Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 08/31/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Cole, Reneè S.

First Committee Member

Becker, Nicole

Second Committee Member

Stone, Elizabeth A.

Third Committee Member

Geng, M. Lei

Fourth Committee Member

Shaw, Scott K.


Process skills, such as critical thinking, communication, and problem solving, are sometimes referred to as soft skills or professional skills and have been identified by instructors and employers alike as being desirable skills for students to acquire before they graduate. The development and assessment of process skills in students were important learning objectives for both the ANA-POGIL (Analytical Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) and ELIPSS (Enhancing Learning by Improving Process Skills in STEM) projects. The ANA-POGIL project consisted of a faculty consortium that was comprised of chemistry faculty. The ELIPSS project currently consists of a faculty consortium that includes representation from multiple STEM disciplines, including biology, chemistry, anatomy & physiology, math, engineering, and physics. In order to optimize the student development of process skills there should be alignment between the instructors’ goals for their courses and what they assess. The faculty members associated with both of these projects wanted to enhance students’ development of process skills by providing them with feedback, and a problem solving rubric was developed to meet those needs. The rubric categories were constructed based on faculty definitions and literature that described characteristics of successful problem solvers. To the test the rubric’s validity, it was piloted by both faculty and students. The rubric was then used in an advanced analytical instrumental laboratory course to assess the extent to which evidence of students’ process skills changed over the course of a semester. Students from the laboratory course were interviewed to gather their insights into the rubric and how they used the feedback. Findings suggest that instructors should emphasize the importance of process skills and incorporate them directly into their courses if they want students to value them. Even though students were provided regular feedback, their problem solving scores did not change appreciably throughout the semester. While students found the rubric feedback useful on the surface, they did not use the feedback in any significant way to improve on their laboratory reports because there was no grade or incentive tied to the rubrics. If faculty want students to obtain process skills, they should place some incentive on the acquisition and development of them.

Another goal of the ANA-POGIL project was to develop multi-part, open-ended questions to assess process skills. To analyze evidence of the process skills that were present in the student responses, a qualitative coding scheme focused on three process skills (information processing, problem solving, and critical thinking) was used. There was overall good alignment between the process skills the faculty had identified for the exam questions and the evidence that was found in the student responses. Findings show that if instructors value eliciting a certain process skill in students’ responses, then they should be extremely explicit in how the exam structure is worded to elicit that skill.

Well-designed laboratories help students develop skills in experimental design, data analysis, and communication in addition to critical technical skills. A common course structure that presents challenges for both the students and instructional staff is in upper-level undergraduate chemistry laboratories where students perform experiments in a rotational style, with each group of students working on one instrument per week. As a solution to this challenge, a set of pre-laboratory videos were generated for each experiment. Laboratory observations and student interviews were conducted to investigate how students were using the resources and to characterize their experiences in the laboratory. Findings show that students used the resources to come more prepared to complete the laboratory experiments more independently with less instructional intervention. Findings from the student observations and experiences in the laboratory show that students enjoyed working with both their peers and the instructional team to successfully complete the experiments.


chemistry education, chemistry laboratory, problem solving, process skills, self-regulated learning, situated learning


xix, 264 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 216-226).


This thesis has been optimized for improved web viewing. If you require the original version, contact the University Archives at the University of Iowa:


Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Ann Schmidt-McCormack

Included in

Chemistry Commons