Chemistry Education Research: a Symposium Focusing on the Presentation and Discussion of Graduate Student Research

Organizers: Derek Behmke, Department of Chemistry, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, tel: (770) 846-6997, Email:; and Cynthia J. Luxford, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, tel: (513) 529 -5721, Email:

The “Chemistry Education Research: A Symposium Focusing on the Presentation and Discussion of Graduate Student Research” symposium was part of the Division of Chemical Education program at the 241st American Chemical Society National Meeting in Anaheim, CA. This symposium was a continuation of the graduate student symposium organized at the 239th ACS meeting in San Francisco by Kimberly Linenberger and Sonia Underwood. This symposium was designed to allow graduate students a place to present and receive feedback on projects that are at all stages of completeness. The symposium was organized to allow 12 minutes for presentations and a unique 8 minutes for discussion and feedback on the graduate student’s research.

Sachel Villafane, a PhD student from the University of South Florida, began the Symposium by presenting her research on understanding attitudes of first year chemistry students in order to increase the number of students entering the workforce. Sachel presented the preliminary findings from the analysis of a three-factor attitudinal instrument looking at student attitudes at the beginning of the chemistry course. Mary Beth Anzovino, a PhD student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, continued to talk about student attitude as she presented an aspect of her research that also looks at attitudes of undergraduate chemistry students towards research based laboratory experiments. She is developing and validating a 5 point likert scale survey that looks at student attitudes towards scientific research. She found that students think research is important to the mission of the University. Cristina Robitu, a Masters student at California State University-Fullerton, presented her work with model based teaching and learning in the high school laboratory. Her talk focused on having students develop particulate models as part of the traditional laboratory experience.

After the intermission, Thomas Bussey, a PhD student at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, presented the implications of Variation Theory to biochemical education research. He elicited student understanding of external representations through the use of 3P-SIT interviews and in particular wanted to know how to evaluate what students think are ‘best representations’. Basil Naah, a PhD student at Middle Tennessee State University, presented about his work with identifying student misconceptions associated with writing balanced chemical equations of ionic compounds dissolving in water. He found that students tend to spend more time on animations than static images. Additionally, He concluded that there is an interaction effect between whether the equation was presented to students before or after the static images or animations. John Moody, a PhD student at the University of Georgia, presented his research on problem based integration instruction (PBI2). The major goal of PBI2 is to decrease withdrawal rates, increase performance on the course final exam, and improve student attitudes in the classroom. The first implementation of PBI2 saw the withdrawal rate increase. After modifications, he is now finding that this semester the withdrawal rate has decreased.

After the second intermission, Derek Behmke a PhD student at the University of Georgia, presented a part of his research looking at how the incorporation of Cognitive Load Theory into electronic homework systems affected student performance. The goal was to increase knowledge retention while decreasing the amount of D, F, and W grades. He discussed the different types of cognitive load and how they affect student retention. Preliminary data indicate students perform better on electronic test questions when similar topics have been introduced with Cognitive Load Theory adapted questions on previous electronic homework assignments.

A panel discussion followed the 7 talks and allowed for additional questions to be asked to any of the speakers. This led to a great discussion on the importance of symposiums designed for graduate students. There was a discussion on how graduate students can help each other find funding in order to be able to attend national conferences as well as a discussion on what characteristics attract graduate students to a particular chemistry education research program. Justin Carmel, Miami University PhD student, and Mary Beth Anzovino, University of Wisconsin-Madison PhD student, have volunteered to organize another symposium featuring graduate student work at the spring 2012 ACS national meeting in San Diego.

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