30 Apr 2015

Reflections on student learning

Submitted by Barbara Reisner, James Madison University

I can’t believe that the only thing left in my foundation inorganic course is the final final exam. (No the second final isn’t a typo. I give an assessment of key concepts exam and an ACS Exam.) I’m sure that I’m more excited about these exams than my students. A few of them are eager to prove what they know. I’m excited to see what they’ve learned (and I’m even more excited to see how the Foundations of Inorganic Chemistry exam from the ACS Exams Institute is functioning)!

Like many in the IONiC community, I’ve been influenced by the Understanding by Design principles (check out Joanne’s LO on UbD). Yesterday, my students took the first part of the final on the Key Concepts in General and Inorganic Chemistry. Before the semester starts, I give my students a list of Key Concepts that students need from general chemistry to be successful in my course. On the first day, I assess their knowledge of these general chemistry concepts. They also get a list of Learning Outcomes for Inorganic Chemistry. On the last day of classes (yesterday - 4/29/2015), I assess their knowledge of both general and inorganic chemistry.

While the Key Concepts exam is by no means comprehensive, it gives me an idea of where my students have made large gains in understanding of general chemistry (electron configurations and quantum numbers) and that they’ve improved (their score on the genchem material went up by over 30%). It’s also helped me identify where my students aren’t as strong as I think they are (Lewis structures). Next year, I’ll have to find some ways to help my students really master Lewis structures.

I also have good feedback about what we’ve done in inorganic chemistry. I’m thrilled that they are able to interpret MO diagrams and have a better molecular level understanding of the structure and bonding in coordination compounds! Good job, chemstuds. I can see that when I spend a little less time on a topic (this year it was acids and bases), student performance drops. I also know that they really struggle with thermochemical cycles and interpreting band diagrams. I have some things to work on next year! I’ll be curious to see whether my analysis of student learning is consistent with what the students self-report on the SALG (Student Assessment of Learning Gains, I thought of making these connections after the fact so I hope that what I asked on the SALG will allow me to understand if our perceptions are similar.

I’m curious to know... how do you reflect on your students’ learning?


I really like your idea of evaluating the "Key Concepts" from both General Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry. I would love to see the list of topics that you have created and the instrument that you use to evaluate. I want to use it in my course!