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Linfield Mag 28 Fall 2014

Keeping students Students hunch over workbooks or talk quietly in small groups. Brian Gilbert walks slowly around the room, stopping occasionally to lean into the conversation at a table to ask a question. Gone is the lecture-style general chemistry class. Activities with questions, definitions or problems are displayed on four screens located around the room. Gilbert, an associate professor of chemistry, briefly reviews materials and then gives his students, broken into groups of four, a specific time period to complete a series of questions. Sometimes they are asked to display their work on the board, sometimes they respond orally to questions. The Gilbert File At Linfield since 2001 B.S. University of Arizona Ph.D. Indiana University Post-doctoral fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Prior teaching position: Coastal Carolina University Academic interests: Experimental physical chemistry and nanotechnology, including characterization of the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles, Raman spectroscopy and surface- enhanced Raman scattering. 1 4 - l i n f i e l d m a g a z i n e Fall 2013 Welcome to POGIL, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. While the name may be a bit dry, the technique is anything but. Gilbert was introduced to it nearly 10 years ago and has become a staunch advocate. With POGIL, interactive learning replaces the traditional lecture-style classroom. Students work collaboratively in small groups to answer a series of questions that are based on a model – perhaps data they have to interpret or a diagram that represents a chemistry theory. “Students are always active in the class,” Gilbert said. “My job is to facilitate their answers, get them through the activity and make sure they understand the main points.” Students are engaged and as Gilbert walks around listening to them work, he often stops to answer questions. If the same question pops up in different groups, he stops the class to discuss a specific point or aspect of the exercise. “I have a much better sense of where individuals are, especially in a 40-student general chemistry class, than I did before,” he said. The most important message that Gilbert wants to convey to students is that science is not a series of facts and numbers and things to be memorized. “It’s really a way of thinking about questions that anybody can do if they are willing to spend the time, energy and have the interest,” he said. “And with the introductory students, I’m setting up the course in a way that forces them to study the way they need to.” From German to chemistry Gilbert did not plan to be a chemist. He entered college as a German major but soon found chemistry classes more intriguing. “What I liked most about chemistry was working in the labs and finding out that even as a sophomore at a major research university, I could conduct research on real projects,” he said. Gilbert learned that he was really good in the lab, tinkering with instruments and spending time making things work. He spent one summer working at a gold mine in Nevada developing a new gold assay for the company and another with a major chemical company in Germany doing organic synthesis. At MIT he was involved in some of the first research projects through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on how to detect high explosives in airplanes, following the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. That experience solidified his commitment to the value of undergraduate collaborative research, which continues to energize him. During his time at Linfield, he has mentored some 43 students in such projects. “If a student is really interested in science and being a scientist, none of the coursework can prepare them for what that means,” he said. “The only way you can be sure is by getting into a lab and working on problems that are ill-defined and for which we don’t know the answer.” Students and faculty are collaborating on questions for which they are interested in finding answers. At Linfield, students can start doing research as freshmen and by the time they enter graduate programs they are better prepared than many of their peers. Now instead of just gaining that research experience in the summer, students have an opportunity during the regular academic year. After Gilbert’s sabbatical in 2009, the chemistry department designed a series of research courses so students can earn credit for research and hone their skills in fall and spring semesters. Finding his place in the classroom What began as a practice application for a job resulted in Gilbert’s first teaching position in South Carolina. He quickly found teaching was a


Linfield Mag 28 Fall 2014
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