by Prof. Judith Herzfeld, Biophysial Chemistry - Brandeis University

The undergraduate pre-medical curriculum presents science faculty with an opportunity to play a significant role in shaping future physicians, and it seems desirable for our classroom goals to reflect that potential as much as possible. Of course, we need to teach the foundation science for medical training. However, it is also the case that our students will be better prepared,

- for understanding modern medicine if we encourage conceptual learning, rather than rote learning,
- for lifelong learning if we promote active learning, rather than passive learning, and
- for team work in patient care and research if we cultivate collaborative efforts, rather than solitary ones.

For these reasons (and, to be honest, to avoid the tedium of giving lectures that go over the same material as in the textbook, and to encourage friendly cooperation between otherwise cutthroat competitors), I have become a very avid user of peer instruction in general chemistry.

Since I use "ConcepTests" intensively (with lecturing only in the context of, or as lead-in to, specific questions), a major initial effort was required to develop an extensive set of "ConcepTests". This effort was supported by the Dreyfus Foundation and the evolving set of ConcepTests can be found at

In our amphitheater setting, students originally answered ConcepTests with four-lettered and -colored signs (rather than show of hands) to minimize self-consciousness and allow "voting" for all choices at once. But now a Classtalk system (installed with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute) allows greater privacy in "voting" while allowing the instructor to record data on both individual and class-wide performance. The former allows the instructor to learn more about each student than is generally feasible in a large class format, and the latter helps in refining the design of the ConcepTests. Another important tool in active learning is a textbook that presents the material in such a fashion as to prepare students well for in class activities. This need is informing my development of a new adaptation of Segal's general chemistry textbook.