Chem21Labs Overview

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect is the foundation of the Chem21Labs approach. The Practice of Chemistry (or anything else) must include activities that are assigned, monitored and evaluated for improvement (and mastery) to occur. Bloom's Taxonomy describes 6 areas of cognitive thought through which a learner must progress to achieve fluency in an area of learning.

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

Chem21Labs has developed online, interactive, computer-graded activities that engage the learner at these levels of cognitive thought.

  1. Knowledge, Comprehension and Application of chemical facts and processes are achieved using Timed / Repetitive Quizzes (TRQs). TRQs take the "facts of chemistry" from the text book and present them to the student in an active-learning assignment that is "low stakes" and "high reward." You have probably discovered that most students will complete an assignment by the due date, but very few students will complete a suggestion by the "due date".

    Ever said this . . . . .

    I suggest you memorize this list of cation / anions by the next class period as we will use this information to write formulas for ionic compounds.
    I suggest you "become familiar" with these organic reactions as we will discuss their mechanisms at the next lecture.

    Both are awesome suggestions. Veteran teachers have learned to enhance the importance of their suggestions by linking them to an assessment . . . . "and there will be a quiz over this list of cations and anions at the beginning of the next class period."

    Then what?

    Instructor (More Work!): Make the quiz
    • cram the night before or the morning of the quiz
    • blow it off because it does not significantly affect the overall course grade
    • apply a spaced-retrieval learning approach several days before the quiz and learn the information.
    Instructor (Oh No - More Work!): the quiz has to be graded, recorded and returned . . . . and the more immediate the feedback, the greater the learning.

    Reduce the Work and Increase the Learning with TRQ assignments. TRQs replace inadequate study habits with a proven spaced-retrieval approach. The TRQ assignments contain immediate feedback, are automatically graded and recorded, and  they are completed by more than 90% of students  because they are . . . .

    • Low Stakes - every student can complete the assignment if they are willing to work because while there are three "ways" to earn credit for a TRQ assignment, anyone can satisfy the 3rd option (submit a certain number of questions correctly, i.e. 75 correct answers).
    • High Reward - the student earns course credit for studying.

    The theory, application and research results for Timed Repetitive Quizzes are found at Timed / Repetitive Quizzes (TRQs).

  2. Application, Analysis and Synthesis levels of cognitive thought are actively engaged with the following:
    • iTRQs - low stakes, interactive TRQs that present information in a timed environment where the time is  longer than normal TRQs.
      • Limiting Reagents
      • Lewis Structures
      • Organic Mechanisms
    • Tutorials - low-stakes, un-timed, interactive animations that present information that students must use to complete the assignment and receive full credit.  This is a "safe learning environment" in that incorrect answers are explained and the student simply starts over . . . . no points are deducted for starting over - points are awarded for correctly completing the tutorial.
      • Phase Diagrams and Heating Curves
      • Expressing Solution Concentrations 
      • Thin Layer Chromatography
      • Reading a Buret
      • Reading a Polarimeter
      • Reading a Refractometer
      • The Activity Series
    • Learning Pathways - interactive pathways that a student must use to solve complex problems. These learning pathways serve to create an effective schema that will become part of the student's neural network.
      • General Chemistry: several Dimensional Analysis Pathways and a Determining Solution pH Calculator.
      • Organic Chemistry: Organic Synthesis Pathway.
    • Homework - students solve complex problems that are presented in various formats (multiple-choice, multiple-select, fill-in-the-blank, ordering, numeric answers, balancing equations (chemical and nuclear), etc). Organic chemistry homework problems use the free drawing program ChemSketch to draw / submit answers.
    • Lab Reports - online submission of lab data, calculations, balanced equations and graphed results are graded in real-time by the computer the moment they are entered by the student. Introducing immediate feedback into any process increases learning . . . . the more immediate the feedback, the greater the effect. Professors work with Chem21Labs to convert their university's lab reports into interactive webpages.
    • Virtual Labs - HTML5 lab animations are assigned as pre-lab assignments or online/virtual labs. These virtual labs are either embedded into the online Chem21Labs format or used as a stand-alone labs.

The decision to incorporate computer-based exercises that begin at the lowest levels of cognitive thought must be accompanied by a changed educational paradigm where the instructor gives herself permission to assign an online workload that requires the student to engage in active learning activities for part of the "expected" hours of study. If 10 hours per week is "expected" for proficiency in an Organic Chemistry course, exercises should be assigned that require 5 - 8 hours of active engagement leaving time for reading the chapter.

The assignments listed above have been used at the university level for twelve years and the results are outstanding. At Lee University (Cleveland, TN), the ACS Organic Chemistry Exam is given each year as the Final Exam. The average class percentile on this exam over those ten years was 59.4 percentile (in the 15 prior years, the class percentile averaged 41.1). This result becomes more remarkable when coupled with the fact that ONLY 3 STUDENTS have dropped the second semester course during those twelve years . . . 386 / 389 students who started the class in January sat for the ACS Exam in late April.