The Chemical Concept Inventory Thing #vicephec13

One of the best workshops I have ever been to was the Chemical Concept Inventory one. I suspect the workshop leaders may simultaneously agree and disagree with that but it was wonderful to sit in a workshop where actual progress was made. I love the idea of a chemical concept inventory, a means of benchmarking where students start and end a course, but the ones on show at ViCE were not right for my purpose. Firstly, they tested a wide variety of concepts and it would be difficult to determine whether the students had misconceptions or whether they simply misunderstood the question. Secondly, the concepts in use would be better placed in secondary education rather than higher education. That may be a feature of the English/UK system. There were only a couple of questions where I really felt that a change in the students understanding would be worth measuring throughout our first year course, or possible to attribute to the content in our first year course. Finally, the inventories we looked at were not (as far as I understand) aimed at UK students. That potentially explains the confusion I felt on reading some of the questions, and trying to workout what the question wanted me to do/know/explain.  The wording was very different to what I would use and to what I am familiar with as a product of the UK education system. I don’t think my students would be able to figure out the question in many cases and that limits the use. Yes, the questions could be reworded, but the whole piece of work around validation and reliability would have to be re-done, and the reworded results would likely not be comparable with the original results.

So what would be useful?

I find that our students struggle with chemical calculations, particularly stoichiometry and yield calculations. Many can perform the calculations but without a really good understanding of the process and reason behind them. For many, simple changes in terminology such as interchanging molarity and concentration causes quite a bit of confusion. It would be really useful to identify which aspects students have most trouble with and be able to direct them towards appropriate resources. It isn’t enough to do one example calculation of each kind – really understanding these processes takes a lot of practice.

Another area of confusion is bonding, particularly when concepts learned in secondary education are further developed through molecular orbital theory. The notion of ionic character in covalent bonds is usually a tipping point. That being said, the basics need a little work with many students identifying hydrogen bonding as the main type of bonding in water. That may sound like a trick question to some, but it does speak to their ability to break a question down and consider the basics of the system.  As we teach molecular orbital theory and intermolecular forces, a bonding concept inventory could be very useful in assessing how students cope with changing rationale in this area.

My overwhelming impression from this workshop is that one or two really good instruments for evaluating student knowledge and skills relating to one or two really critical concepts would be very useful. I appreciate that there is a large quantity of work involved in developing such things and have cowered from such potential research projects in the past. Still, the Force Concept Inventory is well used and developed in Physics, maybe it’s time for some in Chemistry.

10 thoughts on “The Chemical Concept Inventory Thing #vicephec13

  1. Thanks for this Katherine. You are right, this was a real working shop! There are focused inventories developed in the US. And I’ll be looking at providing some through the web site. The problem is then one of scale, there will be so few of us interested in each niche that we will struggle for statistical significance, especially if we start breaking down by demographics.

  2. Hi Katherine, I understand your points and also Simon’s comment. I would be interested to hear for which specific questions you found the wording difficult to interpret. Although some (many?) of the questions seem rather trivial you might be surprised at the difficulties some students have answering them correctly – some of these questions have been asked of PhD students (in the US) with poor results! But you are right that they are not designed to measure learning in a typical undergraduate class.
    The difficulties with calculations would not generally be called conceptual and hence calculations are not addressed in CCIs; there are other tests that look at calculations in chemistry that you could use or adapt.
    It is interesting that each of us has different ideas about what are critical concepts, but I think everyone would agree that bonding is one. I am also currently wrestling with the difference between a conceptual misunderstanding and a language/vocabulary barrier… sometimes it just comes down to a correct definition.
    If you want to discuss further please email me madeleine.schultz@qut.edu.au
    Madeleine

  3. This is a very interesting project for me. After reading the conversation between Katherine and Madeleine, I came up to the point that my understanding of this project might be quite wrong so please let me know if I have misunderstood the aim of this project. I think the focus of chemical concepts inventory is on threshold concepts and to test the common misconceptions on these fundamental concepts. As far as I know not every fundamental concept is a threshold one. If I am right then I have to agree with Madeleine regarding difficulties with calculations as they don’t fit in this category.
    Also, the difference in opinions might be related to our field of practice. I found some questions really useful. Three of us were answering these questions in the workshop. If you answer them on your own probably you find questions trivial. When you work with others then you realise how useful some questions are. I noticed this in some questions in my field. The change in mass/moles in a reaction is one of the trivial ones but surprisingly students struggle with this up to end of my chemical engineering lectures. I quite agree with making amendments to bring it in line with UK education or rewording them but I cannot rule out many questions in this inventory. I think they are built for the purpose.
    I think the first thing to be clarified whether by organising another workshop or emails is the definition and aim of chemical concept inventory. At the moment I am a little bit confused by this conversation as I might be wrong with the whole idea.

    Gita

  4. Hello Catherine, Understand why. You’re right, this is often a real hard-working shop was the u . s . states inventories are high-class. I will be searching to provide a couple of from the site. I believe everybody would agree that among the bond. I’m presently inside a conceptual mistakes

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