University of St. Thomas: Using Modules to Teach General Chemistry

Topics: Chemistry, Analytical chemistry, Organic chemistry Pages: 34 (10548 words) Published: November 20, 2011
University of St. Thomas: Using Modules to Teach General Chemistry

Presented by

The Institute on Learning Technology

part of the


Mark Connolly (

Fall 2002

This case study also is available from the

Learning Through Technology web site,

Acknowledgements: The authors thank the University of St. Thomas faculty, staff, and students who participated in this study. These individuals very graciously responded to our requests for their time and attention. This case study is based on a collaborative analysis and planning process undertaken by the NISE's Learning Through Technology "Fellows" group: Jean-Pierre Bayard, Stephen Erhmann, John Jungck, Flora McMartin, Susan Millar, and Marco Molinaro. The Fellows, in turn, benefited substantially from members of the College Level One Team: Andrew Beversdorf, Mark Connolly, Susan Daffinrud, Art Ellis, Kate Loftus-Fahl, Anthony T. Jacob and Robert Mathieu.


II.Institutional Setting6

The Department of Chemistry at St. Thomas6

III.Description of the Instructional Innovation8

How modules can change the traditional chemistry curriculum9 How modules can change teaching methods9
Modules and the UST Chemistry Department–Getting Going10 Learning “Problems” As Betsy Saw Them11
Ust’s Involvement with ChemLinks12

IV.Evidence of Improved Student Learning16

V.UST’s Implementation of Chemistry Modules: A Denouement17

VI.Summing Up: What This Can Tell Us about Instructional Innovation18



Methods used to produce this case study21


Chem 111 Syllabus: Fall 199823


In 1996, University of Saint Thomas chemistry professor Betsy Longley got interested in using modules to teach better. She first experimented, using modules in a limited way the following year. In 1997, Betsy decided to completely “modularlize” an introductory course (Chem 101) that she alone was teaching. Based on that experience, she persuaded her department colleagues to permit the use of modules in the three “regular” sections of Chem 111, a multi-section course that starts the curriculum sequence for chemistry majors. Data collected in 1998 from the module-based sections indicated that students performed as well on end-of-semester exams as those who took non-module sections in previous years. Despite mixed reactions to modules from both instructors and students, the module-based sections reported other salutary outcomes, including (on average) greater student enthusiasm, less absenteeism, and greater retention of content knowledge in subsequent, advanced courses.

The following year, neither Betsy nor her colleague David Boyd taught the module-based Chem111, instead handing the sections over to three of their departmental colleagues, who were somewhat less enthusiastic. When Betsy left the department—first for a maternity leave, then permanently—module-based Chem 111 lost a key supporter, and modular classes were then picked up by faculty who were either less familiar with, or supportive of, teaching with modules. Unable to sustain a critical mass of supporters during changes in personnel and class assignments, the movement to modularize Chem 111 foundered.

Not all successful educational reforms persist. Put another way, even though an innovative and effective educational approach may succeed in improving how students learn, that success is no guarantee that it will thrive or even persist. This statement may surprise some, but it is a truism among those who regularly work with groups of faculty who attempt to change their teaching practices. It happens time and time again: individual faculty members find something that works and try to share it with their colleagues, knowing that “it takes a department to raise a student.” But along the way, maybe in the handoff, the innovation loses...
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