Chemistry Educators Convene to Discuss Pandemic Teaching and Learning at Celebrate Learning Week 2021

During Celebrate Learning Week 2021 chemistry educators (and a few additional folks!) from the UBC Okanagan and Vancouver campuses came together via videoconference to discuss teaching and learning online during the pandemic. The discussion was thoughtful and lively, and the knowledge exchange will undoubtedly be influential for our fall course planning and beyond. The dual-campus CLW was a great opportunity for us to carve out some time to interact with one another. We don’t do it enough!

Open-book exams were something that many people in the group tried, and had successful implementations. Some will even transition from open-notes and book to “open everything” next year, and appreciate the ability to prepare assessment questions focusing more on conceptual understanding and problem solving rather than rote memorization and algorithms. Educators offered different perspectives, including the benefits of take-home exams where students were encouraged to work together if needed. Educational inequities brought to the forefront this year also demonstrate the importance of using and creating Open Educational Resources (OERs) as Vishakha Monga did this year.

Several people brought up challenges and successes with regards to facilitating student community and effective peer learning. Chris Addison described the success he had with encouraging students to work together in breakout rooms. Specifically, he found that asking students to share their thought processes and work products led to more beneficial discussions amongst students. However, the group applied Zoom breakout rooms with mixed success. We heard of situations where students would leave class when a breakout room activity was announced. We discussed that one potential preventative measure is to have students work in the same groups for several weeks. This is likely to reduce social anxiety and make the group work more productive. We also discussed that the chemistry task(s) and directions for group work were more successful when a very clear deliverable that was achievable and clear was the goal of the breakout session. Methods of enhancing trust amongst students led to increased engagement.

Several educators were really thrilled to see so many students attending online office hours, and most will offer both online and face-to-face office hours in the future. Thus, in some ways, remote instruction allows for more students to have informal contact with their professors.

The transition to remote instruction meant people had to find paperless ways to replace lab reports and exams. People praised Gradescope for its efficiency and ability to facilitate high-quality feedback to students. For labs, Stephen McNeil used fillable PDFs and will forever have their labs be paperless. In labs and lectures, the group concluded that incorporating academic integrity into the course syllabus and discussing academic integrity often was useful to communicate with students the standards of integrity expected of chemistry scholars.

Remote instruction also seemed to work really well when the topics involved technology and visualization. Sam Griffin shared that viewing three-dimensional catalyst pockets was a challenge over a webcam, but worked well when students could open and manipulate their own jmol representation on a webpage.

Kayli Johnson employed Telegram for direct messaging with students and Loom to quickly prepare and upload personalized videos to answer individual student questions, and found these tools to be far more efficient and effective than responding by email or other traditional channels.

We discussed exciting ideas such as increasing the reach and impact of outreach activities. Zac Hudson engaged high school students from remote communities via the Verna J Kirkness Education Foundation program. While it is fantastic when students can join his research group for a week in person, they were able to impact many more young people via videoconference. 

If you have any questions about what was discussed, please reach out to any of the session organizers, Tamara Freeman, Stephen McNeil, and Jackie Stewart. We are working on planning our next discussion session soon.

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!