In collaboration with Dr. Judit K. Beagle from the University of Dayton, we conducted research on students' studying habits after returning to in-person education. We presented our findings on ACS 2022 Spring conference education division with the following poster.

ACS-poster-2022-1

Practice is crucial for success in sciences. As learning was mostly moved online during the first year and a half of the pandemic, we wanted to better understand students' motivation in practicing organic chemistry during the semester. Our research series was conducted in cooperation with Dayton university. In 2020 16, in 2021 82 students of an undergraduate organic chemistry class (CHM 314: Organic Chemistry II, CHM 313: Organic Chemistry I) participated in our study and they received 334 and 249 optional chemistry practice problems, respectively.

During 2020 we learned that students use non-mandatory exercises to understand the material better. In the following year we explored student behavior towards non-mandatory practice material, when the mode of instruction changed from online to in-person. We conducted qualitative research on motivation and learning habits in an online and in-person organic chemistry class at the University of Dayton.

We compared how the two different groups of students used the online practice materials in the fall semesters of two consecutive years, 2020 and 2021, at the University of Dayton. The students who enrolled in the classes received optional chemistry practice quizzes on a regular basis in Zosimos, and their engagement with the extra learning material was monitored throughout the semester. Some of the students also completed an online follow-up survey to share insights about their practice habits.

The questions we were interested in answering were the following:

  • Is there a difference in what periods of the semester students completed the optional practice problems?
  • How has the percentage of students using the optional practice problems changed?
  • Has there been any change in the students’ motivation why they are using/not using online optional practice opportunities?
  • Has there been a change in what types of questions (drawing, multiple-choice, text) students prefer?
  • Have students improved course performance due to practicing in Zosimos?

When students solved optional problems in Zosimos, the same pattern appeared in 2021 as in the previous year. They used the optional resources regularly, but seemed to be more motivated towards practicing at the beginning of the semester and also preceding exams. Although we had more participants in our 2021 study, the percentage of students actively using Zosimos to practice (solving at least 10 problems) decreased significantly, from 47% to 15%.

This decrease can be attributed to multiple reasons. One reason is that education is shifting back to in-class mode: students tried to find opportunities to practice in person (e.g. ask for the help of tutor students), which they felt was more efficient. Students were also complaining about the lack of time for practicing. This can probably also be attributed to in-class education: they spent more time with e.g. extracurricular activities or transportation. In addition, the publisher provided OWL2 application has become the place not just for homework and quizzes, but also for exams. Learning and using two different systems is time-consuming, thus students preferred OWL2 over Zosimos. 

Comparing the two classes, regarding which exercise types they prefer (drawing, multiple-choice and text answers), we can see interesting changes. In 2020 50% of the students indicated in the questionnaire that they like multiple choice type questions. This number rose to 89% in 2021. This change in preference is in parallel with the above-mentioned reasons: students have less time to practice, thus they prefer the least time-consuming question types. This was expressed in the survey, e.g.,“[multiple choice] was fast.”. The percentage of students who liked drawing exercises did not change significantly (from 50% to 53%), however, in the case of text answers, the percentage decreased from 43% to 32%. Students mentioned that it “took a while to learn how to draw”, and they complained that one small mistake can lead to getting zero points in an exercise.

In 2021, 50% of the students responded that they experienced better course performance due to practicing in Zosimos, which is in line with the results from the previous year. In 2021, the majority of students felt that they have improved a lot in “drawing simple chemical structures” and “drawing stereochemistry”.Some of the most popular topics include alkanes, alkenes and stereochemistry at tetrahedral centers.

We compared student behavior in two consecutive years of the COVID pandemic (‘20-’21) towards non-mandatory practice material. All exercises were optional and students used the practice material on their own schedule without deadlines. 

We observed that students practiced the most on the days before the exams in both years. 

The ratio of students who were self-motivated to practice fell significantly from 2020 to 2021. The main reason behind this trend is education shifting back to in-class mode. Students feel that in-person lectures are more effective than the online streamed lectures, therefore, they don't feel the need for practice as much, also they have less time to solve optional online chemistry problems and they seek to find in-person alternatives (tutoring). All things considered, students who actively used Zosimos did have better learning outcomes in both years.