Western States Chemistry Education Group Meeting Report

Eight Chemistry teaching faculty and one undergraduate travelled to Seattle to join the Western States Chemical Education Group conference last weekend. While the major themes of the meeting were inclusion, diversity and access; posters and talks were welcomed on all aspects of chemical education. We enjoyed a talk by Scott Freeman (of biology textbook fame), who spoke about the success rates of different groups of students (e.g. socioeconomic background, race, gender, family history of tertiary-level study) and our collective need to narrow these “success gaps”. UBC represented strongly; we provided about a quarter of all the presentations! We covered topics as diverse as acid-base concept tests, the nature of Science One, upper-level laboratories and their experiments, materials chemistry in the curriculum and student workload in flipped organic chemistry classes. Many thanks to the University of Washington Chemistry Education Research Group (ChEdR) for hosting the meeting this year.

CER Group Meeting March 8, 2019

Sydney Inthof presented a progress report of the research she is conducting with me in her CHEM 445 Research Learning Experience course. Her main goal for this year is to gather content validity evidence regarding our acid-base concept test which has been in development since Jessie Zhang worked on the project during the 2016-2017 academic year. Jessie conducted several student interviews, which identified alternate ways of thinking in our second-year non-majors students. Now, the inventory questions are being examined by organic chemistry experts, mostly faculty members, who are rating the importance and relevance to chemistry majors and non-majors, indicating the year in which the content is covered, and estimating the difficulty for students. Experts are also providing very useful feedback on question wording and the chemistry content covered. We have one item with quite a bit of expert disagreement, so we will replace it. This project is a challenge for us because we want to tap into students’ conceptual understanding using some unfamiliar chemistry, so they cannot answer based on memorization. However, we need the chemistry to be unambiguous and of course, correct!
Jackie will be presenting this work at the upcoming ACS Spring meeting, and Sydney has submitted an application to present at the Western States Chemistry Education Group meeting.
Papers we found particularly helpful in designing our content validation research are:

CER Group Meeting February 15, 2019

On February 15th, the Department’s Science Education Specialist Dr. Jeanette Leeuwner presented an overview of UBC’s new CHEM 100 course, Foundations of Chemistry. CHEM 100 was created to prepare students for first-year chemistry (CHEM 121 and 123) at UBC. Students without Grade 12 chemistry (or equivalent) write the Chemistry Basic Skills Test (BST) and are placed into CHEM 100 or CHEM 111 depending on their results. CHEM 100 covers topics such as atomic and molecular properties, nomenclature, chemical reactions, the periodic table, bonding and intermolecular forces, acids and bases, and equilibrium.

Students in CHEM 100 have a wide variation in their chemistry backgrounds, which makes designing instruction a challenge. To address this challenge, Jeanette used Pearson’s Mastering Chemistry online homework software to provide students with ample practice and feedback. A variety of group and other active learning activities were also incorporated in class to give students immediate feedback on their progress and understanding. In the future, the impact of CHEM 100 on subsequent chemistry courses will be evaluated.

CER Group Meeting November 26, 2018

I presented on behalf of Sydney Inthof, a Research Learning Experience (CHEM 445) student working on conducting validity and reliability studies of an acid-base concept test. The test was first developed by directed studies student Jessie Zhang in 2016-2017 (supervised by Jane Maxwell and me). The concept test measures students’ abilities to rationalize the strength of acids and bases qualitatively. This is an important reasoning skill commonly taught in second-year organic chemistry courses.

Like all concept tests, it has the potential to be used for assessing changes to curriculum and pedagogy in university chemistry courses. This year, Sydney is focussing on gathering content validity evidence from chemistry experts within and outside of UBC.

My presentation provided the group with an overview of educational measurement concepts, including reliability and validity. We discussed the draft expert online survey which we are refining to ensure experts can easily review the content in all three tiers of the test items. Presenting the content visually is a challenge for multi-tiered concept tests.

Yanru (Jessie) Zhang presented this work at the 2017 Canadian Chemistry Conference and was awarded the 2nd-place student oral presentation award. Congratulations!