Jimmy Wadman bombed his first two chemistry tests.
A disturbing result for the then-freshman, who had graduated near the top of his class at Lamar High School near Houston. Once the shock wore off, he picked himself up and started listening to what his professors Cynthia Labrake and David Vanden Bout were saying: Reflect, explain, apply. Reading and memorizing were not going to cut it.
Wadman wasn't in any ordinary class. He was participating in the pilot Chemistry 301 course in the university's Course Transformation Program, which is finding more effective ways to teach large, introductory level courses. The solution is a hybrid approach that uses the latest in educational technology and the best practices in teaching: robust in-class discussion, video modules to supplement readings, team teaching models and immediate student feedback.
"It's a powerful way to approach learning," he says. "At the time I didn't realize that this was a 'new' way of learning, but it's changed the way I view all my courses."
He pulled up his grades and is now a learning assistant for the class as a sophomore. While Labrake and Vanden Bout guide the class, Wadman works with groups of students, prodding them to apply the concepts, test themselves and reflect on the learning process.
"I learned that I love chemistry and I love teaching," Wadman says. "In that course transformation, I found a personal transformation."