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An Innovative Approach to Teaching - “Flipping” Over Organic Chemistry

College Relations, Communications, and Marketing
Date: 3/3/2015

​​In a good experiment, results determine a successful outcome. Well, the data is in — students are flipping over Dr. Robert Rossi's Organic Chemistry courses.

Rossi is the first instructor at Rowan College at Gloucester County to "flip" his traditional teaching style for a more innovative approach, a decision made after considerable research and investment of time. Unlike the typical learning environment with lectures held in front of the classroom and questions solved at home, Rossi's organic chem students watch instructional videos at their convenience and work on problems in the lab.

"In today's society, where everything is so technology based, this is the future of learning," said Rossi. "This is how learning will manifest itself."

 When Rossi decided to flip his Organic Chemistry 201 and 202 classes, it transformed the way he teaches his students. It also made a big change to his lesson plans. Preparing for these web-enhanced courses required a personal investment on the part of the associate professor. During summer break, Rossi spent a total of 96 hours creating 350, 15-minute videos.  Each chapter contains 15 to 20 recordings. The new format allows students the flexibility to watch the videos at their leisure, with the option to pause and restart if more study is required. Class time is now reserved for solving the more advanced problems and practicing what is being learned. Students also have access to videos from both chemistry courses so they can review past and future information.

"As a student I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be part of such an innovative approach to learning organic chemistry," said Jill Adams, a second-year biology major and vice president of the College's Science Club. "The flipped classroom setting allows me to take accountability for my own education and helps to empower self confidence in such a tough subject. With the use of video lectures in place of traditional lectures, I have the option to learn organic chemistry when it is convenient for me."

At the start of class, Rossi always asks his students the same question, "What is your muddiest point about this lesson?"  More of a coach then a lecturer, he wanders the classroom assisting small groups of three and four students writing chemical formulas on large, white erasable panels called  "huddle boards."

"Class time provides us with one-on-one time with an expert in the field and encourages group learning," noted Alexa Martinelli, a second-year pre-pharmacy major who works part time at Inspira Medical Center in Woodbury. "This changes the way we learn organic chemistry. Everyone anticipates it to be the 'dreaded' class, but for me it is fun and engaging. I look forward to coming to class."

Apparently Martinelli isn't the only organic chemistry student pleased with the change.  Since Rossi made the flip in fall 2012, there has been a 15 to 19 percent increase in exam-score averages. Before the switch, there was a steady decline in grades as the courses progressed, which Rossi attributes to students not being engaged, getting stuck on difficult homework problems and giving up.

"Flipping organic chemistry promotes learning through collaboration, actively involving students in the material. It's pure learning," said Rossi.  

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