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Explaining the making of complex molecules with Lightboard videos

22 May 2023
Teachers and researchers Thomas Hansen and Jaap Harteveld explain how to assemble complex molecules for the Bachelor’s course Organic Chemistry (Chemistry). They do this in videos in which they use the Lightboard of the pop-up studio (VU Education Lab). "Building complex molecules can be compared to putting together an IKEA cabinet.”

As associate professor of Organic Chemistry, Thomas combines research, teaching and management. Jaap is junior lecturer in Pharmaceutical Sciences and is a PhD candidate in Thomas and Eelco Ruijter's research group.

"Organic chemistry is a complicated subject. It takes effort to understand it properly," Jaap says. Consequently, this Bachelor’s course had low pass rates. "So we wanted to get the core right: innovate the subject and get students more involved."

IKEA cabinet
In the lightboard videos, Thomas and Jaap try to show how complex molecules work. They work out all the assignments from the working group for the students. Thomas: "The strategies to assemble a complex molecule are complicated. We try to teach those to students: which groups are reactive and less reactive, and in what ways? You may compare it to putting together an IKEA wardrobe: you need the right parts, the right tools and understandable instructions to get the cabinet. It works exactly the same way in the laboratory. There you often start with the cabinet, or the complex molecule: how can you build this?"

Jaap: "We wanted to make a slidecast of chemical equations. After all, you have to go through the process step by step to make it understandable. That way students can go through the tasks again at their leisure. And we wanted to be in the picture ourselves. Students then follow the explanation better, we thought."

Natural videos
After a search, they ended up at the VU Education Lab's pop-up studio and separate Lightboard space. "It's a nice space where they were able to help us very well," says Jaap. "The Lightboard works easily: you can just write like normal. We are shown mirrored. And you explain it to a camera in front of you. It's actually just like I'm discussing my research with Thomas, and we take a moment to grab the board."

Even slips of the tongue are natural, they find, so they leave them in. Thomas: "The other person can then come back to that. It makes the video more human."

"Time investment is worth it"
The time investment? An average video lasts 10-15 minutes. For 15 minutes of video, teachers spend about 30 minutes, including preparation. In one afternoon they record several videos. Jaap: "It is an investment, but we get it out in the years after, when we can keep using the videos."

A tip for other teachers: try working as a pair. "That's more natural," Thomas believes. "And if you have a brainfreeze, the other person can respond. Working together saves time and is a lot more fun."

And the success rates? "Since we've been using the Lightboard, they've gone up from 40% to 60%."