Assessment to help link concepts


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Assessment is incredibly important in education, to support feedback and guide subsequent teaching. For students, assessments convey the information and level of understanding that is deemed important, and can have a huge impact on how they approach their work.

In this study, Ye and Lewis investigate the potential of Creative Exercises (CEs), a novel form of assessment, which promotes students’ linking of concepts within chemistry.

Research suggests that students tend to rely on memorisation without developing and retaining conceptual understanding, leading to the view that chemistry is a collection of disjointed topics. CEs aim to counter this by providing an open-ended assessment that does not have a limited set of possible answers. A CE provides an initial prompt to describe an initial idea (eg ‘a million molecules of SO2’) to which students respond with as many statements as they can that are distinct, correct and relevant. Students are awarded credit for each statement that meets these criteria, and they are told in the CE how many statements are needed to receive full credit. Instructors brainstorm likely answers prior to the assessment, with unanticipated correct answers added to the list as the CE is marked.

The article refers to Ausubel’s Assumptive Learning Theory, where meaningful learning is characterised by new learning being incorporated into an existing knowledge structure. It is postulated that the use of CEs supports this process by encouraging students to draw links between new concepts and those learned previously. As the authors state, concept maps could be used for a similar purpose, but multiple ‘correct’ organisation schemes make these much more difficult to assess.

The study examined students’ responses to CEs on the topics of gas laws, thermodynamics and molecular shape, and showed extensive evidence that they were able to link to a wide range of chemistry topics in their answers. While many responses were judged correct, incorrect answers (eg the application of gas laws to prompts describing solution chemistry) provided valuable insight into student misconceptions.

The evidence shows that CEs are a promising tool for assessment, both summative and formative, which genuinely probes understanding while incentivising students to develop a deeper understanding. Such approaches may be of interest to UK-based teachers who are seeking to support students in developing a better synoptic understanding of chemistry in preparation for the return to terminal assessment in exams.