Chemical Education Roundup, 12-11-12

As the weather has turned cold (or not), what’s new in the chemical education world? A number of interesting articles have been published this fall. Bruce Albert’s editorial in Science about the damaging effects of shallow learning in science education is a good place to start—using a personal anecdote about his grandson’s biology textbook,  Alberts laments the “breadth not depth” approach to content you see across all levels of science education.

Close to my own heart, Marc Loudon and Laurie Parker have published an interesting study of online homework in an organic chemistry course, concluding that studying textbook problems in addition to solving online homework problems provided no benefits to learning versus solving online homework problems alone. From their abstract: “We speculate that this is because the immediate feedback given by the online system more effectively reinforces the topics.” In other educational technology news, Churchill has written recently about design considerations for learning objects that promote exploration and learning of concepts, conceptual model learning objects. Using data from several different studies, he recommends a minimalist design paradigm: design for a small screen, use a single font, avoid audio/video unless they’re the only option, don’t use too many different colors, etc. Structurally, he advocates the logical use of frames to divide up screen space. Another theoretical study using a “Nature of Technology” approach provides design pointers based on philosophical and cultural ideas.

MOOCs continue to dominate the “popular education” scene, although formal studies on MOOCs haven’t yet emerged—look for that to change in the next six months.

In science writing and inquiry news, a study of argumentation in general chemistry laboratory reports has recently been published. Students used the Science Writing Heuristic approach, and the researchers deconstructed students’ arguments to identify their most important elements for performance. Scientific inquiry itself came under the data-mining microscope in a recent Int. J. Sci. Educ. article, which used cluster analysis to examine types of scientific inquiry in a collection of scientific studies.

Other highlights: a fascinating look at physics teachers’ emotions while implementing inquiry-based activities, a learning progression for energy, the importance of speaking up for learning in an active learning classroom, and an item-reponse-theoretical treatment of an international science/math skills assessment.



  1. It is not surprising that Loudon, the author of a textbook that is already or undoubtedly will be using an online homework system, finds that online homework is effective. I don’t quite know what to make of their disclaimer at the end of the paper. Loudon doesn’t make money when he sells more books?


    1. I suppose it’s not too surprising. The literature is just “vicious rumor,” after all. To an extent though, it’s impossible to carry out a study on the scale of Loudon’s without a significant investment. He’s in deeper than most, but I applaud his efforts to study what’s working and what isn’t.


    2. In addition, the study barely mentions specific content, so any homework system and textbook could be substituted in there. Anyone who’s convinced by that article to buy Loudon’s book specifically is already a fool!


  2. @motorin I agree….it reads more like an advertisement.

    My problem with these OHW systems from the big publishers is the cost to student, lack of tools for building questions and problems we encountered with stereo and regiochemical representations of molecules. In the end I decided to build my own custom system. Check it out at More question types, more control over the question types. It’s designed on Moodle and I’ve developed 8 question types specifically for organic chemistry.


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