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Home Videos on Teaching Oral Histories SeriesMatthew Dintzner
DePaul Faculty Oral Histories: Matthew Dintzner

Browse the videos below to hear Matthew Dintzner, Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Chemistry, discuss his teaching firsts, his biggest teaching influences, and his remarkable web-based project, Organic Web.


My Teaching Firsts: The Art and Science of Teaching

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

Yeah, I do believe that teaching is an art and a science.

There's sort of the technical component to the everyday business that has to be attended to, and that's more the science side of it, the logistics. The art of teaching is sort of the . . . comprised of connecting with students and communicating. I mean, teaching is communicating. And communicating effectively is an art. You have to know who you're talking to, and how they are receiving the information that you're giving. And so sometimes you have to be creative because there are all sorts of different learning styles. People . . . some people learn visually, some people learn aurally, and some people learn by writing things down, and some people learn by interactive exchange. And so you've got to be aware of all of the different ways that students learn, and part of that is by talking with them and getting to know them, and being creative in how you present information, I think.




My Teaching Firsts: Teaching and Research

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

There's only so many hours in a day, and you've got to get teaching done, you've got to get research done. And if you can find a way to, for lack of a better phrase, kill two birds with one stone, it's great.

And I learned this approach in part from one of my colleagues, Greg Kharas, who has been instrumental in developing research-based lab projects for the organic chemistry lab. And so in the third quarter of organic chemistry students do a project that is intimately related to Greg's research, and that research gets published, and those students get both course credit for completing the course, but also most of them get their names on a manuscript, a published manuscript, which is invaluable for students going on to medical school or any kind of graduate school, or even pursuing a job. And so recently I've been able to develop similar projects, and they've worked really well, both for me in my research agenda, moving that forward, and also for giving students the opportunity to do research. And I think it's been very well received by the students, and something that I've been able to publish in the Journal of Chemical Education. So it's education research, not necessarily chemistry research. But it's allowed me to sort of expand in my research interests to incorporate education as well.




My Teaching Firsts: Keeping in Touch

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

I do still keep in touch with many of those students from that first year.

I hate to admit it, but Facebook is a wonderful thing, and it's a great way to network socially, and with people like former students. And they track you down, and sure, I'm friends with a lot of them. And at this point they've been out of DePaul for, oh, six to eight years in most of their cases. And so some of them are doctors now, and some of them are in industry, and some of them are actually professors, so they went on and pursued an academic career, which is exciting. Some of them, I remember . . . so one in particular I've been in contact with recently who's decided on a career change, and so she needs, or she needed a letter of recommendation for med school. So she's now going to med school. She did get in, and she's going to pursue a medical degree. So absolutely I do keep in touch with these students, and it's gratifying to see where a lot of them have gone, and that I had some small part in getting them to where they are now.




My Teaching Firsts: The Construction of McGowan South

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

So, the construction of the new building, McGowan South (Chemistry and Environmental Science, and now the home of the college office, the College of Science and Health), has really impacted I think the way that we offer our programs, not the least of which is the environment in which we can teach our labs.

The lab space is state-of-the-art and really just beautiful, and so it's encouraging for students to come into such a space, and it's refreshing for faculty who have taught in our old, very antiquated space, to teach in these beautiful new labs. Not only the teaching labs but also our research labs. In the classroom, the classroom space is wonderful because all of the classrooms are smart classrooms, and they're equipped with all of the technology that we need. Computers, with monitors and projectors. And the larger classrooms are tiered so that even students in the back can readily see the board and there are, for me, for someone who gives lots of notes and likes to do chalk talks, there are multiple boards. There's nine boards, sliding boards, in all of the larger classrooms, which is great. It means less erasing, so that means more time that you can be engaging with students, and you can leave the information up there so that they don't have to be so frantically copying notes if that's what they're doing. So the classroom space, the lab space, is wonderful. The fact that it's a green building, I think, is important to students' and faculty’s morale. I think a lot of us are engaged in doing research in sustainability. I know people in environmental science are. My research is in green chemistry, and so being in a green building just sort of marries well with that. The common spaces for students . . . we built the building with students in mind, so there's a lot of spaces for students to congregate and collaborate and then there's a sky bridge that connects McGowan South with McGowan North, so there's this physical connection between departments in the sciences that's encouraging for students and faculty.




My Biggest Teaching Influence: Learning from Conferences

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

We learned all these things from conferences. Things that you might think are obvious but that aren't necessarily conveniently or easily implemented.

Things like having smaller class sizes for intro courses like gen chem, at least the first quarter of gen chem, which seems to be the most problematic. Having smaller class size and a smaller student-teacher ratio works as opposed to having 150 students in one lecture where students feel more anonymous, and can be. And so we reduced the size or the cap on enrollment in gen chem. And we introduced a course that's meant to prepare students for gen chem, for students who come in less prepared with their math or chemistry and really don't have the math skills to handle the first quarter of gen chem. We determine that by a placement exam that's given on the first day of class, and we require students who don't pass that exam to take this intro to gen chem course. And it was initially met with resistance by students. “I have to take another course.” But now many students either opt to take it or have no problem with taking it if they aren't prepared, because they know that if they don't take it that the chances are that they won't pass the first quarter of gen chem and they'll have to retake it anyway. So it's really not an extra course, it's just a course that is going to benefit them. So those three things are among a number of other things we took away from that conference, and the numbers speak for themselves. The number of students dropping out or failing or getting a D in that first quarter of gen chem has just plummeted. It's gone down dramatically, and I think that it's great for everybody. It's great for students, it's great for faculty, and so it was a great experience.




My Biggest Teaching Influence: Finding Balance

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

I would advise junior faculty to be open-minded to your colleagues, to your chair and to your colleagues.

It's certainly within your academic freedom to do things the way that you think is best, but your colleagues have had more experience than you. And not everything that they do is going to be appealing to you, but I would advise that you look carefully at what every individual faculty member does well or what you think that they do well and model yourself after them. Develop a style that is the best of everybody rolled into one, rolled into you. And at the same time, maintain some of your own personal identity. This job is very much about balance and trying to find balance between the three major things that we are expected to do, and that is teach, do research, and be a good campus citizen. Finding that balance is different for everyone, but you really have to do that. You can't let one thing, let's say, teaching, eat up all of your time because your research and your service and your personal life are going to suffer. And at the end of the day, that is to say at the end of your probationary period when you go up for promotion and tenure, you're going to be evaluated on those three things. Did you meet the criteria for research? Was your teaching acceptable or hopefully excellent? And did you show that you were a good campus citizen and contribute at the department and college level? So finding that balance is key, and if it's not something that comes to you readily, ask others how they did it.




My Biggest Teaching Influence: Teaching from the Gut

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

So yes, I have taught in the First-Year Program within the Liberal Studies Program, and also in the Honors Program (the same course, or a different version of the same course). So, it's a Discover Chicago course that is completely outside of the discipline of Chemistry.

It's a course on ethnic neighborhood bakeries of Chicago. And so I kind of wracked my brain about, “What do I want to teach? How do I want to discover Chicago?” Because I'm not originally from Chicago and I was pretty new to the area, so in a sense I was discovering Chicago too. I was probably just hungry at the time. And I do enjoy cooking and baking, and I wanted my course to be somehow themed around food, and so I thought bread, the most basic of foods, and Chicago, the city of neighborhoods, and at one time very much ethnic-oriented neighborhoods. Not so much any more, but that's something that we explore in the course. For my course, we take public transportation all over the city to various neighborhoods and visit bakeries and talk about, “What sort of bakeries are here and what sort of neighborhood is this?” And in addition, they're learning how to use the L and the CTA and learning where DePaul is in the context of the rest of the city and gaining 10 pounds from eating all sorts of baked goods. But it's a fun class, and especially that part of it. It's exhausting but it's fun, and in particular if the weather is nice, because you're doing a lot of walking around.




Organic Web: Conceiving the Project

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

So Organic Web, the idea for Organic Web and developing it came sort of organically out of teaching organic chemistry for . . . I guess it was probably 2007 when I started to develop the project.

And it was third quarter, so the end of . . . kind of the end of the year. And it just started to dawn on me that I could wrap up the year by showing students how everything that they've learned throughout the year is connected. And so I really just started by doodling on a sheet of paper, and came up with a scheme, which is now Organic Web, it's the interactive map of organic reactions and how they're connected by reactivity. But it went through a lot of drafts, and I just wanted to incorporate everything. I just started playing around with ways to represent that on a sheet of paper. I figured if I could do it on a sheet of paper that it would be more explicit to students. And then it occurred to me that if I can do it on a piece of paper I can put that image onto a screen and have everything linked. And so if you click on a box that contains a particular compound, it can open a page, a new page, with detailed information about that compound. And on that page there could be even more detailed information through clickable links.




Organic Web: Nonlinear Teaching

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

It just occurred to me, it was just one of those light-bulb-goes-off ideas where yeah, organic chemistry, it is more of a web-like subject than it is a linear subject.

But textbooks by design have to present the information in a linear fashion. And whenever you do that it promotes memorization and surface learning. Students learn chronologically, and then they forget what they learned two chapters ago and don't see the connection between that and how it applies to or connects with the material that they're currently learning. And it's not so much the fault of the student. It's a difficult learning skill to acquire, to achieve, seeing connections. And so I said, “Well, why don't we make this a little more explicit and just show them right from the start, here, this stuff is connected. Here's the web. You're not going to learn it all at once, but by the time we're done, you're going to see how everything is connected.” And I think that it works. I think it's an approach that especially today's students like, because they're used to clicking a mouse. They're used to navigating the Internet and the web, and they're used to that sort of way of navigating information, and so this is just a way of applying it to organic chemistry. But really the key there was developing that map, so that everything always comes back to the big picture, and that details are accessible through clickable links.




Organic Web: A New Paradigm

Featured Faculty Member: Matthew Dintzner of the Department of Chemistry.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas and Jordan Ziolkowski
Interviewer: Zac Brenner

From the Transcript

So Organic Web has evolved over the last, I guess, four years now and is still a work in progress. The ultimate goal is that it become a stand-alone resource, so separate from a textbook or any other ancillary materials.

And that said, it's a computer-based interface, and so ultimately I see it being used by students in not a classroom but in a computer lab where students are sitting around, perhaps four to a table, each in front of their own monitor, and they’re working on interactive exercises together with a faculty member sort of circulating and maybe a course assistant or T.A. circulating as well. White boards off to the side to answer questions, and have it be all real time. To get more away from the lecture paradigm and more into an interactive mode of learning. And that's possible. I'm not suggesting that we take away face-time with instructors but that we utilize it differently. If everything is integrated into an electronic platform, I think students would really respond to it well and so far they have, so that's where it's going.