Chemistry Professor to Receive 2008 James Flack Norris Award

Release Date: 
Aug 12 2008

August 12, 2008 - Pratibha Varma-Nelson, professor of chemistry and chemical biology and executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), has been selected as a recipient of the 2008 James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry. The award will be presented in November.

The award is made annually by the Northeastern section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) to recognize an individual whose dedication and excellence in the teaching of chemistry has had wide-ranging effects on the profession. Varma-Nelson, along with David K. Gosser Jr., professor of chemistry at the City University of New York (City College) and Jack A. Kampmeier, professor of chemistry emeritus at the University of Rochester, are jointly recognized for their leadership work to develop the Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) workshop model for teaching chemistry.

PLTL is a national partnership of faculty, learning specialists and peer leaders to help students build conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills in their science and math courses. The model introduces a new structure, the peer-led workshop, where students work together to solve challenging problems designed by the faculty to engage them with the subject material and with each other. The team is guided by a peer who is trained to lead the workshop. PLTL provides an active learning experience for the students, a leadership role for the undergraduate peer leader and a creative new dimension to faculty teaching. Currently, 1,500-2,000 peer leaders are engaged on more than 150 college and university campuses to facilitate workshops for more than 20,000 students per year.

Varma-Nelson, Gosser and Kampmeier led the research and development of the PLTL model following its initial pilot at CCNY in the early 1990s. Gosser and Kampmeier also will receive the James Flack Norris Award in November. Supported by a National Science Foundation "Systemic Change in Chemistry" grant, they worked with colleagues to formulate and implement the "critical components" for successful PLTL programs, to broaden the dissemination in chemistry teaching and beyond by encouraging PLTL leadership in biology, physics, mathematics and computer science, and to develop models for institutionalization of PLTL. PLTL continues to be a national partnership that builds on the contributions of hundreds of individuals; this team of three provided the essential continuity and leadership.

IUPUI has been using PLTL in Chemistry C105 since 1998. More than 6,000 students have finished the course using PLTL. Last fall, the DFW rate had sunk to 22 percent using PLTL, from a previous high of more than 50 percent.