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ERIC Number: EJ1163624
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017-Dec
Pages: 8
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-0021-9584
Practicing What We Preach: Assessing "Critical Thinking" in Organic Chemistry
Stowe, Ryan L.; Cooper, Melanie M.
Journal of Chemical Education, v94 n12 p1852-1859 Dec 2017
Organic chemistry is often promoted as a course designed to cultivate skill in scientific "ways of thinking." Expert organic chemists perceive their field as one in which plausible answers to complex questions are arrived at through analytical thought processes. They draw analogy between problem solving in organic chemistry and diagnosis of a disease, which is of central importance to physicians-in-training. To determine whether or not assessments deployed in organic chemistry align with the rhetoric used to promote the course to premedical students, we characterized 118 organic chemistry assessment items given to students at elite universities. The overwhelming majority of the questions examined were not capable of eliciting evidence of student engagement in the scientific and engineering practices (the disaggregated components of inquiry) defined by the "Framework for K-12 Education." Dissonance between assessment focus and rhetoric used in course promotion is troubling as assessments convey a strong implicit message about the objective of a course. If exams focus chiefly on recall, application of simple algorithms, and pattern recognition, students will infer that memorization of content is the chief aim of organic chemistry. Herein, we examine how prompts might be modified or constructed to better engage students in one or more of the scientific and engineering practices in the context of organic chemistry. Both constructed response and selected response prompts are discussed.
Division of Chemical Education, Inc and ACS Publications Division of the American Chemical Society. 1155 Sixteenth Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 800-227-5558; Tel: 202-872-4600; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Michigan
Grant or Contract Numbers: DUE1502552