Chemistry Discipline - Assessment of the Senior Seminar Course

April, 2003


Description of the Chemistry Seminar course, 2002-2003 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 at least 30 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, the topic must be approved by the entire Chemistry faculty. Then the coordinator assigns each student to a faculty mentor 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 seminars are assessed according to the expectations stated above. The course is graded on an S/N basis. Students enrolled in the course are required to fill out feedback forms (attached) for at least student seminars. Faculty in attendance are also asked to fill out feedback forms. The faculty mentor meets with each student after they have presented their seminar, and provides feedback and suggestions for improvement.





Results of assessment of Chemistry Seminar course, 2002-2003 academic year


Topic selection: in some cases students proposed topics which seemed quite appropriate to the faculty and were thus approved, but which later turned out to be problematic. For example, recent chemical literature on some approved topics was found to be unexpectedly scarce or outside of a student's level of understanding.


Scheduling: The faculty felt that some students were still having difficulty sticking to a reasonable timeline for seminar preparation, resulting in rushed (and inadequate) preparation close to the seminar date.


Overall effort: There was felt to be a general lack of seriousness about seminar preparation by some students (not a majority), perhaps encouraged by the S/N grading for the course. Several seminars were noticeably brief and lacking in scientific depth. However, this was sometimes the result of problems with the selected topic (discussed above).


Literature presentations vs research presentation: We discussed the fact that it is generally much easier for students who have done laboratory research to prepare a seminar based on their own projects, compared to those who must prepare a purely literature-based seminar. In addition, those who do extensive research are more likely to go to graduate school, where they will almost certainly be required to put together a literature-based seminar in their first or second year.


Losing touch with Juniors: We perceive a general problem with our curriculum in that we tend to lose touch with majors in their junior year. They all take a required lab/research course (Chem 2321) in their second year, and they are all together for seminar in their senior year, but aside from Analytical Chemistry there is no 'unifying experience' for majors in the Junior year, a critical time for motivating students to do summer research, internships, etc.





Changes made to the seminar course in response to assessment


We are attempting to address the first assessment item immediately in designing the course for next year, but we are also working on a proposal for more fundamental changes to the course which will require curriculum committee approval.


Changes for 2003-2004:


Topics will be approved by the course coordinator in consultation with a selected faculty mentor, based upon review of two or three key pieces of literature. Students will need to do a significant amount of literature research in order to demonstrate that a topic is appropriate.


The course coordinator has already met with students enrolled in the course next year in order to set up the seminar schedule, explain the expectations of the course, and advise/motivate students to begin browsing the literature for possible topics over the summer.



Proposed changes for future years :


We are working on a proposal that will significantly change the course in order to address the items described above. Key points to the plan as it exists now are:


Students will be required to register for the course in the spring of their Junior year, and also for either the fall or spring of their senior year, depending on when they are scheduled to give their seminar. The course is still worth a total of one credit.


In the spring students will be introduced to the expectations of the course, and will review literature searching strategies. They will be required to attend a specified number of seminars and turn in evaluation sheets for these. They will be required to submit one or more possible seminar topics, along with 2-3 relevant papers and perhaps a short outline of one of these topics (details have not been decided upon yet). Students who have done summer research may give their seminar on their projects, but still must complete this initial exercise on finding and researching appropriate literature topics.


In the senior year students will give their seminar when scheduled, and must attend a certain total of student and faculty/visiting speaker seminars. Students talking about their own research will be scheduled to speak in the fall, before those doing literature seminars.


Grading will be changed from S/N to A-F. Grading will be based on a 500 point scale with a significant number of points coming from the preparation phase of the course: the initial topic selection assignment, satisfactory completion of 'preparation checklist' items, etc.




Chemistry 4901/4902: CHEMISTRY SEMINAR                                                     2002-2003



Please give the completed form to the chemistry seminar instructor after the presentation.


SPEAKER:                                                     EVALUATOR:                                                     


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?








Overall comments?