Chemistry and Biochemistry Discipline Assessment 2006-2007


Scope of assessment activities

         ___√__Course-embedded assessment

                     ___√___ Pre- and post-testing

         ______ Outside the classroom

         ______ Across the discipline

Direct measures of student learning

         ___√__ Capstone experience

         ______ Portfolio assessment

         ___√__ Standardized tests

         ______ Performance on national licensure, certification or

                     preprofessional exams

         ______ Qualitative internal and external juried review of

                     of comprehensive senior projects

         ______ Externally reviewed exhibitions and performances in

                     the arts

         ______ External evaluation of performance during internships


Discussion and Description

Discipline goals, direct measures, and improved student learning


         1. Chemistry and biochemistry discipline goals.

         Students study, at a level appropriate for undergraduates,

Š      the structure of matter and

Š      the conditions required for material change.

The curriculum is designed to prepare students for post-graduate work in a wide variety of fields, or for a career in industry, or in secondary teaching. Students may earn either the traditional chemistry or the biochemistry major.


         2. Capstone course: the two-semester senior seminar.

         Senior chemistry majors should be able to

Š      undertake an in-depth study of a specialized topic in chemistry and

Š      orally present the results of their research in a professional manner.

There are concrete expectations about the seminar’s format and depth. Over the past five years the faculty has assessed the seminar and instituted a number of changes to improve student learning.

Š      The first semester has been moved to the spring semester of the junior year and a number of learning strategies instituted.

Š      The grading basis has been changed from S/N to A/F.

Š      The faculty has prepared guidelines for students to follow during the semester of their seminar to assure timely and thorough preparation.

Š      Although one faculty member is formally assigned to supervise the course, each faculty member supervises one or more students in seminar preparation.

Š      All faculty contribute to judging the degree to which each student has met the goals of the seminar.


         3. Course-embedded assessment. Pre-test/post-test.

         3a. General chemistry.

         This course is required for the chemistry, biology, and geology majors, and satisfies the general education requirement for physical and biological sciences with lab. Lecture and lab in this course are designed to complement each other. The instructor assessed student learning in lab with exam questions in lecture. The learning objectives to be met were understanding

i.      the theory of density measurements

ii.     the concept of significant figures

iii.   the concepts of the limiting reagent and percent yield

iv.   the concepts of acid-base chemistry and solution stoichiometry

v.    the interplay between atomic spectroscopy and models of the atom.

The instructor recorded the frequency[1] with which students met the learning objectives. In general, student success was high except for the second objective, which prompted the instructor to create a strategy for improving student learning for significant figures.

         3b. Analytical chemistry.

         The learning objectives were understanding

i.      multiple ways to represent concentrations

ii.     how to convert between units

iii.   propagation of uncertainty

iv.   dilution and density

v.    pH and pOH, and the mathematical relationship between the two

vi.   use of correct significant figures.

The pre-test would better be described as a first test, since students had studied these ideas by attending lecture, reading, and working exercises. The post-test was the final exam in which questions similar to those on the first test were used to measure improvements in student learning. The first and final frequencies of success were recorded. In between, students had the opportunity to improve their mastery by studying the first exam with instructor’s comments, meeting with the instructor individually, encountering the ideas again in different contexts in lecture and lab, and by revisiting their earlier studies.

         3c. Physical chemistry.

         A key discipline goal is that students should be able to understand “the conditions required for material change.” The second law of thermodynamics is the most general law governing material change. This suggested two related learning objectives that students should be able to apply the second law to

i.      phase changes and

ii.     chemical changes.

The pre-and post-test strategies were essentially the same as those in analytical chemistry, with the exception that after the pre-test two concrete learning difficulties were identified, brought to the attention of the class through a couple of strategies, and then monitored on the final exam. One difficulty persisted and the other disappeared completely.


         4. Nationally standardized exam. Organic chemistry.

         The American Chemical Society prepares comprehensive examinations in the subfields of chemistry. The organic chemistry test, which is meant to be administered after a year of study, has been  used at UMM three times in recent years. In all three instances UMM students performed at two to five points above the national norms.



National Test


UMM Test


UMM National















General education categories spanned by the discipline


            Most chemistry courses carry either the Sci-L or Sci general education designator for physical and biological sciences with lab or without lab, resp. Exceptions are directed study, chemistry seminar, and all one-credit[2] laboratory courses, which have no general education designator.



[1] The numerical results are in the appendices.

[2] UMM policy is that a course must be worth at least two credits to satisfy a general education requirement.