And A Blog Idea Becomes An Assessment

You may remember the ‘What Am I?’ series of blog posts where I posted the chemical structures of molecules found in some product and the goal was to guess the product. It’s a while back but the posts were a lot of fun. This year I turned the idea into an assessment for my 1st years.

As part of our first semester module we have 15% of the marks allocated to information retrieval exercises. The goal of these is to tackle referencing, expand the range of sources consulted by students, and develop some skills in sifting information and critiquing sources. Previously we had an exercise in retrieving information about a specific molecule and one about finding and critiquing bad science on the internet. We changed it this year to be a quiz on academic conduct and referencing, and a choice of assignment: either the critiquing bad science on the internet or creating a What Am I? type infographic with written component. It’s nice to let students decide which option they would like to do – there’s few options for choice of assessment in degree courses.

The students were tasked with drawing the structure of molecules in a thing. The items chosen ranged from personal care products (dry shampoo was very popular, and I now know more than I want to about Lynx bodyspray), food (coke-a-cola-, honey), and some really imaginative ones (amethyst necklace, hazelnuts, bee venom). Some examples were also infographics created by Compound Interest, others were selected because there were obvious papers out there with composition. There’s a nice J. Chem. Ed. out there on the composition of honey.

Page 1 was to be the structures, to set it up as a puzzle to be solved. Page 2 was to be a written discussion of the ingredients and what they do, accompanied by references. Ideally, scientific journal articles, in reality a lot of websites across the spectrum of quality. Students were shown how to use ChemSpider to get SMILES strings and use ChemDraw to turn them into structures. The reference format was RSC Vancouver style, using the resources available on LearnChemistry.

There were a lot of examples of excellent, in-depth research using a great range of sources. Selecting excellent web sources remains a challenge. When I find myself writing that I’d prefer they use wikipedia than some alternative, I know I have issues. The problem is that so many sources seem so very credible and for this type of assignment have sufficient depth in an accessible way. I’ll up the ante next year on the use of sources.

I broke the assessment into four components: appearance, content, reference range, reference format. Visual appeal was a key aspect and many were creative and colourful. Content was largely the discussion but influenced by the depth of research carried out. This was echoed by reference range, and reference format was looking for consistency of format and ideally the required format. No one knows how to reference software.

Anyway, if anyone’s interested in the assessment guidelines, drop me an email.