Insights into Student Cognition: Creative Exercises as an Evaluation Tool in Undergraduate First-year Organic Chemistry

Anthony Mai, Stephen Robert Daniel George-Williams, Reyne Pullen

Abstract


It is known that while students can be adept at recalling specific information, especially in end of semester summative exams, they can still often struggle to connect or link this information over different topic areas. In many cases, this issue is exacerbated by traditional assessments and teaching styles that focus on and reward students who have only interacted with the learning materials on a more surface level. Many attempts have been made over time to rectify this, with one such example shown in the use of Creative Exercises (CEs). CEs are open-ended tasks that allow students to connect as much prior knowledge as possible into one cohesive response, potentially developing a student’s ability to link and connect disparate topic areas and content. In this study, CEs were introduced into a large scale first-year course and focused on fundamental organic chemistry reactions for the first time (to the best of our knowledge). Students performed the CEs in groups, and the paper responses were collected over six weeks (N=945 in total). Analysis of these artefacts revealed that students did indeed struggle to connect information over subsequent teaching weeks. This inability to connect information was despite being encouraged to do so both by the tasks and the teaching staff. Additionally, while more ‘advanced’ students (as noted by prior performance) were noted to raise more topics in a given week, they were just as susceptible to ‘siloing’ the information as lower-performing students. Recommendations are made on the future use of CEs.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.30722/IJISME.29.03.004