Chemistry Discipline - Assessment of Capstone Course
Description of the Chemistry Seminar course, 2001-2002 academic year:
Every chemistry major at UMM takes Chem 4901/4902, a two semester 'Chemistry Seminar' course in his or her senior year. The goal of the seminar course is to prepare students to take on an in-depth study (literature or experimental) of a relatively specialized topic within the field of Chemistry, then to present that research in a professional manner to a group of fellow chemists. In the early part of fall semester, students attend seminars given by visiting scientists and occasionally by UMM Chemistry faculty members. Later in the Fall and throughout the Spring semester, seminars are given by the students in the course. Students who have undertaken research projects often present the results of that research, while students who do not have research experience present a literature review seminar. In both cases, students are expected to dig deeply into the chemical literature that relates to their topic, and to demonstrate a depth of knowledge in that topic that is appropriate for a senior level bachelors degree candidate in Chemistry. Presentations are expected to be approximately 40-45 minutes in length, and to be targeted at a level that is appropriate for the setting - in other words, to senior Chemistry majors who have a good understanding of the core areas of Chemistry but are not necessarily knowledgeable in the specific research area being presented. We expect presentations to include a concise but thorough explanation of background information about the topic, a detailed discussion of recent work and its significance, and a look ahead at future directions for research in the field. Students are expected to field questions from the audience - both students and faculty - after the formal presentation is completed. The presentations themselves are expected to involve appropriate use of presentation technology (generally Powerpoint), with clear and relevant use of figures.
One chemistry faculty member coordinates the seminar course, and assists the students in selecting an appropriate topic and thinking about a timeline for the project. Once a student has proposed a topic and found some relevant literature, the topic must be approved by the entire Chemistry faculty. Then the coordinator assigns each student to a faculty advisor who will assist him/her in researching and preparing the seminar on an appropriate timeline. Students are encouraged to give practice presentations in front of classmates, but the faculty advisor generally does not attend these practice sessions.
Students are assessed by the seminar coordinator according to the expectations stated above. The course is graded on an S/N basis. The course coordinator meets with each student after they have presented their seminar, and provides feedback and suggestions for improvement. There is no formal mechanism in place at this time for participation by the rest of the chemistry faculty in the assessment process, but often faculty input is given to the coordinator on an informal basis.
Results of assessment of Chemistry Seminar course, 2001-2002 academic year
There was general agreement among the faculty that students were doing a very good job with their seminars in terms of presentation: their slides were clear, informative, and professional in appearance, and most students gave polished, well-practiced talks. There was some concern, however, about the actual content of many of the seminars. A large part of the problem was topic selection: students were choosing topics that sounded appropriate when originally proposed, but then were straying from the chemical focus that is intended for the seminar. The topics often centered on an application of some branch of chemistry (new materials, for example, or the biochemical basis of a disease), but in final form contained somewhat scant discussion of actual chemistry. Another problem was that some students seemed to be getting much of their information not from recent chemical literature but from other sources such as popular science magazines, corporate web resources, and textbooks.
Changes made to course for 2002-2003
To address these concerns we decided to change the management of the course somewhat, in order to give the students more assistance in topic selection and preparation. In the past, one faculty member was solely responsible for the course, which typically has 15-20 students. Considering that this faculty member also has a full teaching load on top of this seminar responsibility, there was not a lot of opportunity for a significant amount of one-on-one work with each student. We decided to include all faculty in the course: a single faculty member would still take charge, but each student would be assigned a faculty mentor who would work with him/her in the process of finding an appropriate and interesting topic with a strong focus on recent developments in chemistry research. The mentor will also help students to prepare their presentations, making sure, for example, that they include appropriate use of figures and allow plenty of time for a thorough review of background. In addition, all topics will have to be approved by all six faculty members before students begin preparing their seminar. Finally, in order to engage students more fully in the seminar process, we began this year to distribute peer evaluation forms for students to fill out at seminars (see attached form).
Chemistry 4901/4902: CHEMISTRY SEMINAR 2002-2003
PEER EVALUATION SHEET
Please give the completed form to the chemistry seminar instructor after the presentation.
To the evaluator: Please take this opportunity to provide your colleague with constructive criticism and an honest and thoughtful appraisal of his or her presentation. Aspects to take into consideration include:
Organization (overall flow of the presentation)
Quality of visual aids
Handling of questions
Clarity (did you follow the presentation and understand the key points?)
Depth (was the material presented at a level that made you feel as though you learned something about chemistry?)
What were the main strengths of the presentation?
What suggestions do you have for improvement?
What questions do you have about the subject or the material that was covered in the seminar?