level learning objective. The learning objectives and problems are available at

The videos can be viewed on the OrganicERs YouTube channel.

Session 2

Flipping the Classroom

Justin Houseknecht, Jennifer Muzyka, and Cathy Welder

Prior to Session 2 participants were assigned 2 readings and 2 short videos about how Justin, Jennifer, and Cathy have flipped their courses. Justin provided participants learning objectives for his chapter in The Flipped Classroom which describes how he implements Just-in-Time Teaching in his Organic Chemistry courses using detailed learning objectives. Jennifer provided reading prompts for her ConfChem paper about using Just-in-Time Teaching with reading prompts and Cathy provided short videos on how she has flipped her classroom and lab using video. Session 2 was spent addressing participant questions about these methods and collaboratively developing detailed learning objectives, expected student misconceptions, and collaborative problems to address these misconceptions in their workshop teams. Resources for non-participants are available on the the OrganicERs website at: (  The documents produced by each group are at

Session 3

Collaborative Learning Techniques


(CoLTs) and Learning Assessment Techniques



Justin Houseknecht

Prior to Session 3 participants became “quick experts” on 1 of 5 formative assessment techniques:

CoLT 16 – Structured Problem Solving

CoLT 25 – Round Table

LAT 17 – Think-Aloud Problem-Solving Protocols (TAPPs)

LAT 21 – Knowledge Grid

LAT 23 – Concept Maps

During Session 3 a Jigsaw (CoLT 11) was used for participants to clarify their understanding of the CoLT or LAT they were assigned with other “quick experts” on that technique, describe their technique to other members of their workshop teams, and learn about other techniques from members of their workshop team (who had become quick experts on other techniques). Each participant then created a Google slide that includes both a description of their CoLT or LAT and an explanation of how that could be used to teach their topic (Alkenes, Alkyl Halides, etc.). The Google slides are available at


Jennifer Muzyka

In preparation for Session 3, participants watched a video demonstrating a variety of ways that response systems can be used to ask questions in organic chemistry classes.  During the session, participants used Peardeck ( to respond to questions about their experiences with classroom response systems.  The group developed a spreadsheet comparing the features of different response systems, which is available as a Google Sheet.


Session 4


Cognitive Psychology in Teaching Organic Chemistry


Katie Wissman


In this session, participants learned about seven evidence-based learning strategies: concrete examples, dual coding, elaboration, interleaving, metacognitive reflection, spaced practice, and retrieval practice. Prior to the session, each participant was asked to read about one of the seven learning strategies. To start the session, we had a brief, large group discussion about whether the participants had ever been taught about how to study. During the session, we used the jigsaw method to facilitate discussion of the seven evidence-based learning strategies. Participants first met with individuals who read about the same learning technique. Participants were provided with questions to scaffold their discussion, with the goal of making sure everyone had a complete understanding of the learning technique. Participants then met with individuals who read about a different technique, such that each group had one participant representing each of the seven learning techniques. Participants were provided with questions to scaffold their discussion, with the goal of learning about all seven learning strategies and discussing how participants might implement them in their own classes. To end the session, we briefly reviewed each of the seven learning strategies and participants were provided with a few examples of ways in which they have been used in a large, psychology course. After the session, participants were asked to pick one of the seven evidence-based learning strategies and develop an activity to use in their classroom in the upcoming semester.


Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Session

Alexey Leontyev

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) involves faculty undertaking systematic inquiry about student learning and making the results available for the broader community. Due to increased recognition of SoTL as a scholarly activity, we decided to include a session on SoTL in the ALOC workshop. Participants were assigned pre-workshop reading and video on SoTL and asked several reflection questions in addition to starting planning their own SoTL projects. During the workshop, participants were introduced to the process of planning of a typical SoTL project and discussed their SoTL projects in groups. As a post-workshop activity, participants prepared a plan to design, collect data, and disseminate their SoTL project.  


Session 5

Active Learning in Large Classrooms with Lecture Tutorials

Matt Casselman

Participants learned about lecture tutorials and how to use them in their classrooms. Lecture tutorials are worksheet-based activities that students complete in class (not homework) in a collaborative manner. These worksheets are structured with scaffolding that supports the problem-solving process so that students can complete them with minimal input from instructors. Students are encouraged to work collaboratively and achieving a deeper understanding of the material is the priority. Instructors (professors, teaching/learning assistants) are present to encourage discussion, answer clarifying questions, and gauge student understanding during the activity. In the workshop, participants brainstormed their own lecture tutorials. Beginning with a desired learning outcome, misconceptions and challenges were identified. With these ideas in mind, problems were developed both with and without scaffolding so that students could transition from novice to expert. 

Open Educational Resources

Jennifer Muzyka

In preparation for session 5, participants completed an OpenOChem activity within Moodle.  This activity involved nine questions to introduce each type of question available within OpenOChem (  Question types include structure drawing (product), structure drawing (identify starting material), structure selection, Newman conformers, multiple select, multistep synthesis, short answer, mechanism with arrows, and 3D structure drawing.  Videos were provided to assist participants in the development of OpenOChem activities from the database (4500 questions).  Videos were also provided to show participants how to write their own questions in OpenOChem.  During the synchronous workshop session, workshop leaders answered participant questions about using OpenOChem.  A Padlet with links to Open Educational Resources was provided for participants to explore as time permitted.

Specifications Grading

Joshua Ring

Specifications grading has been used in his organic chemistry classes at Lenoir-Rhyne since 2016. For the ALOC workshop, he recorded and shared a YouTube video about his implementation of specifications grading, which participants watched before the live session. After watching the video, participants submitted questions on the topic. During the synchronous session, he answered the submitted questions, then the participants broke out into their groups from conference Session 1 to briefly discuss and develop mastery-style questions to assess student knowledge of particular learning outcomes.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

Leyte Winfield

Participants read Ladson-Billings’ 2014 article on culturally relevant pedagogy (DOI: as a preamble to the session on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Discussion of the article during the pre-session activity was facilitated by having participants annotate the article within Perusall.  During the synchronous session, participants responded to questions within Padlet that allowed them to collectively reflect on their  definitions on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Comparisons between experiences of different faculty members were accomplished by using Padlet’s star rating system. The balance of the session was spent defining culturally relevant pedagogies and activities. Some time was spent characterizing student populations in effort to seek a better understanding of those we serve. Participants were enthusiastic about this topic, so one of the faculty learning circles for the academic year will focus on DEI issues. Participants were left with the following points to consider as they continue to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion through the adoption of culturally relevant pedagogies:

  • Believe in students’ agency and potential.
  • Be sincere in my attempt to adopt the tenants of the culturally relevant pedagogies.
  • Celebrate the culture/identity of the students served.
  • Avoid insensitive appropriation of cultural/identity-based elements.
  • Avoid satire or other comedic attempts to minimize the culture/identity.
  • Ensure the appropriate expertise is available to address potentially harmful conversations.


Session 6

How to Introduce Active Learning to Students and Colleagues & Developing an Action Plan

Jennifer Muzyka

During Session 6 we used Padlet to facilitate sharing ideas about how individuals would introduce active learning to their students and colleagues.  A similar approach was used to share ideas about how participants would change their courses as a result of this workshop.

Discussion with a 2015 ALOC Workshop Participant – Flipping the Organic Classroom

Jim Shattuck, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies at University of Hartford

Jim offered reflections based on his own work from the ALOC workshop to a research project on flipping the organic chemistry course.  He offered guidance on steps in getting started in building active learning into your course.  He also offered a university administrative perspective on ways to include this work in your annual reviews as well as with promotion and tenure.  He also offered strategies for requesting funding and resources for this work at your institution. 

For faculty just beginning to implement active learning, Jim recommended starting small, focusing on specific course learning outcomes that you are working to improve.  Be mindful of equity issues, thinking through how active learning innovations would impact students from diverse backgrounds in your course, offering support as needed.  The importance of external validation of the value of active learning was emphasized to generate buy-in with both your students and colleagues.  Be transparent with your students letting them know why you are doing something different in class and be sure to share early successes to emphasize the value of the new approach. 

 For promotion and tenure, Jim recommended talking to innovative teachers in both the chemistry department and across your college and university to see how receptive your institution is to active learning, identify ways others have received internal resources for their work and learn how your institution views the scholarship of teaching and learning in terms of promotion.  Jim recommends that in conversation with administrators about resources and financial support for your active learning project it is important to align your work with university mission and current institutional priorities, while offering to share your project results and approach with others in appropriate venues.  Finally, the importance of assessing the effectiveness of your innovation broadly was emphasized, moving past test and quiz grades to student perception changes, transfer of knowledge to subsequent courses and retention rates in the major as well as at the university. 


  1. Barkley, E.F.; Cross, K.P.; Major, C.H. Collaborative Learning Techniques, 2nd ed.; Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA, 2014.
  2. Barkley, E.F. and Major, C.H. Learning Assessment Techniques, 1st ed.; Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA, 2016.
41 users have voted.