Online homework is widely used in introductory science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses at the college level with the goal of contributing to student learning and success. Online homework systems encourage students to study regularly throughout the semester and support student problem-solving practice with minimal demands on instructors. However, current online homework systems typically provide feedback only on the final answers to multistep problems attempted by students. This Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE:EHR) Development & Implementation project will develop an improved system for online homework that will follow students as they engage in free-form, multistep problem solving, and provide hints and feedback as needed throughout the process. In addition, the interface will facilitate student practice with constructing scientific arguments that involve supporting claims with evidence. The online tools will be implemented, tested, and revised in general chemistry courses at multiple institutions, including Carnegie-Mellon University, Iowa State University, and Des Moines Area Community College. Thus, the high-quality online resources produced are expected to help students develop the problem-solving expertise that is needed for success in chemistry and other STEM fields.
The project will be structured as design research around the conjecture that robust learning can be promoted through online homework that: (i) supports free-form, multistep problem solving; (ii) engages students in a range of science practices; and (iii) provides practice in integrating concepts from across the domain. The work will build on the success of the Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools through two main extensions. The first is a drag-and-drop expression builder that will allow students to construct problem solving steps and scientific arguments with a degree of flexibility that approaches that of paper-and-pencil problem solving, while allowing the computing system to monitor and scaffold the work through hints and feedback. The second is a domain browser from which students will drag and drop items for their expressions. This will allow the computing system to monitor and scaffold students as they develop strategies to solve a given problem. Thus, it is expected that this project will extend the range of problem solving activities that can be supported online in ways that research suggests will improve student learning. Scaffolding more open-ended, multistep problems will provide students practice with developing problem-solving strategies. Spanning a larger range of science practices will help students learn domain content while engaging in practices that better reflect those of chemists. Iterations in the design of the system will be informed by: comparison of student problem solving within the system to that of paper-and-pencil; examination of detailed log files on student use for appropriateness of the hints and feedback provided by the system; and evaluation of the degree to which the system can support problems that span science practices and include topics from across the domain. Analysis of log files gathered from the system will allow for design iterations that improve the activities, as well as provide fundamental insights into how students solve problems. The final year of the project will include a summative evaluation with diverse student populations. Both the online tools and the results of the evaluations will be broadly disseminated.