L. Winfield

Spelman College (UNITED STATES)
A community-based element was merged with an interactive engagement learning environment in the organic chemistry course. The learning community was established by requiring chemistry and biochemistry majors to enroll in the same section of general chemistry and subsequently organic chemistry (courses designated as majors only). This allowed freshmen entering the major in a given year to matriculate through the first four semesters in a structured learning community. For the organic chemistry course, the cohort was comprised of 25 to 30 students with less than 5 of these students being from majors outside of chemistry and biochemistry. This work highlights the learning behaviors and outcomes of the two cohorts in the first semester organic chemistry course.

The majors only organic chemistry course infuses inquiry-based and computational exercises into a flipped learning format. It was envisioned that such a learning environment would enhance students’ cognitive ability and confidence in utilizing chemical concepts. The course highlights an integrated peer learning structure with mediated learning strategies that extend beyond the classroom through question & answer blogs and online office hours. In this way, the course design takes advantage of the Community of Inquiry Framework. Guiding questions for the evaluation of this learning environment where:
1) How do students actively engage in learning during and beyond the lecture period,
2) How do students conceptualize chemical knowledge, and
3) What is the impact of the learning environment on students’ ability to master concepts.

With these questions in mind, data was collected for two student cohorts in consecutive years. Content for the course was delivered through professor’s notes and narrated PowerPoint presentations housed in the online learning management system. Students were expected to review these resources independently then complete a corresponding online quiz. Skill building occurred during face-to-face class sessions and were guided by worksheets, ChemDrills. Concept mastery was evaluated using pre- and post-assessments. The post-assessment was the final exam from the American Chemical Society. The results were compared to those of students in sections utilizing traditional methods for content delivery. Rubrics and grading checklists were used to better evaluate how students approached problem solving. In addition, students’ perceptions of their content mastery, learning behaviors, and motivation for science was assessed through surveys and observations.

The performance of students in the community-based interactive learning environment on the standardized post-assessment was comparable to that of students in the traditional course. The results indicate there was not a negative impact to the students’ ability to master organic chemistry concepts. In terms of engagement with various learning resources it was found that students relied heavily on the ChemDrills and the professor’s notes throughout the semester. The pre and post results of the Science Motivation Questionnaire II suggest that students sustained similar levels of motivation throughout the course (Glynn, 2011). Further, students demonstrated increased self- and peer-advocacy. The data was further analyzed to identify those activities which students found most beneficial as a correlation to grade outcome.