Name:  Michael W. Burand

Area of Study / Position Title: General Chemistry Laboratory Coordinator

Why chemistry?  (What about it initially interested you?): I liked science when I was young since it was a way to understand how the world works. I had an excellent chemistry teacher in high school and was very fortunate to receive a scholarship to study chemistry in college.

Research focus (in non-science terms) or basic job duties? I’m the instructor for general chemistry laboratory sections taught in LPSC. I develop course materials and manage the TAs who teach the laboratories. Occasionally I teach general chemistry lecture sections as well.

One thing you truly love about your job?  It’s great to be able to work with colleagues and TAs to come up with new laboratory teaching pedagogies, and I love it when it’s clear something we’ve created is helping students gain a better understanding.

One interesting/strange factoid about yourself.  I received my pilot’s license while in high school.

Instructors Margie Haak and Michael Burand will give a lecture on Less Class Time, More Learning at the 2014 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, August 3-7 at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

A hybrid-format general chemistry course for science-majors was implemented in the winter term of 2014. Two sections of approximately 160 students each were included. This course was a “trailer” course insomuch as students began the sequence in the second 10-week term of the academic year. Students in trailer courses have historically been more at risk for poor academic performance.

The format of the course included short, topical videos which were custom-made for this course and were made available to students online. Students were assigned to groups of approximately four for the duration of the term and biweekly class meetings consisted almost exclusively of students working on solving problems within their groups. Generally two faculty members and four teaching assistants were present to assist student groups. Typically some time was reserved at the end of the class periods for student groups (selected at random) to come before the class and present their solution to a problem.

Preliminary data show that students in this hybrid course performed significantly better on exams than historical averages for the traditional lecture format. This result is especially noteworthy given that the students in the hybrid course have only 60% of the class time compared to students in the traditional version of the course. A survey of students’ views regarding this hybrid course format was also conducted and will be discussed.

Instructor Michael Burand will give a presentation titled, “Letter Writing: A Pathway to Better Laboratory Comprehension” at the 2014 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, August 3-7 at Grand Valley State University.


General chemistry students in honors and majors-only laboratory courses are required to write a letter in lieu of a traditional laboratory report for one of their laboratory projects. The students use the letter to explain their results to a recipient whom they are told does not necessarily have background in science. This requirement to explain their laboratory results in nonscientific terms causes the students to think more thoroughly about the underlying concepts involved. Indeed, survey results indicate that 94% of the laboratory students polled felt they had gained a deeper understanding when they wrote the letter as opposed to a traditional laboratory report. The details of the assignment will be discussed along with students’ survey responses.

The laboratory activity chosen for this letter-writing project involved testing for lead contamination in urban soils via atomic absorption spectroscopy. This provided a viable means of incorporating a service-learning aspect into the project. Students indicated that they put forth a more substantial effort in writing the letter knowing it would be sent to an actual recipient, not only the student’s TA and/or laboratory instructor. Thus, this project combines the nontraditional laboratory pedagogical approach of letter writing with a service-learning component. How this leads to students attaining a deeper understanding and facilitates better student engagement and ownership will be discussed.