June 13, 2019Print | PDF
When she was five years old, Sherilyn Van De Wynckel told her kindergarten classmates she was going to be a teacher.
It was a dream she fulfilled.
Van De Wynckel’s work teaching, mentoring and inspiring Wilfrid Laurier University students as part of introductory and organic chemistry lab classes – as well as introducing emerging technology into those classes – has earned her the 2019 Donald F. Morgenson Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence in the innovation category.
“It’s always been about working with students and helping them better understand the world,” says Van De Wynckel, who has instructed thousands of students during her 16 years at Laurier. “I am just doing what makes sense.”
Van De Wynckel, a lab coordinator in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has worked to integrate emerging technology in her lab, serving to enhance the educational experience of students. In 2018, she secured funding from the Faculty of Science to purchase Chromebooks and wireless Vernier Go Direct technology that allows instant graphing and data collection. The funding also extended wireless Internet access to the lab.
Test results, run through Vernier equipment including gas pressure sensors, spectrophotometers, colorimeters and temperature probes, sync to in-lab Chromebooks and students’ mobile devices through an app. The app facilitates student analysis of lab experiments, each customized by Van De Wynckel, by displaying real-time graphs of data and providing access to intuitive analysis tools.
“The addition of Chromebooks and Internet access means that students can research densities, melting points and other information while participating in a lab,” says Van De Wynckel. “If you keep the status quo, students won’t grow.”
Laurier is the only university in Ontario that has integrated the devices into a chemistry or biochemistry department.
In addition to integrating technology into the lab, Van De Wynckel places great importance on supporting students in their personal and professional development, noting that “science students need a foundation of self-confidence to succeed in the field.”
Former Laurier student Tarique Plummer (BSc ’18), who served as Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union president during the 2018/19 academic year, was both a student and instructional assistant (IA) in Van De Wynckel’s chemistry lab. Knowing that Van De Wynckel believed in him helped Plummer set and achieve a goal he didn’t think possible.
“I started as a student in a lab just trying to pass, but that goal changed,” says Plummer. “I wanted to become a chemistry IA and it was her direction that got me there. It was one of the most impactful experiences of my undergrad life.”
As a former high school chemistry teacher, Van De Wynckel understands the fears some students face when entering the lab environment for the first time. She has adapted her teaching and testing to help students through nerve-inducing elements of the lab experience.
Van De Wynckel employs a blended learning strategy that integrates classroom and online learning. Students measure their grasp of concepts through bi-weekly online pre-lab quizzes and in-lab clicker questions. Submission of lab reports moved online to build efficiencies and allowed students easy access to instructor feedback to make improvements in their future work.
Van De Wynckel also recently began including a hands-on component in organic lab exams, which provides students the chance to display both practical and theoretical knowledge.
“It takes more than an ordinary lab coordinator to inspire a student,” says Plummer. “It takes a leader, an educator and a person who genuinely cares. It takes someone like Sherilyn.”
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