Grove Research Group

Research

Our research group is focused on expanding our understanding of how theories of learning and cognitive development can be applied to the unique learning environments encountered in chemistry.  Specifically, we are currently pursuing projects that seek to better understand:

  • the role that cognitive load plays in students' learning of chemistry;
  • the development of representational competence in chemistry;
  • and, the use of technology in teaching chemistry.

Cognitive Load and Chemical Representations  

Representations of chemical structure and process are ubiquitous in the chemistry curriculum. From Lewis structures, to Newman Projections, to the use of curved arrows to convey electron flow during mechanistic processes, novice chemistry students are expected to construct, utilize, and manipulate these representations. Unfortunately, this process is often quite difficult and often hindered by cognitive load issues. This research seeks to develop a reliable and valid method of measuring cognitive load in real time using physiological metrics such as EEG, heat flow, and heart rate, to use these techniques to research the interplay between students’ construction and use of chemical representations and cognitive load, and to use the research results collected to develop a series of best practice guidelines and suggestions for the use of representations in introductory chemistry courses and a set of activities designed to support general chemistry and organic chemistry students as they learn how to construct and use these representations. 

Cognitive Load and Organic Chemistry

Organic chemistry is often considered by students to be one of the most difficult courses in the undergraduate curriculum.  Indeed, it has a reputation for being a "killer course" or "gatekeeper" for a number of majors, and students approach it with now small amount of dread.  Building on the work that we have done to develop a valid and reliable method of measuring cognitive load using changes in heart rate, we have engaged in a study that will create an inventory of organic chemistry topics that are particularly load-inducing for students.  Over the course of two semesters, we have been following a group of students as they learn organic chemistry content for the first time, i.e., during their lecture.  Concurrently, we are also recording those lectures so that subsequent analysis can match spikes in heart rate with the material/activities being covered in class.  

The Use of Technology to Teach Lewis Structures

Building upon our previous research developing instructional technology for iPads and iPhones, this research seeks to harness the results gathered from our cognitive load studies to develop an adaptive learning system that will focus on helping chemistry students construct Lewis and skeletal structures of molecules. The system will make use of an initial diagnostic system that is informed by the research results to ascertain the students' construction ability and provide Socratic-style feedback as they seek help in creating their representations.  This project is supported by NSF IUSE 1610084.