General Chemistry

Impact of the Laboratory on General Chemistry

Principal Investigators: Seth N. Brown, Marya Lieberman and James F. Johnson Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Contact: Marya Lieberman,

In this two-year study, Drs. Brown, Lieberman, and Johnson will assess whether or not students gain a greater understanding of chemical concepts or of scientific experimentation by taking general chemistry laboratory.  The investigators will pay particular attention to how the lab interacts with the lecture portion of the class and to what it teaches in its own right.  Depending on the results of the assessment, the investigators will implement changes in the structure of the labs (on a small scale) and determine how these changes affect students' experiences.

Assessment of student performance will focus on two areas:  understanding of chemical concepts and understanding of scientific experimentation.  Investigators will use student performance on Chem 113/115/117 exams as an indicator of understanding chemical concepts.  Through item analysis, they will construct a detailed sub-classification of questions to determine what types of chemistry may or may not be learned effectively in the laboratory.

To measure understanding of scientific experimentation, investigators will use two main assessment procedures:  (a) observation of different tasks students undertake and the amount of time they spend on those tasks.  Investigators will use either a live observer or videotape; the intent is to develop an inventory of learner behaviors in lab, based on a prearranged protocol (adapted for learner behavior from Vickery's Science Teacher Behavior Inventory, STBI); and (b) analysis of two lab practical exams to determine what percentage of students can successfully carry out various sub-tasks involved in each experiment.  Based on the data gathered from the assessments done in the first year of this study, investigators will restructure laboratory experiments in the second year and try the changes on a limited population (e.g., just the Monday lab sections).  Student performance in the restructured laboratory will be evaluated and compared with the "control" group of students receiving traditional laboratory instruction.