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Tina Saxowsky, PhD

Department of Chemistry

Personalized Learning with Student Video Projects

A biochemist by training, Tina Saxowsky, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry, is fascinated with how life operates at the molecular level. “When I started teaching, there were so many cool things that I wanted to teach the students about, but there was never enough time to tackle it all as a class. I started thinking about ways to get the students to seek out some of the cool extras on their own.” Tina has started using video projects to allow students to research and present on special topics of interest in her course.

What is one instructional strategy or student project that is particularly effective, innovative, or engaging?

“I almost always assign a special project that allows the students to take what they have been learning in class and apply it by exploring a current topic that interests them personally. It is easy to think of science as a collection of facts that we already ‘know’, but I want the students to realize that there is still a lot to be discovered, and that new findings could affect their own lives in real ways. I also think it is important that the students have an opportunity to share what they have learned with each other. This special project has taken a lot of different forms through the years (such as scientific posters or class blogs), but most recently I have started asking the students to make a movie. Working in small groups, they propose a topic, do the background research to understand the science behind it, and then they develop a short movie in the style of an infomercial or instructional video.”

What supportive technology do you use to implement this strategy/project?

“Video cameras and microphones are available for checkout from Instructional Technologies, and movie editing software can be found on the computers in the Digital Design Labs, along with supportive staff who can help students master the basics.”

What are the benefits, for you and your students, of using this strategy or tool?

“The students have really come to enjoy this project. In addition to truly engaging the students in the course content, it promotes collaboration, creativity, and time management.  At the end of the semester, we dedicate a class session to viewing everyone’s movies, and the students enjoy seeing what their classmates have done and discussing the various topics explored.”

What advice would you have for someone interested in trying this strategy or tool?

“I would recommend that you start cultivating the project early in the semester, giving the students incremental benchmarks in their planning. I would also recommend flexibility. The first time I assigned the movie, I asked students to work in pairs, but after the fact they mentioned that it was hard to do with just two people because someone had to man the camera. The next year I allowed for variable group sizes.”  

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