In an effort to reduce barriers to success in a large enrollment general chemistry course, Dr. Norda Stephenson, Assistant Professor at Western Washington University, proposes to incorporate more active learning pedagogies into the general chemistry curriculum, with the support of learning assistants (LAs). This approach aims to enhance engagement and collaboration for all students, but especially marginalized students, by fostering a more inclusive learning environment.

Stephenson's plan builds on strategies she implemented in her General Chemistry II course in Winter 2024, where she incorporated collaborative small-group work alongside traditional lectures. Initial feedback from students was positive, highlighting the value of peer interaction, support, and social network building. However, to effectively support a large class, Stephenson proposes the introduction of structured small-group activities and LAs into the General Chemistry II course in Fall 2024.

The LAs, undergraduate students who have successfully completed the course, will assist in facilitating small group discussions, guiding problem-solving exercises, and keeping students engaged during class. They will also provide valuable feedback to the instructor regarding student progress and challenges, allowing for more targeted support.

The project aims to achieve several outcomes:

  • Instructor: More timely feedback leading to greater responsiveness and adoption of equitable teaching practices.
  • Learning Assistants: Increased understanding of teaching and learning processes, development of communication skills, and improved content understanding.
  • Students: Increased engagement, a stronger social network, increased sense of belonging, and improved learning outcomes in chemistry.

This project emphasizes social justice and diversity by promoting equity in science classrooms and fostering a culture of understanding and respect for diverse perspectives. While initially targeted at one chemistry classroom, if successful, this approach could be adopted more widely, potentially transforming the learning experiences and outcomes for all students, particularly marginalized students, in the general chemistry series. Stephenson has been awarded a Social Justice & Equity Committee (SJEC) to support this work in Fall 2024.

 

For more information about the SOCIAL JUSTICE & EQUITY COMMITTEE (SJEC) at WWU, please visit: https://sjec.wwu.edu/