RSU Lecturer Eduards Baķis: Targeted Grants Drive Change
This spring, 13 lecturers from Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) received a targeted grant named after patron Boris Teterev to modernise study courses. ‘The grant is a positive impetus for change that inspires us to think about how to teach our study courses better,’ says Eduards Baķis (pictured), a lecturer at the Department of Human Physiology and Biochemistry of the Faculty of Medicine and one of the recipients. Baķis teaches general chemistry.
‘My colleague, lecturer Ilmārs Rikmanis, encouraged me to modernise my study course and helped me prepare the materials. Lecturer and course leader Agnese Brangule provided significant support as well. I have included new methods and various innovative approaches in my lectures and classes before, but not in a systematic way. From this autumn, all newly admitted medical and dentistry students, both from Latvia and abroad, who will take the course Medical Chemistry will already be able to reap the benefits.’
Why was it necessary to modernise the study course?
We want everyone to be able to understand this complex study course. General medical chemistry is essential because it provides basic knowledge so that students can later successfully master biochemistry and other fields. What makes it more difficult is that students often have very different basic knowledge of chemistry. The innovations we introduced will help implement a more personalised approach through individual feedback so that everyone knows the areas they still need to catch up on. At the end of the course, all students need to be on the same level in order to study further.
What innovations will there be?
One new thing will be the flipped classroom approach – students will be given simple tasks to learn at home, which will facilitate the following work in classroom. This is not the first time students have been introduced to this approach – before laboratory work we gave them key words that have to be learned and understood at home. Now this method will be employed more systematically.
We have developed preparatory tests in Latvian and English, which the students will take at home and then receive feedback. In this way we will be able to dedicate time during lectures or in class to focus on issues that require a closer interaction between the lecturer and students. The flipped classroom approach ensures that students' knowledge of chemistry will be at the same level, as their home countries may have varying standards for chemistry.
Another innovation will be mock tests with 15 questions and five open questions. This will provide students with the opportunity to practice before the actual test so that they feel comfortable and get to know the format.
No significant changes will be made to the content of the study course. Students will have the chance to learn the subject more thoroughly and not get lost in a chemistry jungle! They will be provided with the opportunity to skip the exam and pass the course based on tests. If a student fails the first test, the motivation to continue studying decreases significantly, but we want to maintain their motivation throughout the course.
Another way in which we modernised the course was to integrate new methods into the classes, for example, when teaching about reaction times (kinetics), the study of the amount of time that a medical product stays in the body. Together with the students we observe the reaction of ascorbic acid with methylene blue, the product of which is colourless. The intensity of the colour indicates the amount of substance present at any given time. We observe this reaction time with a spectrophotometer and film the measurements with a mobile app to trace them over time. We have also developed pre-class and post-class tests online. In fact, we used these methods previously, just not systematically.
This whole series of activities is meant for students to be able to recognise their strengths and weaknesses, obtain feedback and identify the fields that they need to work on. The materials developed with the targeted grant are used to plan the course Medical Chemistry which is part of Medicine II – a course synchronised for both local and international students.
You received the targeted grant and started working on innovations before the pandemic started. How did COVID-19 affect this process?
In addition to preparing study course materials, we also had to deal with switching to remote learning. There were some difficulties, of course, but overall we felt that we developed closer individual contact with students who seemed much more focused. Even before that, the Medical Chemistry course involved a lot of work online, and this period only intensified it.
Some facts about Eduards Baķis
- Chemistry is his vocation. Participant of chemistry olympiads, and later also created tasks. Baķis used to dream about teaching chemistry, but not in schools because there is too little chemistry, so he chose to work on a university level instead.
- Has bachelor's and master's degrees from the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Latvia.
- Has a doctoral degree in chemistry from the Imperial College London. His doctoral thesis was developed in the field of environmentally friendly and sustainable chemistry and was dedicated to a new class of solvents – ionic liquids.
- Baķis is currently working on a postdoctoral research programme and continues to study ionic liquids.
- He has been working at Rīga Stradiņš University since February 2019.