Our research focuses on issues related to how students learn chemistry and how that can guide the design of instructional materials and teaching strategies as well on efforts related to faculty development and the connection between discipline-based education research and the practice of teaching.

Enhancing Learning by Improving Process Skills in STEM (ELIPSS)

Science practices are frequently cited as critical components of chemistry degrees. These practices are directly related to essential aspects of careers in the chemical sciences (and related fields) and were developed based on an analysis of what professional scientists do. As professional organizations such as the American Chemical Society increase their expectations for the development and assessment of science practices, there is need to assist instructors in their adoption (or modification) of instructional approaches that are explicitly designed to help students develop these key skills. Characterizing the ways in which students engage in science practices during course-related tasks and developing resources to aid chemistry instructors in the assessment of science practices will increase the emphasis of these skills and enhance achievement in chemistry programs and beyond. These results will be of interest to many different audiences involved in chemistry education and have the potential to impact hundreds of faculties and thousands of students. 

  In the light of this need, we are currently focused on the development and implementation of rubrics that facilitate providing feedback to students and informing the instructor as to the effectiveness of their instructional strategies in enhancing skills related to science practices. Implementation of the rubrics provides a means to better align intended outcomes with instructional activities. 

Work at UIOWA by: 

  • Vinay Bapu Ramesh [2023-Ongoing] 

Funded projects 

  • Focusing on Science Practices: Assessing Levels of Student Performance, NSF-IUSE# 2315348 [Sept. 2023-Ongoing] 

  • Collaborative Research: Eliciting and Assessing Process Skills in STEM, NSF-IUSE #1524965 [Sept. 2015-2021] 

  • A New Approach to Analytical Chemistry: The Development of Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning Materials, NSF-CCLI #0717492 [Aug. 2007-2013] 


Using Discourse Analysis to Explore Student Understanding of Chemistry (Discourse Analysis) 

Discourse in the science classroom has been highlighted as an important way that students develop an understanding of scientific concepts. Methods for analyzing student interactions and construction of knowledge and the increased adoption of active learning strategies to teach chemistry provide a unique opportunity to investigate how students develop understandings of fundamental concepts in chemistry, as well as the roles of curricular materials and instructor actions on student reasoning and conceptual growth. Analysis of classroom discourse provides evidence of the emergence of classroom social norms for reasoning as well as the impact of particular facilitation strategies on student interactions.  The insights gained from this work have implications for how instructors can help scaffold student reasoning and promote productive discourse in chemistry classrooms. 

Our current work is focused on characterizing critical features in the design and implementation of collaborative activities in college chemistry classrooms that engage students in productive talking and listening in small groups, and best foster meaningful learning. The research design for this project is based on the understanding that collective activity is a sociological construct that fosters the construction of ideas through different patterns of interaction. Productive ways of reasoning emerge as learners solve problems, explain their thinking, and represent their ideas when engaged in well-designed and relevant tasks properly facilitated by instructors (e.g., faculty, TAs, learning assistants). Special attention will be paid to the characterization of factors that affect the participation of diverse student populations, such as first-generation college students and English-language learners. The analysis of students' conversations in the classroom will provide unique insights into design and implementation features of collaborative tasks that affect student reasoning and students' ability to construct and critique arguments and explanations. 

Work at UIOWA by: 

  • Hannah Nennig [2019-2024] 

  • Hannah Crull [2023-Ongoing] 

Funded projects 

  • Collaborative Research: Investigating Classroom Discourse in Active Learning Environments for Large Enrollment Chemistry Courses, NSF-IUSE #1915047 [Oct. 2019-Ongoing] 

  • Collaborative Research: Exploring Student Understanding of Physical Chemistry, NSF CCLI #0816792 [Sept. 2008-2011] 


Faculty Development & Supporting Sustained Adoption of Educational Innovations (PALAC) 

The use of evidence-based teaching practices can create learning environments that support inclusive excellence and result in improved student learning even in large enrollment classes. However, scholarly studies and national reports document failure to achieve systemic adoption despite compelling evidence of the efficacy of these instructional practices. While every institution has pockets of innovation, effective teaching strategies could be used more intensively, used in other parts of the institution, or used more widely. However, evidence of efficacy alone does not catalyze scaling of effective teaching practices. Successful transformation of practice requires alignment with the beliefs of stakeholders, recognition of a complex university system, and strategies that align with the university system. Academic departments can also serve as key agents for change in instructional practice. In order to address institutional obstacles to the sustained implementation of evidence-based teaching practices, we are working to better understand the barriers and identify strategies to better support faculty. We are using proven strategies informed by theories of change and the literature on institutional transformation to promote and support the use of evidence-based instructional practices. 

One current project is focused on promoting active learning in analytical chemistry with a project that seeks to create and examine the effectiveness of professional development workshops and follow-up support activities that result in sustained implementation of active learning analytical chemistry modules. This NSF funded project follows participant analytical chemistry faculty through a two year program of workshops and implementations of active learning materials. Throughout the project, faculty participants will build an online community to share and discuss the modules they create in the workshops. 

Work at UIOWA by: 

  • Andrew Kreps [2021-Ongoing]


Making Introductory Analytical Chemistry Real While Online (MICRO) 

The MICRO project is a collaborative project across 4 institutions (Skidmore College, University of Notre Dame, Oregon State University and The University of Iowa). The initial idea for this project was born out of the need to move undergraduate courses to a remote modality with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Laboratory learning in this modality proved challenging with students no longer able to access traditional laboratory equipment and instrumentation. While the sudden switch to distance learning brought challenges, we viewed it as an opportunity to create analytical chemistry laboratory materials that met not only the need for safe laboratory kits but also incorporated evidence-based pedagogy. 

Work at UIOWA by: 

  • Andrea Van Wyk [2019-2024]  

Funded projects 

  • MICRO, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Science Foundation #1624956 and #2037528 [2016-2024] 

  • Collaborative Research: Moving Faculty from Experimentation With to Long-term Adoption of Engaged Student Learning in Analytical Chemistry, NSF IUSE #1624956 [Sept. 2016-2021] 

  • TILE: Transform, Interact, Learn, and Engage for success in STEM education, NSF IUSE #1432728 [Sept. 2014-2019] 

  • Collaborative Research: Increasing the Impact of TUES Projects through Effective Propagation Strategies: A How-To Guide for PIs, NSF TUES #1236926 [Mar. 2012-2016]