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Linking Learning Goals And Evidence On Chemistry

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By Author: moni catsfbd
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Cathy (University of Wisconsin, Madison) explained that the American Chemical Society sponsors Chemistry in Context, a longterm curriculum development project. The curriculum breaks the mold of traditional general chemistry courses by integrating key chemistry concepts within a coherent framework focused on real-world issues. The placement of chemical principles and concepts is driven by what students need to know in order to understand the science related to each real-world issue.

The curriculum targets two types of learning goals: (1) goals for student attitudes and motivation and (2) goals for student knowledge. The motivation goals are to give students a positive learning experience in chemistry and to motivate them to learn chemistry. The specific goals for student knowledge are to promote broader chemical literacy; to help students better meet the challenges of today's world; and to help students make choices, informed by their knowledge of chemistry, to use natural resources in wise and sustainable ways.

Middle-camp then turned to the evidence. She noted that there has been no formal evaluation of Chemistry ...
... in Context, and there is no ongoing assessment of student learning. In addition, no evidence has been collected on the number of faculty members using the curriculum or about why they select it. Most of the available evidence related to the motivation goals and student knowledge goals is gathered locally by instructors for the purpose of improving instruction and is not disseminated beyond the department or campus. Evidence of progress toward motivation goals includes student attitude surveys, evaluations of the instructor, and student behaviors after taking the course (such as taking further chemistry courses or participating in discussions of chemistry in informal settings). As an example, Middle-camp presented survey data from more than 2,000 students she taught using Chemistry in Context.

Evidence of student knowledge goals includes direct measures of student performance in class (tests, demonstrated skills), student surveys, and course level data (e.g., class completion rate). To illustrate, Middle-camp presented a breakdown of responses from 1,172 students who had taken the course. When asked about the extent of their learning gains in "connecting chemistry to your life," more than 450 students (38 percent) responded that they had gained "a lot" and another 400 (34 percent) reported "a great deal." In response to the statement, "the lecturer makes the course interesting," 74 percent strongly agreed, and 16 percent agreed. Reflecting on the quality of this evidence, Middle-camp noted that, while compelling to individual instructors, it is local, anecdotal, and nonsystematic.

Middle-camp argued that, despite the weakness of the evidence collected to date, Chemistry in Context is successful in terms of two larger goals of the project to be adopted and adapted widely and to catalyze development of STEM curricula that take a similar approach. Success in achieving these goals is measured by different types of evidence, including the number of textbooks sold, the continued attendance at faculty workshops, and the translation of the book into other languages. For example, data indicating that sales have risen from about 6,000 for the first edition, published in 1994, to an estimated 23,000 for the sixth edition, published in 2008, show that adoption of the curriculum is growing. Translations into other languages and other regional and cultural contexts are evidence that the curriculum is adaptable.

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