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Introduction and Overview

“It is clear that there is an enormous amount of activity in undergraduate chemistry education that is accelerating and intensifying.

Patricia Thiel

Undergraduate coursework in chemistry is a requirement for many university degree programs outside of the disciplinary fields of chemistry and biochemistry. Students hoping to pursue careers as doctors, dentists, biologists, chemical engineers, and environmental scientists, among other professions, are often required to take an introductory general chemistry course, if not also introductory courses in organic chemistry and biochemistry. As a result, effective science education is a topic of perennial interest to the chemistry community.

An upcoming change in the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)1 requirements is driving a recent increase in interest in the teaching of undergraduate chemistry (Brenner and Ringe 2012). New MCAT requirements may result in a change in the structure of chemistry as it is taught for pre-med students. When learning about some of the issues related to the MCAT modification, the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Chemical Sciences Roundtable (CSR) felt it important to take the opportunity to examine some of the fundamental concerns and developments in the teaching of undergraduate chemistry.

On May 22-23, 2013, the CSR convened a public workshop, Undergraduate Chemistry Education, in Washington, D.C. The workshop explored drivers of science education reform and innovative approaches being implemented within chemistry departments to respond to some of these drivers. Workshop speakers described a variety of metrics and assessment tools for both drivers and innovations. Workshop discussions also explored barriers, opportunities, and realities of implementing reforms and modifications in today’s chemistry curriculum.

In her introductory remarks at the workshop, organizing committee member Patricia Thiel of Iowa State University noted the enormous amount of activity in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in general and in chemistry education in particular. Given this observation, the CSR aimed to hold an event that would be “valuable, fresh, and unique,” said Thiel. Several recent publications informed workshop planning discussions, including the NRC Board on Science Education Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering (DBER report; NRC 2012); The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (PCAST 2012a); and a special issue publication of the journal Science, “Grand Challenges in Science Education” (McNutt 2013).

After considerable discussion and research, the workshop organizers decided to provide a forum focused on drivers of change, examples of educational innovation, and challenges and opportunities presented by chemistry education reforms. The focus on drivers of change was intended to raise awareness about some of the reasons why education reforms are being implemented and to illustrate that the motivation for change helps to define the metrics for measuring success. In planning the sessions devoted to educational innovation, the organizing committee decided to emphasize methods that can be used in large-scale (high-enrollment) situations such as the organic chemistry classes taught to nonchemistry majors at major universities. Some teaching methods are impractical with large groups even when they are “wonderfully successful” with smaller groups, Thiel explained. Therefore, she said, the workshop organizers decided to address the former

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1 The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) oversees MCAT development and implementation. More information can be found on the AAMC webpage, MCAT2015 Exam for Students, https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/mcat2015/.



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1 Introduction and Overview “It is clear that there is an enormous amount of activity in undergraduate chemistry education that is accelerating and intensifying.” Patricia Thiel Undergraduate coursework in chemistry is a requirement ties of implementing reforms and modifications in today’s for many university degree programs outside of the disciplin- chemistry curriculum. ary fields of chemistry and biochemistry. Students hoping In her introductory remarks at the workshop, organizing to pursue careers as doctors, dentists, biologists, chemical committee member Patricia Thiel of Iowa State University engineers, and environmental scientists, among other pro- noted the enormous amount of activity in the field of sci- fessions, are often required to take an introductory general ence, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in chemistry course, if not also introductory courses in organic general and in chemistry education in particular. Given this chemistry and biochemistry. As a result, effective science observation, the CSR aimed to hold an event that would be education is a topic of perennial interest to the chemistry “valuable, fresh, and unique,” said Thiel. Several recent pub- community. lications informed workshop planning discussions, including An upcoming change in the Medical College Admission the NRC Board on Science Education Discipline-Based Edu- Test (MCAT)1 requirements is driving a recent increase in cation Research: Understanding and Improving Learning interest in the teaching of undergraduate chemistry (Brenner in Undergraduate Science and Engineering (DBER report; and Ringe 2012). New MCAT requirements may result in NRC 2012); The President’s Council of Advisors on Science a change in the structure of chemistry as it is taught for and Technology report Engage to Excel: Producing One Mil- pre-med students. When learning about some of the issues lion Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, related to the MCAT modification, the National Research Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (PCAST 2012a); Council’s (NRC’s) Chemical Sciences Roundtable (CSR) and a special issue publication of the journal Science, “Grand felt it important to take the opportunity to examine some of Challenges in Science Education” (McNutt 2013). the fundamental concerns and developments in the teaching After considerable discussion and research, the workshop of undergraduate chemistry. organizers decided to provide a forum focused on drivers of On May 22-23, 2013, the CSR convened a public work- change, examples of educational innovation, and challenges shop, Undergraduate Chemistry Education, in Washington, and opportunities presented by chemistry education reforms. D.C. The workshop explored drivers of science education The focus on drivers of change was intended to raise aware- reform and innovative approaches being implemented within ness about some of the reasons why education reforms are chemistry departments to respond to some of these driv- being implemented and to illustrate that the motivation for ers. Workshop speakers described a variety of metrics and change helps to define the metrics for measuring success. In assessment tools for both drivers and innovations. Workshop planning the sessions devoted to educational innovation, the discussions also explored barriers, opportunities, and reali- organizing committee decided to emphasize methods that can be used in large-scale (high-enrollment) situations such as the organic chemistry classes taught to nonchemistry majors 1 The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) oversees at major universities. Some teaching methods are impractical MCAT development and implementation. More information can be found with large groups even when they are “wonderfully success- on the AAMC webpage, MCAT2015 Exam for Students, https://www.aamc. ful” with smaller groups, Thiel explained. Therefore, she org/students/applying/mcat/mcat2015/. said, the workshop organizers decided to address the former 1

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2 UNDERGRADUATE CHEMISTRY EDUCATION situation, because it affects large numbers of students and The final chapter recaps the final workshop panel discus- because larger courses are becoming increasingly common. sion of five chemistry department chairs. The panel offered Thiel also noted the timeliness of this workshop given the their insights and impressions on the state of undergraduate announcement by the National Science Foundation (NSF) chemistry education, the types of innovations presented of a new program, Widening Implementation and Dem- during the course of the workshop, and barriers encountered onstration of Evidence-Based Reforms (WIDER),2 which in trying to introduce novel instructional methods into the was released in the weeks leading up to the workshop. She chemistry curricula at their institutions. acknowledged, too, that “there are different perspectives and Although not comprehensive, this summary provides the controversies about almost every aspect of chemistry educa- readers with the key topics addressed during the workshop: tion. This meeting is not meant to cover every topic or every viewpoint or to represent every constituency but rather it is • Drivers of and barriers to change in chemistry designed to help stimulate awareness and discussion.” education, • Innovative course design for large-enrollment chem- istry courses, ORGANIZATION OF THE WORKSHOP • Assessment tools needed to better evaluate the effect SUMMARY of novel course designs on chemistry learning, This summary is organized into five chapters that are • Industry and academic perspectives on the need for aligned with the major themes and goals of the workshop. undergraduate chemistry education reform, and Chapter 2 summarizes discussions on the drivers of change • Potential next steps to more broadly disseminate and the metrics used to identify the need for change in innovative and effective chemistry course designs. undergraduate chemistry education. The chapter begins with a broad look at the state of science in the United States and This publication is a factual summary of the presentations ends with drivers and lessons learned specific to chemistry and discussions at the workshop. The views contained in the education. summary are those of the individual workshop participants Chapter 3 describes innovative approaches to education and do not necessarily represent the views of all the work- reform, including key components and barriers to transform- shop participants, the organizing committee, or the National ing large-scale undergraduate chemistry courses. Throughout Research Council. The summary does not contain any find- the chapter, approaches and challenges with assessing the ings or recommendations about needs and future directions, effectiveness of reforms is also discussed. but focuses instead on issues identified by the speakers and Chapter 4 describes the perspectives of four industry workshop participants. panelists on the state of undergraduate chemistry education and whether there is a need for change. 2 The WIDER program is overseen by NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education; http://www. nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=504889.