"Mastery Learning" Helps College Students Conquer Chemistry

Article excerpt

Organic Chemistry. These two little words strike fear into the hearts of a large percentage of hapless undergraduate students. But definitions are made to be transformed. And that's what two professors at Northeast Missouri State University are hoping to do. By implementing "mastery learning" techniques in their classrooms, they have increased the percentage of students who continue on to Organic Chemistry II from 45% to nearly 80%.

"Mastery Learning"

Mastery learning is built on the notion that until students have an effective framework in which to place ideas--until they can conceptualize an overall structure they cannot really learn, only memorize.

Dr. Kenneth Fountain and Dr. Dana Delaware foster mastery learning in their Organic Chemistry classrooms by organizing non-competitive study groups, insisting on student participation in classroom problem-solving, and administering frequent quizzes on IBM-compatible PCs. The two professors develop, administer, grade and record these quizzes using Diploma IV software from Brownstone Research Group in Decatur, Ga. The professors also use the software to develop and grade four full-length exams per semester.

To encourage students to both prepare for class and internalize the material on their own, the professors generally give a quiz before each lecture period. "Without Diploma, it would be impossible," asserts Fountain. "But [with Diploma], instead of backbreaking labor, it takes about 20 minutes [to prepare, grade and record the quizzes] ."

Exam & Proctor

Available in DOS, Apple II and Mac versions, Diploma IV software comprises four modules: Exam, Proctor, Gradebook and Calendar. Teachers can use the Exam module to write multiple-choice, true/false, matching or short-answer questions. Exam's algorithm capability allows teachers to imbed variables into questions, creating many unique variations of the same question from a single template. The program also supports hundreds of question banks currently available through college and high school textbook publishers.

Students use the Proctor module to take the self-paced tests, which are automatically graded. "We can see the results of the students' performance immediately," says Fountain. "We can merge their grade with others and see the spread. …