20 Feb 2017

Learning from the IONiC Community

Submitted by Barbara Reisner, James Madison University

Over the years, I’ve adopted (and adapted) many LOs in my inorganic courses. My courses have changed not only because of the LOs that I’ve used, but also because of the tips I’ve taken from members of the IONiC community.

Every year, I try to make at least one significant change to my inorganic course that I think will improve student learning. This year, I’m approaching two things very differently. First, I’m holding my students accountable (really!) for much of their general chemistry knowledge using ALEKS. I’m going to wait until the end of the semester to comment on this experiment because I want to better understand my students’ longer-term learning and retention. The other thing that I’ve changed is that I’m now letting my students do exam self-assessments (aka exam corrections). I decided to do this after talking with Sam Pazicni when he was on a seminar visit at JMU. (Sam is writing a forthcoming manuscript on this assesment strategy, so stay tuned!)

Here’s how I implemented Sam’s exam self-assessment with my students. After my students completed their exam, I had a student assistant scan all of their exams for me. I uploaded these into gradescope. (I learned about this from a post by John Arnold.) Gradescope allowed me to subtract points for things students did wrong and generate reports that provide points and feedback (e.g. Question 4: 6/9, -2 missing 4f electrons and -1 forgot an oxidation state) OR just provided a score (e.g. Question 4: 6/9). After grading everyone’s exams, I handed back their original copies and the report that only had the score. Students had one week to make corrections to their exams according to guidelines that I got from Sam. (Thanks, Sam!) I decided that students could earn 30% of their points back. They could talk to anyone in the class or me and could consult any printed source.

To get any points back, students had to follow the instructions carefully. These instructions included referencing the learning objective that the problem covered; summarizing their understanding while they were taking the exam; discussing their revised understanding of the learning objective; and providing a correct answer with explanation. Like Sam, I required my students to type all of this and write their ideas in complete and grammatically correct sentences. About ¾ of my class completed the self-assessment for Exam 1.

There are a bunch of things that I really liked about the self-assessment.

  • About a third of the students who did this activity stopped by to talk to me about chemistry. The students asked interesting questions about inorganic ideas and these questions weren’t just about the test!
  • Apparently, inorganic chemistry was a topic for lunch discussion for several days while they were doing the activity. (I always feel good when my class makes the lunch discussion!)
  • Lots of the students worked in groups to explain the chemistry to each other. They spent lots of time on task and felt like they understood the chemistry better. By talking about this exam again, they had another opportunity to review.
  • Because students had to do more explanation, I was able to learn about some persistent misconceptions.

That said, there were some things that surprised me.

  • I thought that students would get a lot more correct when they could use nearly any resource to revise their understanding. On average, students earned just over 50% of their points back. Although there isn’t a strong correlation, stronger students tended to earn back a larger percentage of their points. (This part didn’t surprise me.)
  • Student grades didn’t change all that much. Before the self-assessment, the exam average was a 67 and after the self-assessment, where they could earn back 30% of their points, the average was a 71. The median went from a 69 to a 75. (If I let them keep all of these points, the average would have been an 80 and the median an 85!)
  • I shouldn’t be, but I was a bit surprised at some of the basic things that they just don’t know. I realize that there are some very persistent misconceptions that I was not able to help students get past.

Do I feel like everyone benefitted? Would I do this again? Definitely!


Thanks for the gradescope info and self-assessment idea! Just used gradescope and loved it. Sent a self-assessment home...

Thanks - I too tried gradescope last week with a common question on a test.  Our four sections of gen chem II always have one question in common.  Gradescope was quite helpful in teasing out what was really confusing/not learned.  Another example of how this community is impacting more than just my inorganic course.