/ Chemistry Department

Shorb Research Group

Chemistry Education: Laboratory Curriculum Development and Eye-Tracking Evaluation of Learning

Much in Chemistry Education is divided into research and into practice. The two projects in this group try to dovetail these two areas into each other. The Laboratory Curriculum Development work begins with a foundation of literature-based reforms that can be used to improve student learning and engagement, while also being intentional about meaningful assessment within our classes. This leads to research publications that inform approaches to teaching at other institutions and improves the quality of our laboratory experiences here at Hope College. Inevitably, we will endeavor to incorporate modern technology into our curriculum. However, it is important that we have the tools necessary to take advantage of this medium so that it enhances both the teaching of laboratory activities from a student perspective, and also the ability for instructors to provide meaningful assessments and feedback. This Eye-Tracking Research starts with educational theories about attention and mental processing to analyze how students connect various chemistry concepts simply by observing the order and duration in which they look at them.

Laboratory Curriculum Development

Dr. Shorb’s role as First-Year Laboratory Coordinator at Hope College allows for hands-on experience for research students in his group to design laboratories, test experiments and design assessments that will be used in the classroom. These tested improvements inform the decisions the Department of Chemistry makes in how to most effectively teach their laboratory courses. The primary research goals for this project are to design a framework for evaluating and revising the General Chemistry Laboratories which includes current research in:

  • What activities motivate students to pursue science?
  • What activities encourage critical thinking about the underlying chemistry?
  • How should pre-lab exercises prepare students for more rigorous experiments and instruments with higher learning curves?
  • How can we leverage group work and shared data sets to enhance student learning and develop their professional skills needed in the workforce?
  • What pedagogies are most appropriate for learning critical writing skills?

Using the expansive literature in all of these sub-disciplines (or really, crossdisciplinary literature from educational psychology, to education research, to science education research, and cognitive psychology), we elucidate a set of criteria that can be used to continuously evaluate the quality of the educational experience for students and give constructive feedback for improvement. This involves development of statistical methods, novel laboratory assessment tools and new laboratory curricula.

Eye-Tracking Evaluation of Learning

Inspired by the framework for evaluation that is being developed to improve the laboratory curriculum, a need has arisen for rigorous assessment of new learning tools, such as online systems. The use of eye-tracking technology to evaluate the potency for websites to market to their intended audiences is not new. Many marketing companies use this sort of technology, and there exists an extensive amount of research into “Goal Conversion” – trying to convert visitors to a website into buyers of a product, for instance. These are targeted interventions with very measurable one-dimensional results: purchased or did not purchase, for instance. In the case of assessing student learning, however, we want to be able to ascertain the level of student engagement, their ability to tie smaller ideas into big picture ideas, and to see if they are recognizing the usefulness of various types of representations used in chemistry.

This work builds off of the research into Novice vs. Expert studies that have been done in chemistry education research. There are various instruments and tests that can be used to distinguish between an expert in the field of chemistry and someone who is still learning. By understanding these underlying differences in how a student engages with material presented to them can help provide meaningful feedback to help them to accelerate toward an expert-level of understanding. Eyetracking provides a novel avenue for this type of study, although there is currently no way to quantifiably compare two different eye-tracking trajectories. Research in this group works toward using principle component analysis (eigenvalue/eigenvector analysis) to design analysis protocols that can be used to inform assessment and evaluation of new learning tools. Immediate areas of focus are on improving the use of technology in the laboratory by assisting in design of online materials, and in training for the use of complex instrumentation in the laboratory. 

For more details and to see who works in the Shorb Group, see Dr. Shorb’s website.