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5 questions for Sophia Cherry, Ph.D., and Alycia Palmer, Ph.D.

The Chemistry and Biochemistry laboratory instructors share their thoughts on getting back into the classroom and in front of students.

By Doug McPherson

October 15, 2020

Chemistry lab in session with participants distanced and wearing masks.While most Metropolitan State University of Denver courses are online this fall, the Early Bird interviewed two educators from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry to talk about their time teaching on campus. Sophia Cherry, Ph.D., general-chemistry laboratory instructor, and Alycia M. Palmer, Ph.D., analytical-chemistry laboratory instructor, shared their thoughts and experiences on returning to the classroom and in-person teaching.

Early Bird: What’s been the best part of returning to campus?

Cherry: It’s been really nice to get a little bit of my “old normal” back into my schedule. Spring went online so abruptly, and many of us have tried to adjust with varied success.

Palmer: Meeting up with students who are eager to begin collecting their own data and performing experiments again. After the spring term, when students were working with old data and performing calculations remotely, many expressed that they took our time together for granted. I’m really glad to welcome back students who look forward to doing science again.

Early Bird: What have you enjoyed about in-person teaching?

Cherry: Getting face-to-face interaction with students again. There’s only so much we can do with online lectures, videos and meetings. Getting to be in front of the class and seeing students doing the experiments firsthand have been wonderful.

Palmer: Observing students as they work through problems. And even though we are physically distanced in lab, everyone is still working together to delegate roles and offer suggestions.

Early Bird: What feedback have students had to the new classroom dynamic and health and safety protocols?

Cherry: Students are adjusting to the major changes in their education. The students I’ve interacted with are thankful to get some normalcy back in their lives again and not be sitting in front of a computer screen.

Palmer: Students tell me every day how glad they are to be back in the lab space to collect their own data. These bursts of excitement make the extra work on my part 100% worth it. Students have also told me that some of the changes we made to curriculum are working well, so I’m considering using the videos I created for future terms, too.

Early Bird: Do you have any advice for fellow educators about teaching in person during this time?

Palmer: Make sure our students are safe. This has meant rethinking how many experiments are done so that students can be physically distanced. But in the end, no learning objective is more important than our students’ health.

Cherry: Enjoy it! I think getting to come back and see our students face to face is a great reminder of why we got into teaching in the first place. We love interacting with students!

Early Bird: Have there been any unexpected benefits to returning to campus?  

Cherry: General-chemistry lab courses have been split into rotating cohorts, so our small class sizes are even smaller now. This allows for even more focused attention for our students.

Palmer: My students and I have all enjoyed the ample parking!

Cherry and Palmer plan to teach in-person classes again in the spring semester.

Topics: Health, Safety

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