Developing communication confidence and professional identity in chemistry through international online collaborative learning

Darlene Skagena, Brett McCollum*a, Layne Morschb and Brandon Shokoplesa
aDepartment of Chemistry and Physics, Mount Royal University, Calgary, T3E6K6, Canada. E-mail:
bDepartment of Chemistry, University of Illinois Springfield, Springfield, IL 62703, USA

Received 10th November 2017 , Accepted 1st March 2018

First published on 1st March 2018

The use of online collaborative assignments (OCAs) between two flipped organic chemistry classrooms, one in Canada and the other in the United States, was examined for impact on learners. The intervention was designed to support content mastery, aid in increasing students’ communication skills through chemistry drawing and verbalization, facilitate emergence of professional identity, and promote development of appreciation for chemistry as an international language. A mixed-methods approach consisting of interviews, student written reflections, and questionnaires was used to evaluate the impact of the OCAs. Students described their experience of the OCAs in terms of: chemistry communication confidence; engaged learning; chemistry learning; relationships; and professional identity.


Organic chemistry is a notoriously difficult university course, and students often struggle with key concepts resulting in failure or withdrawal from the course (Grove et al., 2008). Chemistry faculty have experimented with in-class problem-based learning (PBL), in place of didactic instruction, to assist learners with developing the necessary familiarity with higher-order thinking (Ram, 1999; Overton and Randles, 2015). Some forms of PBL require that students prepare for in-class problem-solving by engaging with the basic concepts prior to class. This pedagogical approach describes a broad assortment of methods often collectively defined as flipped instruction, which has recently grown in popularity in higher education chemistry (Seery and Donnelly, 2012; Smith, 2013; Christiansen, 2014; Yeung and O’Malley, 2014; Fautch, 2015; Flynn, 2015; Hibbard et al., 2016; McCollum 2016; Morsch, 2016; Yestrebsky, 2016). Many of these flipped instruction approaches also involve some aspect of cooperative learning or collaborative learning with distinct characteristics that can be used to differentiate these approaches from other implementations of PBL (Davidson, 2002; Davidson and Major, 2014).

PBL, cooperative learning, and collaborative learning typically share five attributes (Davidson and Major, 2014):

(1) A common task or learning activity suitable for group work

(2) Small-group interactions focused on the learning activity

(3) Cooperative, mutually helpful behavior among students as they strive together to accomplish the learning task

(4) Individual accountability and responsibility

(5) Interdependence in working together

While PBL and cooperative learning have been used in chemistry education (Paulson, 1999; Flynn and Biggs, 2012; Mataka, 2014; Mataka and Kowalske, 2015; Warfa, 2016; Canelas et al., 2017), collaborative learning has found most application in the humanities (Davidson and Major, 2014), particularly language learning (Barnes and Todd, 1977). This may be due to differences in philosophies and purposes of the methods and disciplines. While both cooperative learning and collaborative learning have origins in Social Constructivism (Palincsar, 1998), a distinction is made in terms of how the students interact to construct and demonstrate their knowledge. For cooperative learning, students share a set of tasks or problems and work together to complete or solve them. In contrast, in collaborative learning, learners may “complete different tasks that together constitute a single, large project” (Barkley et al., 2014, p. 4). Collaborative learning is more than group work; it is co-laboring and co-construction of knowledge facilitated by faculty-developed intentional learning activities (Barkley et al., 2014). In collaborative learning, learners are “mutually searching for understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating a product” (Smith and MacGregor, 1992, p. 10). Collaborative learning aims to have students take substantive responsibility for working together, thus placing the responsibility for learning on the students, not the teacher.

In addition to encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning, post-secondary education is intended to facilitate the cognitive growth of students, as well as aid in career preparation and growth of professional identity (NRC, 1999; 2002). The development of professional identity can be described as how much an individual has internalized given elements of a profession or discipline (Stryker and Burke, 2000; Jackson, 2016). Paterson et al. (2002) identify three components to professional identity: (1) technical skills, (2) understanding standards and expectations in a chosen discipline, and (3) the ability to self-reflect and evaluate one's own learning within the discipline.

Research on development of professional identity has been principally focused in professional training programs such as educators, nurses, and engineers (Day et al. 2006; Pratt et al., 2006; Xiang-Yun 2006; Pierrakos et al. 2009a; 2009b; Trede et al., 2012; Mazhindu et al., 2016), but there has been some work with chemistry graduate students (Bhattacharyya and Bodner, 2014). While the methods used for development of professional identity vary, in chemistry preparation for future careers is typically facilitated through practical laboratory experience for development of technical skills, the first component of professional identity. While the primary focus of theory-based coursework is cognitive growth of students, it can also be employed to address components 2 and 3 of professional identity. After all, the ability of recent graduates to relate to and understand their chosen field impacts the level of success they attain in their career (Tomlinson 2012; Holmes 2013).

Success in chemistry requires undergraduate learners to develop familiarity with a distinctive language that is unique to the discipline, including rigid nomenclature rules and multiple representational and symbolic forms (McCollum et al., 2016). The deep-learning needed for mastery of chemistry concepts is often not met unless learners are active participants in the learning process (McCollum, 2016). For example, Bhattacharyya (2015) has found that chemistry graduate students avoid using IUPAC standards for nomenclature when describing compounds to a peer, reflecting a weak-point in their professional development.

Independently, we have previously used cooperative learning methods with flipped instruction to facilitate cognitive growth and knowledge acquisition in organic chemistry (Morsch, 2016; McCollum et al., 2017). Comparison of our motivations and methods led to development of a novel intervention for organic chemistry education – international online collaborative assignments (OCAs). The aim of this project was to investigate the impact of transformative and collaborative pedagogies on chemistry learners in their first sophomore organic chemistry course, in particular the utility of information and communication technologies (ICT) to foster collaborative learning between unfamiliar learners. The two research questions of this project were:

(1) What barriers do learners experience when engaging in collaborative learning and chemistry communication practice with an unfamiliar international peer?

(2) What strategic approaches can be implemented to support international chemistry communication practice?

Our intention was to further support course concept mastery while also fostering confidence in communicating chemistry concepts verbally and symbolically using standard nomenclature and notation for the development of professional identity. By assigning students an international partner, as opposed to organizing the collaborative assignments between local peers, we also aimed to provide learners with an international experience, to help them develop an appreciation for chemistry as an international professional language. Herein, we describe the impact of the OCAs on learners’ communication confidence and professional identity at two undergraduate universities, one in Canada and the other in the United States.


Courses and universities involved

The two universities involved in this study are situated in different countries: Mount Royal University (MRU) in Canada; and the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) in the USA. Approval for the study was obtained from the Human Research Ethics Board/Institutional Review Board of both universities. On-going informed consent was collected from participants at each stage of data collection, including for written reflections, submitted assignments, each questionnaire, and research interviews. To avoid the potential conflict due to dual-roles of course instructor and researcher, both faculty had consent forms managed by other members of the research teams. One organic chemistry section from each university participated in the Fall 2016 study. The populations of these two classes were 57 students at MRU (CHEM 2101) and 65 students at UIS (CHE 267). Data was only included for those who consented to participate throughout the semester (nMRU = 31, nUIS = 44).

All students were assigned a partner from the other university. Some groups of three were formed due to differences in the two class sizes. Learners were semi-randomly assigned to their partnership/group, using the single condition of matching up learners based on similar levels of initial consent when possible (level of consent was indicated using a code system managed by the undergraduate researchers, and thus the instructors were not aware of whether research consent was granted or not by any individual learner).


MRU and UIS are similar demographically. Gender distribution was comparable between course sections at the two universities: MRU 70% female, and UIS 74% female. Age distribution was similar as well: mean age of 21 at MRU and 22 at UIS. Two major differences between the institutions are that: (1) UIS offers both undergraduate and graduate programs, while MRU only offers undergraduate programs; and (2) that UIS offers a major in Chemistry (only 15% of UIS participants were Chemistry/Biochemistry majors), while the closest related offering at MRU is a major in General Science.

Course design

The larger purpose of a flipped classroom is to encourage students to engage with the material before coming to class, so that class time can be used actively to participate in group work and practice problems (Bergmann and Sams, 2012; Bergmann and Sams, 2014). Use of pre-lecture resources has been found to reduce in-lecture cognitive load and diminish differences in achievement between students with prior knowledge of chemistry compared to students lacking this prior knowledge (Seery and Donnelly, 2012). In flipped learning, students are typically expected to prepare themselves prior to class by individually engaging with learning resources, and the traditional lecture format is replaced with group discussions or active student-centric problem-solving. Variations on flipped pedagogy were employed in both classrooms for the duration of the semester.

The UIS students used pre-lecture videos created by the instructor for class preparation. Accompanying reading assignments were based on a LibreTexts online open-education textbook (Rusay et al., 2011; Allen et al., 2015; Larsen et al., 2017). The UIS class also had a requirement for students to have iPads for the class in order to utilize an app version of ChemDraw (software used for naming, drawing, and visualizing molecules and chemical reaction mechanisms) and the Socrative web app as a classroom response system. Students were held accountable for engaging with pre-lecture videos and readings through quizzes at the beginning of each class. More information on the UIS pedagogy can be found elsewhere (Morsch, 2016).

While the MRU classroom also utilized a flipped variation, there were considerable differences from the UIS classroom. MRU students prepared for class using a commercial print textbook, molecular model kits, and the OWLv2 online homework system from Nelson-Cengage. Classroom learning interventions included a peer leader similar to the peer-led team-learning (PLTL) method (Gosser and Roth, 1998), academic reading circles (ARC) (Daniels, 2002; Shelton-Strong, 2012; Seburn, 2015), clicker questions, and open-response multiple-attempt (ORMA) group quizzes (McCollum, 2016). More information on this instructional approach has been reported previously (McCollum et al., 2017). Due to various campus limitations, the MRU course was unable to fully adopt the PLTL model. Instead, the peer leader was a senior-level undergraduate student who had previously taken the course and aided in facilitating the flipped classroom design. The adapted ARC design focused on 15 minute small group (5 students) discussions at the beginning of every class, intended for co-construction of knowledge by students based on assigned textbook readings. Previous reports on ARCs in organic chemistry have demonstrated their effectiveness for strengthening peer relationships (McCollum et al., 2017).

The two classes also had differing numbers of term tests. The UIS class wrote 3 in-term examinations, while the MRU students wrote a single midterm. Based on the differences in term scheduling, the UIS second term examination was scheduled about one week after the MRU midterm.

Online collaborative assignment design

When conceptualizing this collaborative learning project, we identified five specific goals for what the OCAs should achieve as a learning intervention (Table 1). For each goal, an associated learning outcome was identified. Unlike the course content learning objectives at each university, we did not provide students with a print copy of the OCA learning outcomes or a related set of learning objectives. Instead, we verbally described what the students would be expected to do (meet online with an international partner to complete homework and practice using correct chemistry terminology) and our opinion that online conferencing has become an important part of any professional career. Our decision to only briefly discuss the philosophy behind the project at its initiation was intimately connected to our qualitative data collection and analysis methods. We wanted to avoid strongly influencing their experience of the online collaborative learning, as student descriptions of their experience constitute a central component of our data.
Table 1 Learning outcomes with corresponding design goals for OCAs
Design goal for OCAs Learning outcomes Related component of professional identity
Collaborative activities in the OCAs will be designed to … Learners will be able to …  
Promote the development of chemistry-based language skills through chemistry communication practice with a peer. Correctly interpret descriptions of chemical reaction mechanisms, and report improved confidence at verbal and written/symbolic chemistry communication with a peer. Technical skills;
Understanding standards and expectations in a chosen discipline.
Enhance conceptual understanding of course content through social construction of knowledge. Collaboratively problem-solve in organic chemistry through a partnership or team. Understanding standards and expectations in a chosen discipline.
Foster mutual accountability and interdependence with an international chemistry peer, and provide opportunities for feedback on the relationship dynamics. Describe the benefits and challenges of working with a remote individual in your discipline. Understanding standards and expectations in a chosen discipline;
The ability to self-reflect and evaluate one's own learning within the discipline.
Require partners to discuss chemistry concepts verbally using standards within the discipline, to explore similarities and differences in how concepts can be described. Identify aspects of the international nature of the language of chemistry, where it is unified and where divergence can occur. Understanding standards and expectations in a chosen discipline.
Include questions that require learners to summarize, and self-evaluate, their learning in organic chemistry. Engage in self-reflection of one's own learning within organic chemistry. The ability to self-reflect and evaluate one's own learning within the discipline.

Each of the learning outcomes in Table 1 can be associated with at least one of the three components of professional identity (Paterson et al., 2002). For example, the design goal to promote the development of chemistry-based language skills through chemistry communication practice with a peer was associated with a learning outcome for students to be able to correctly interpret descriptions of reaction mechanisms and to report higher chemical communication confidence. This design goal is connected to the development of chemistry professional identity through learner acquisition of technical skills and greater understanding of the standards and expectations for communication with the chemical professions.

Before specific questions could be designed for the OCAs, there were differences in semester scheduling (Table 2), as well as course content, which required careful consideration. The instructors worked together to design six pairs of OCAs (Table 3) for students to complete that would fit within the content and schedule constraints. An example question from OCA #3 is provided in Fig. 1. The OCAs were deployed at the two universities simultaneously, with complementary versions given to the two students in a partnership. For example, the question in Fig. 1 illustrates a structure provided to the UIS student partner. They would generate the name of the structure and provide the name to their MRU partner. The MRU student would then draw a structure based on the name and show the drawing to the UIS student. If the MRU student drawing and the original structure provided to the UIS student did not match, the UIS student would inform their partner. Without revealing the correct structure, the partners would discuss their work and identify any misconceptions on either side. After this question, the roles would then be reversed and a new question would be attempted.

Table 2 Differences in course timeline and holidays between UIS and MRU
First day of class August 24th September 9th
Holidays Labour day: September 5th Labour day: September 5th
Thanksgiving: October 10th
Reading week: November 7th–11th
Thanksgiving: November 24th–25th
Last day of class November 30th December 7th

Table 3 Timeline of OCAs and due dates in Fall 2016
Assignment # Due date Topic
1 September 20th Naming alkanes and functional groups
2 September 27th Drawing cyclohexane
3 October 4th Stereochemistry
4 October 12th Reaction coordinate diagrams
5 October 25th Nucleophilic substitution reactions
6 November 1st Elimination reactions

image file: c7rp00220c-f1.tif
Fig. 1 An example of a typical question style present in the OCAs.

Students were instructed to complete their preparation for the collaborative assignments (e.g. UIS student determining the proper IUPAC name for the compound in Fig. 1) before meeting with their partner. Partnerships then met online using a free video chat service, such as Skype or Google Hangouts. UIS students were responsible for recording the video chats using Kaltura CaptureSpace Desktop Lite Recorder and submitting the recording along with their assignment.

Data sources

Data was collected using mixed methods including interviews, student written reflections, and questionnaires. The three questionnaires were deployed at each university at the beginning of the semester, after the midterm (MRU) or second term-test (UIS), and in the last week of classes. The interview questions and questionnaires are provided as Appendix 1: interview questions, and Appendix 2: questionnaires. The questionnaires requested demographic data including age, gender, GPA, and intended major. Questionnaire 1 was focused on students’ initial confidence in communicating chemistry concepts through words and drawings, as well as their previous experience using video conferencing software. Questionnaire 2 asked participants what hardware and software they were using for completing the OCAs, to rate how difficult the technology was for them to use, what challenges they may have encountered, and both positive and negative aspects of the OCAs. Questionnaire 3 asked students to report challenges encountered when working on the OCAs, how they overcame the challenges, benefits of the OCAs, and a rating of their final confidence in communication of chemistry concepts through words and drawings. The two communication confidence questions were:

On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how do you rate your confidence describing chemistry through words?

On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how do you rate your confidence describing chemistry through drawings?

Due to ethical concerns of the dual-roles of the instructors/researchers, semi-structured interviews were conducted by undergraduate research assistants. Research assistants were provided training on the interview protocol and techniques for conducting effective semi-structured interviews. All interviews took place within the final two weeks of the semester. In total, 14 individual or group interviews were conducted with 25 participants. When possible participants were scheduled in groups of 2–3. This type of interview, a focus group, is known to be useful for diagnosing potential problems with a new program or pedagogy (Morgan, 1996). Patton (2002) argues that two benefit of focus groups are that (1) respondent's comments can generate reaction from other group members and (2) that when participants co-habit the community explored by the focus group then each member functions as a check or balance to minimize false or extreme responses. In some cases, individual interviews were conducted. This was necessary when some participants missed their focus group appointment, or one participant was not available at the same time as any other participant.

The interview discussion prompts (see Appendix 1: interview questions) centred around five themes: (i) barriers and benefits; (ii) OCA question styles; (iii) language development; (iv) suggestions for future practice with the OCAs; and (v) general opinions of the assignments. Some of these prompts were selected to capture the students’ experience of the OCAs, while other prompts were chosen to guide refinement of the OCAs for future implementation. Individual interviews were approximately 30 minutes in length, and focus group interviews were generally an hour in length.

Analysis methods

The interviews were transcribed, and subsequently coded according to thematic analysis practice (Braun and Clarke, 2006; Saldana, 2009). Each member of the research team performed line-by-line independent parallel coding on a subset of the transcribed interviews to generate initial codes. Team members across the two universities met through video conferencing software to review individual member preliminary coding schemes, discuss differences, and resolve discrepancies to achieve consensus. Codes were grouped into larger themes and refined through an iterative process. During focused coding, this code scheme was also applied to the remaining interviews (Charmaz, 1996; Thomas, 2006), with transcribed interviews assigned in such a way that each interview was coded by two or more team members to ensure interrater reliability.

Analysis of the emergent codes was conducted in accordance with the principles of phenomenography (Marton, 1981; Booth, 2008). Phenomenography is an established research methodology that studies “the limited number of quantitatively different ways in which various phenomena in, and aspects of, the world around us are experienced, conceptualized, understood, perceived, and apprehended” (Marton, 1994). Although people may experience a given phenomenon in categorically different ways, the framework of phenomenography presumes that the possible variations are finite. Thus, a researcher may observe the complete set of variations for a given population provided that data collection continues until saturation is achieved. The observed set of categories is known as the outcome space (Booth, 1997; Åkerlind et al., 2005; Andretta, 2007). While a participant may describe their experience through a single category, other participants may provide comments that span the full outcome space.

Results & discussion

The outcome space for this study included categories of impact, barriers, resources, and collaborative learning approaches. In this paper, we focus on the impact of the OCAs. This theme and its sub-themes are listed in Table 4. Participant experiences that match each of these sub-themes will be presented to determine if the OCAs are having the impact intended by our goals (Table 1). All participant quotes are attributed to a student from Canada (C) or America (A), using an identifier that includes their country, a participant identifier, and the student's course grade. For example, participant C-3-A is Canadian participant 3 and they earned a course grade of ‘A’.
Table 4 The theme of impact of OCAs, and associated sub-themes, emerging from thematic analysis of participant interviews
Theme Sub-theme Description
Impact Chemistry communication confidence Changes in attitudes, feelings, confidence, or self-efficacy
Engaged learning Engaged and personal learning, deep-thinking, and peer discussions that would not have happened in the absence of the OCAs
Chemistry learning Organic chemistry knowledge acquisition
Relationships Development of academic or personal relationships as a result of the OCAs
Professional identity Growth as a young professional

Chemistry communication confidence

The development of confidence can positively impact student success in the university classroom (Nicholson et al., 2013). Comments from interviews and questionnaire data reveal an increase in student confidence at communicating chemical concepts through drawing and verbalization at the end of the semester. Consider the following quote, regarding a change in confidence.

C-3-A: “Well, before, I would be afraid to be like ‘oh I think something else’. I [would] just agree with them until we realize we're wrong even though in the back of my mind I was questioning it. Now I’m like, ‘well, we have clashing answers’, but I’m not going to pretend I agree with her, I'll just say why. Now, I’m more open to speaking my opinion and [saying] what I think is right. So, I think that's helpful, instead of just getting it wrong, just following along with the group.”

This student identified a marked change in her confidence and attitude over the semester. She noted that in the beginning, she was afraid to disagree with her partner even when she suspected that her partner was incorrect. As the semester progressed and the student had engaged in multiple OCAs, this student reported developing confidence in her own thinking and a willingness to express herself. Not only does this student identify this marker of improved confidence, she recognizes that it is beneficial to her team for her to speak up and share her opinions. Multiple students reported that the OCAs helped them feel increased confidence in communicating their position for what they believed to be correct, without fear of appearing unintelligent. Some of the initial hesitance to disagree with a peer in an academic setting can be attributed to social-comparison concern, which states that learners use a system of comparison between themselves and their peers as a method for assessing their own qualities (Festinger, 1954). Less confident learners will often not voice their thoughts for fear of revealing their inadequacies. The following interview excerpt reveals the presence of social-comparison concern among organic chemistry students.

Interviewer: “Do you think that the online collaborative assignments have had an effect on how you learn in your other classes?

A-9-B: “The only effect that I can think that it could have is not being afraid to ask for help. Because, well, I’m still kind of afraid to ask for help. I usually am. This makes it a little bit easier because you realize you’re not the only one struggling. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one struggling in college, and I’m really not. Because there's a lot of people struggling. It makes it easier I guess, to communicate with your peers because you realize that you’re not the only one that's confused.

This student revealed that she is usually too afraid to ask for help because she compares herself to her peers and believes them to have a better understanding of the course content. By collaborating with an international peer, and learning that her peer is also struggling with the course material, she came to realize that “there's a lot of people struggling”, reducing her fears and increasing her confidence to participate in chemistry communication practice.

Another student identified shyness as initially limiting their communication confidence. Similar to the previous student, she experienced an increase in communication confidence, not only in chemistry but also more generally, as a result of the OCAs.

C-1-B: “At first, I was very nervous about this video chat since it was with an individual from a different country, for two main reasons. First, I tend to come off as a very awkward person, unless the other person makes me feel comfortable, which [my partner] was excellent at doing. Second, meeting someone through a video chat from a different country, a person who may carry a different personality and mind set based on the place they are from made me very nervous. However, [my partner] proved me wrong. [My partner] was a sweet person and we both had a great time during our video chat. For some parts of the assignment, I was having difficulty answering some questions which my partner helped explain very well. I learned many things from this idea of partnering up with an individual from a different country. It gave me the confidence to work with individuals who I have never met and made me feel very comfortable towards them. I can now use [this] experience to start communicating more with the people around me, which will not only help me gain more knowledge but also help me towards my career in the future.

Despite their nervousness towards the social aspect of the international collaboration, which is a documented hindrance to social interaction (Cheng et al., 2015), this student has clearly gained confidence in communication.

Questionnaire data from the communication confidence questions (see section on Data sources) supports student comments that participants experienced an increase in chemistry communication confidence, both verbally and through drawing, at the end of the semester (Table 5). A peculiar aspect of this data was that the MRU students reported a statistically significant increase in confidence in both drawing and verbal communication, while the increase for UIS students was not statistically significant. It is not immediately clear why this increase was reported by MRU students and not UIS students. The two populations had similar prior experience with video conferencing software at the start of the term (Table 6), and they provided comparable ratings for the ease of using the technology at the end of the term (Table 7). We propose four hypotheses: high cognitive load on the UIS student's due to video recording responsibility; difference in professor and classroom style; difference in prior knowledge between students at the two universities; different expectations between the two populations for how much improvement it takes to feel “improved”.

Table 5 Self-reported student level of confidence in communicating chemistry verbally and through drawings. Scores are reported out of 10. *p < 0.05
Confidence in verbal and drawing ability
Questionnaire   Start of term End of term Paired sample t-test significance
Verbal communication UIS 6.50 6.83 0.128
MRU 6.50 7.23 0.044*
Overall 6.50 6.99 0.012*
Drawing communication UIS 7.14 7.48 0.160
MRU 7.54 8.27 0.025*
Overall 7.29 7.78 0.011*

Table 6 MRU and UIS participants’ self-reported prior experience with online video chat software at the start of term (before any OCA meetings)
How many times have you connected to, and participated in, a video chat (for any reason)?
Number of times MRU UIS
0 20.6% 25.4%
1–3 17.6% 13.6%
4–10 23.5% 20.3%
10+ 38.2% 40.7%

Table 7 MRU and UIS participants’ self-reported experience with the online video chat software at the end of term (after all OCA meetings)
How do you rate the task of navigating the technology to connect to your team meetings? (Out of 10, 1 being difficult and 10 being easy)
Grouped ratings MRU UIS
1–3 hard 13.2% 11.6%
4–7 moderate 28.9% 30.2%
8–10 easy 57.9% 58.1%

During the OCAs, the UIS students were responsible for recording the online meetings using specialized software, and submitting the videos to the professor with their assignment. This responsibility was in addition to the learning experience of participating in the assignment with their partner. However, MRU students only had to participate in the assignments. Many of the UIS students struggled with the video recording software in the first few assignments, resulting in lost recordings or recordings without audio. The following quote comes from a UIS student that struggled with the technology.

A-2-C: “I didn’t really feel like I learned that much because there was so much technology issues that I was freaking out the whole time, like am I even going to have anything to turn in. I didn’t care about getting the right or the wrong answers I just wanted to get it done quickly because the computer could turn off at any second. It was so stressful.

The UIS students had a higher cognitive load placed on them when they had to focus on multiple things during the learning process. Thus, the UIS students could have had reduced available cognition to focus on the content of the assignments (Sweller, 1994; Çakiroğlu and Aksoy, 2017). Alternatively, this significant increase in communication confidence reported by MRU students may be the result of pedagogical approaches used in that class. A previous report on the MRU flipped classroom design, revealed that ARCs in particular can have a dramatic impact on the learning experience (McCollum et al., 2017). In addition to students developing stronger relationships with their peers, ARCs in chemistry courses provide opportunities for students to practice chemistry-based communication with each other during every class period. The third explanation, higher levels of prior knowledge among one student population relative to the other, is unlikely to be solely responsible for the observed effect as the metric reflects self-reported confidence improvements through the term. Rather, this may be conflated with the fourth hypothesis. If the two populations did have different prior knowledge that may have impacted their initial confidence at chemistry communication, either positively or negatively, this may have influenced their perception of how much improvement they experienced by the end of the term. While additional investigation is required to explain the quantitative differences in self-reported chemistry communication confidence gains, both the qualitative and overall quantitative data demonstrate that students feel more confident at communicating chemistry concepts after participating in the OCAs.

Engaged learning

One of the characteristics of professional identity is the ability to self-reflect and evaluate one's own learning within the discipline (Paterson et al., 2002). Thus, two of the learning outcomes we designed for the OCAs were describe the benefits and challenges of working with a remote individual in your discipline and engage in self-reflection of one's own learning within organic chemistry. Participant comments that aligned with these two learning outcomes were coded as engaged learning. All interview participants reported experiencing the OCAs in terms of engaged learning, providing specific examples of how the online meetings encouraged them to develop a deeper understanding of the material in preparation for their meeting or afforded them additional critical feedback on their chemistry understanding.

A-9-B: “I think that it was really beneficial even though at times you didn’t really want to do it [the OCA], but it really kind of forced you to learn the material and like connect with the material and you wanted to do it right because you didn’t want to look like a fool in front of your peers. You just had to just learn the material and be able to do it and be able to teach it to somebody else, and just interact with it. I think that it really helped a lot.”

Wanting to avoid the embarrassment associated with being unprepared motivated this student to actively engage with the chemistry content, not just at a surface-level but to develop sufficient expertise to teach it to their partner. This was a common thread among participants. Students identified that in order to feel successful and prepared for their meetings, they needed to be familiar with the course material so that they could explain concepts to their partner. This fit with one of the design goals of the OCAs, to foster mutual accountability and reliance in an international chemistry peer, and provide opportunities for feedback on the relationship dynamics. Learners were encouraged to think deeply about the chemistry concepts and engage in meaningful discussion with their partner. Consider the following participant's response when asked what aspect of the OCAs led to meaningful discussions.

C-2-B: “I found for me, it was more when one person didn’t understand and then you had to explain it to them or try to help them understand. That's when you learned the most because you actually had to physically teach. And yeah I felt that was the most in depth conversation too because you had to talk about a lot of different aspects more than just answering the question.”

Not only did this student report the experience of attempting to resolve a disagreement with their partner over a chemistry concept as generating meaningful discussions, they argued that they learned the most in this situation. Students teaching other students is known to be an effective learning strategy (McKeachie and Svinicki, 2010). While a small group of learners expressed frustration when their partner was not equally prepared, this student identified the experience as beneficial as it required them to integrate their knowledge in order to explain concepts to their partner.

Due to differences in the two class sizes, some students were assigned to a group of three learners. One participant from a group of three also identified the struggle of attaining consensus in understanding as a valuable aspect of the OCAs.

C-3-A: “I liked it when everyone had different answers because we actually looked into it more, and then we all talked about why we thought this. Sometimes, they'll see flaws in my work and I'd be like ‘Oh right’ and [they would] help me to figure out things gone wrong. I liked that, yeah. It's good with three people because then there's three different answers and you get more opinions.”

The experience of engaged learning extended beyond the top students. Consider the following comment from a ‘C’ student.

A-5-C: “I think [Professor's name]'s big thing is learning enough to be able to teach. I feel like the assignments really helped with that because we had to explain how we got this and why we chose that product.

Obviously, the classroom focus of this professor influenced the way the student experienced the OCAs. Yet, simply teaching your students about metacognitive learning (McGuire, 2015) does not guarantee they adopt metacognitive practices. The design of the OCAs, with their focus on mutual accountability to an international partner and questions that required students to verbally describe their organic chemistry knowledge, supported this student in developing a deeply personal understanding of their professor's appreciation for metacognition.

One of the design goals of the OCAs was to include questions that require learners to summarize, and self-evaluate, their learning in organic chemistry. This was done at the start and end of each assignment using prompts for the partners to discuss concepts they were struggling with from class that week or identify concepts on which they had clarified their understanding based on the online meeting. While some students described their experience of the OCAs as an opportunity for meaningful reflection, many did not find value in these reflection questions. This was particularly true of the highest and lowest performing students.

C-14-A: “The summary questions, I didn’t like them. ‘What did you learn’ or ‘what are you struggling with’, I didn’t see the point of those because how is that going to help me tackle the concepts.”

C-18-D: “Honestly, I didn’t do any reflection at all. I just wanted to get the assignment done as fast as possible. I think my partner did that on their own. I didn’t see the point.”

These students, an ‘A’ and a ‘D’ student, used identical wording: I didn’t see the point. Doing some reflection ourselves, we recognized that the reflection questions were insufficiently structured to stimulate engaged learning and required additional framing. We have since redesigned the reflection component of the OCAs drawing on the critical reflection strategies of Stevens and Cooper (2009).

Chemistry learning

Beyond engaged learning, participants described their experience of the OCAs in terms of chemistry learning. Learners described an environment where they would go beyond simply discussing the answer, where they were learning about why chemistry works the way it does.

A-5-C: “Well, I actually know the name of things now and I’m like ‘hey, this is a base. This is a strong base, and this is why it's going to be this.’”

C-5-B: “An example would be if you were drawing out cyclic molecules, or double bonds cis/trans E/Z stuff. If one person got it right and one person got it wrong, then we would discuss which one is right. Why is this one more right than this one and for what reasons? Then it would be able to help the person who got it wrong, like help their understanding. ‘Oh okay, I get why this is that now’, instead of ‘this is the textbook definition. Good luck’.”

C-8-B: “We took a lot of time in the reaction mechanisms. We would look at the mechanism and at the solvent and all the stuff, elaborating on the explanation and why it would be that type of reaction.”

This type of learning, where students can explain chemical concepts using appropriate models, should be the goal of chemistry education (Cooper, 2015). It provides a sense of intellectual achievement that memorization cannot, and allows learners to predict the outcome of future experiments or problems.

Participants explained that the practice of speaking chemistry with a peer resulted in more than just familiarity with the language of chemistry; it gave them the necessary tool to organize their own thoughts and understand the content.

C-5-B: “It definitely gets you to speak the chemistry language more, because when you’re not talking to someone about it, you’re not speaking it. You’re just writing it down. You know what it looks like, but you don’t know how to verbalize it. When you’re talking to someone face-to-face, you’re like ‘yeah, this is how it's going to go’ and then you realize that you start to pick up on the language and you will be okay. You know how you’re starting something and you’re like ‘I don’t really know how to do this’ and then all of a sudden it clicks and you just start blabbering. That definitely happened, but in a good way.

A-11-A: “I liked ones where we actually did mechanisms, like elimination, substitution, addition. You had to name the type of mechanism, and then actually work through the mechanism with our partner. Just the simple fact of stating it out loud as we went really cements it in your brain for actually learning.”

These student experiences can be contrasted with McCollum's study (2015) of organic chemistry language training among local peers that did not improve accuracy or proficiency. Rather, the local partners developed their own dialect. Furthermore, these learners did not agree that a local dialect was problematic. This type of dialect is called an interlanguage (Selinker, 1972), a form of communication between two or more people in which the terminology they develop is functional between the individuals, but is scientifically/linguistically incorrect; they understand what the other person is meaning even though it doesn’t match what they are saying. McCollum's experience reveals that although local communication practice can increase student communication confidence and help students overcome the fears described by social comparison concern (Festinger, 1954; Dijkstra et al. 2008), it does not prevent interlanguage due to the shared experience of the classroom. In asking organic chemistry students to describe a reaction mechanism to a peer, Bhattacharyya and Harris (2017) found that “none of them resorted to IUPAC nomenclature in the face of that challenge”, instead referring to geometric shapes or local terms for the tertiary-butyl moiety such as “chicken leg”. This result can also be compared to Bunce and VandenPlas’ (2006) report that even when efforts move beyond English language proficiency to focus on communication of chemical content, students do not reliably recognize or construct adequate responses to essay questions. Students do not understand what is wrong with their attempts to communicate until they are challenged by someone that does not have sufficient familiarity to interpret what they are saying into what they intend to say. Practicing chemistry communication with a stranger that has similar content training but gained it in a different setting removes the shared experiences that facilitate the development of interlanguage, requiring learners to resort to initially less efficient, but more accurate, communication. It is not known if a similar benefit could be obtained by communication practice between students at the same university who are being taught by different instructors. However, even then local communication would eliminate practice with ICT for professional communication and potentially prevent learners from identifying aspects of the international nature of the language of chemistry, one of the learning outcomes identified when we designed the OCAs (Table 1).

The OCAs provided an experience which is not possible in a localized setting. By discussing chemistry with a remote peer, learners discovered that chemical terminology is standardized across international borders. Consider an excerpt from a student's in-class reflection on the following prompt: the language of chemistry.

C-19-A: “I didn’t realize that people talk about chemistry in the same way everywhere. I could say ‘enantiomer’ or ‘chiral’ and my partner know exactly what I was talking about. I now see why professors want us to learn the right terms, so we can talk to other people after we graduate.”

Student comments that described the OCAs in terms of chemistry learning revealed newfound understanding of the standards and expectations for chemistry communication, and an appreciation for the international nature of the language of chemistry. When describing their experience of OCAs in terms of chemistry learning, other participants identified having a remote partner as providing an alternative perspective due to differences in the ways professors present similar material.

A-12-A: “Stereochemistry, I was having issues with that. She [my partner] explained it in a slightly different manner because she had a different professor than [me], so I had another viewpoint on it. It made more sense.”

A-10-A: “We were able to say: ‘in my class I learned it this way”, and we taught each other because not every teacher is the same. She learned things in a different order and also in a different manner. I would say that helped [me] to get new perspectives on things.”

These quotes demonstrate that we were successful in our design goals to enhance conceptual understanding of course content through social construction of knowledge and require partners to discuss chemistry concepts verbally using standards within the discipline, to explore similarities and differences in how concepts can be described.


Another category for how students describe their experience of the OCAs centers on the emerging academic or personal relationships. Consider how the following participant quote reveals the potential impact of peer academic relationships.

C-8-B: “She [my partner] knew what she was doing and she explained a lot of things to me. It made me better in chemistry. Every single test there would be a question in the test that would make me say ‘oh [my partner] told me this ‘cause they learned it’ and I would try to apply whatever she told me.”

This student trusted and learned from their partner. The Canadian and American partners had different professors and thus the student was exposed to two approaches to course concepts through their partner. Similar to student experiences categorized as engaged learning and chemistry learning, comments in the relationships category reflect an appreciation for a learning partner. Although the majority of participants did not think that the OCAs changed the way they study for other classes, this was not true for all; some participants reported using their new academic relationships to study for courses beyond chemistry.

A-13-A: “Sometimes there's course work outside of chemistry that we ask the other person. We also texted periodically, getting to know each other.”

Developing academic relationships that extend beyond institutional walls can assist students in their current studies, as well as in future careers. Parks (2017) argues that personal relationships do not exist in isolation, but rather they are influenced by the social context around them and the social networks they inhabit. Students that experience the relationship possibilities of the OCAs open themselves to new international networks that they can utilize when applying for graduate studies or a job. Recently, student leaders in the American Chemical Society have called for experiences that foster international relationship development. “As valuable as the ACS chemists’ networks are, it's impossible to consider building a network today that limits interactions by engaging chemists only within the U.S.” (Lafranzo, 2017).

Interdependence theory in relationship science states that participants in an interdependent relationship can impact the other person's rewards and costs, well-being, and level of satisfaction (Kelley, 1984). For example, as the OCA partner relationships evolve from the “encounters with strangers” interpersonal space to other spaces, the actions and motivations of each partner affects the other. If their relationship migrates into the “mutual joint control” space they can generate mutually desirable behavior, and result in mutually desirable benefits (Kelley et al., 2003). Furthermore, comradery and friendship among group members has been found to be of a good metric for predicting the successfulness of a collaborative group, as these relationships foster comfort and cohesion, which in turn promotes improved communication (Davidson and Major, 2014). While the majority of participants described successful partnerships, a few students expressed concerns either through written reflections or directly to their professor. Some complaints were related to unresponsive partners. In these situations, the professor of the complainant would email the other professor and identify the situation. This second professor would then email all parties (complainant, their professor, and subject of the complaint) and set a deadline for response. After that date, the complainant was offered the choice to join an existing partnership (making a group of 3) and the other student was required to meet with their professor before being allowed to join another group. This process was only required very rarely. Whereas this paper focuses on the benefits of OCAs as identified by participants, further description of the barriers that learners experienced will be reported elsewhere.

Some participant comments categorized as relationships reveal that the OCAs facilitated the development of personal relationships in addition to academic relationships.

C-4-B: “I text her. I know that she has a soccer game on Tuesdays. I would just be like ‘hey good luck for your game’ or ‘have fun practicing’.”

Some of these same participants reported mutually beneficial behavior, with both partners preparing for meetings and striking a balance between social- and course-centric discussions. In contrast, at least one participant reported that their group enjoyment of the social aspect of the OCAs sometimes overtook their focus on chemistry content.

C-3-A: “My group was actually fun. They were a group before I joined them so they already had a really close relationship. They would talk about each other's personal lives like they were friends! I was like ‘aw man, that's cool’. And then they like let me in and we became good friends. Sometimes we weren’t too productive. They would talk about boys and stuff. But it was fun and we did connect a lot outside of class.

Balasooriya et al. (2010) report that self-regulation and management of group discussions is essential for effective collaborative learning. Fortunately, video submission of the online meetings revealed that off-topic socialization generally did not become a problem for groups. Rather, most groups either entirely focused on chemistry content or balanced social-bonding with chemistry discussions.

Professional identity

While at least one of the three components of professional identity can be associated with each of the previous categories, students also made more direct references to professional identity and professional life when describing their experience of the OCAs. Consider the following interview excerpt.

Interviewer: “What do you see as the benefit of doing interinstitutional assignments, an assignment where you are doing these types of questions with students from another university?”

C-1-B: “Well I think that it helps you to teach yourself as well as others so you’re getting a better knowledge base. I also think that it helps to gain communication skills whether that be personal or academic.”

C-2-B: “See I agree with her; however, I feel like you could also do that in your own institution and you don’t actually need to branch to another institution to do that. I think it's just a conflict to branch to another institution.”

C-1-B: “I would agree with that but I think is also that technology is expanding at such a fast rate that it is important to know how to communicate with people over [long distances].”

There is a clear difference in development of professional identity here. Both students have agreed that the OCAs aid in development of communication skills, but only C-1-B has seen beyond the immediate course benefit. This student appears to have identified the possibility that they will have to use similar communication methods in the future as a professional. This is in stark contrast to C-2-B who appears to think that the international component of the assignments held no extra value; that learning the course content was the only purpose of the assignments. Some participants went further in their comments.

A-2-C: “I don’t really know how much scientists talk to each other via computer. I mean it's probably an important skill, but I don’t know that it goes on that much.”

A-3-B: “I want to be a researcher. I don’t know [if] it's that important to know how to communicate. Like I know through like journal articles and everything, but like communicating between people, I don’t know.”

These participants both reported uncertainty of the relevance of online communication for scientists and researchers. Furthermore, A-3-B questioned whether scientists communicate outside of formal publication. These students have not yet identified an understanding of the norms and procedures prevalent in the research and scientific community, suggesting they have not yet developed strong professional identities.

In stark contrast to the previous participants, others experienced the OCAs in terms of professional skills development.

C-3-A: “Doing collaborative work is really common if you're going to get into organic chemistry and become a scientist or anything like that. You have to learn how to work with other people and have conflicting ideas and stuff. So, it did change what I thought it would be like. I'm sure [instructor's name] works with a lot of people across the world without like actually going to meet them. So, it helped me to understand that it's actually really common.

This student has clearly identified several benefits to these OCAs. Not only has this student understood the extent of collaborative work in chemistry, but they have also noted the importance of being able to work with others, and the need to learn how to resolve conflicting opinions. This student has seen far beyond the immediate value of the OCAs. Rather than describing the OCAs as just another assignment to get done for grades, this student explained how they envision using skills they developed during the OCAs in their future as a professional. Another student further explored this perspective in a separate interview.

C-5-B “You get a feel of what it is like, because definitely in the science profession a lot of what you do is communication between different places, different organizations, you got to talk between people, you have to go to different conferences and stuff like that. So, you kind of get a feel of what it is to be able to discuss science with other people. Especially people that actually get science, that are okay this is what it is, I can talk about this with you, instead of your roommate who's like ‘I don’t get that’. Yeah, you kind of get a feel of what science is as a profession for sure.

Again, this student has seen beyond the immediate benefit to them. They have clearly described their experience of the OCAs in terms of a new sense of science as a profession and a recognition of the need for communication skills in their career. The ability to identify the expectations and procedures in the discipline, as demonstrated by this student, is a sign of professional identity development (Paterson et al., 2002; Jackson, 2016; Nadelson et al., 2017).

The American Chemical Society 2017 Strategic Plan identifies current transformative opportunities for training within the chemical professions, such as “online technologies are being integrated with onsite meetings” to facilitate training and networking (ACS, 2017, p. 4), and identified that “online educational platforms are broadening access to higher education and redefining subject mastery” (p. 5). Use of online technologies for OCAs between international peers is an opportunity for chemistry educators to facilitate the development of professional identity for scientists-in-training.


Online collaborative assignments have been developed and integrated into organic chemistry courses at two universities in different countries, using different textbooks and with varying semester schedules. Thematic analysis of participant comments using a phenomenographic framework yielded five distinct ways that learners experienced the impact of the OCAs: (i) chemistry communication confidence, (ii) engaged learning, (iii) chemistry learning, (iv) relationships, and (v) professional identity.

Participant comments on chemistry communication confidence and professional identity reveal that we were successful in our first OCA design goal to “promote the development of chemistry-based language skills through chemistry communication practice with a peer”. Learners described gaining confidence to communicate about chemistry with peers and unfamiliar individuals, aligning with quantitative metrics in which many participants rated their chemistry communication confidence higher. Several students related their experience of communicating with an international peer to expectations of a future career. However, some learners did not see a connection between the assignments and their future professional life.

Our second OCA design goal to “enhance conceptual understanding of course content through social construction of knowledge” is reflected in the sub-themes of chemistry learning, relationships, and professional identity. All participants described learning from or with their international partner, or how teaching their partner resulted in enhanced conceptualization of organic chemistry course content. Many participants related the co-construction of knowledge to professional practice. The action of interacting with an international partner, and developing a new relationship, rendered an affective element to the course content. When the instructors proposed changing partnerships after the third assignment, both classes shouted their opposition. Students vocally agreed with the clarion call: “You can’t take my partner away from me!”.

Our third OCA design goal to “foster mutual accountability and reliance in an international chemistry peer, and provide opportunities for feedback on the relationship dynamics” can be examined through the sub-themes of engaged learning, relationships, and professional identity. Many participants identified the relationship they developed with an international partner as motivation for maintaining good study habits; they didn’t want to “look like a fool” in front of their partner. Rather, they took pride in being able to explain or discuss challenging concepts with their partner. Participants reported having deep discussions with their partner when their work didn’t align, resulting in the OCA meetings functioning as important opportunities for resolving misconceptions. Learners also identified valuing the professional meetings as occasions to discuss organic chemistry with “people that actually get science”.

Our fourth OCA design goal to “require partners to discuss chemistry concepts verbally using standards within the discipline, to explore similarities and differences in how concepts can be described” was mirrored through the sub-themes of chemistry learning and professional identity. Without prompting, learners identified how important it is to use IUPAC standards to ensure effective chemistry communication. They contemplated the implications of an internationally standardized language for chemical professions, expressing personal revelation that use of proper terminology ensured that an expert in the field would “know exactly what I was talking about”.

The fifth and final OCA design goal to “include questions that require learners to summarize, and self-evaluate, their learning in organic chemistry” was not achieved to the same degree as the previous four goals. Although we observed that this goal resulted in engaged learning and professional identity for some participants, student submissions revealed underdeveloped reflections for many learners. Asking learners to write about chemistry concepts with which they were struggling typically resulted in short point-form responses. Students expressed a lack of clarity on how long they should spend on these reflection questions or what level of detail was expected. Early analysis of redesigned reflective elements for the current academic year, including new question styles, specific timed components, and submission lengths, reveals significant improvement over our original questions.

The implementation of OCAs between learners in organic chemistry courses at two universities in different countries can provide students with benefits that would otherwise not be acquired in typical undergraduate science curricula. Participants reported appreciation for the value of a unified international chemistry language. The OCAs led to engaged learning, chemistry learning, new relationships, and development of professional identity. There were varied benefits for the two populations in terms of improved chemistry communication confidence that warrants further study to clarify potential causes. Based on these results, we argue that OCAs are a useful tool for chemistry learners to develop professional identity, namely to develop technical skills, to improve understanding of standards and expectations in chemistry, and to promote the ability to self-reflect and evaluate their own learning within chemistry.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts to declare.

Appendix 1 – interview questions

Skagen, McCollum, Morsch and Shokoples

1. Describe your experience working in a pair or team with students at another university.

2. What approaches did your team use to complete your assignments?

3. What factors helped your team feel successful?

4. What technology (device/software) did you personally use to video chat with your team?

5. Describe any struggles your team had with the video chat technology, and how you solved them.

6. Did any of these technology barriers change, get easier or get harder, as you continued through the semester?

7. Did you connect with your partner outside of doing the assignments? (If so,) What for? (e.g. course-related or personal reasons)

8. If you changed partners during the term, how did that impact your ability to communicate in chemistry? Do you think it was beneficial in terms of learning, or was it a hindrance?

9. Did your relationship with your partner change during the term?

10. Besides the barriers we’ve already spoken about, what other barriers did your team encounter?

11. What style of questions did you like/dislike?

12. Did you find that questions asking for preparatory work enhanced or hindered the assignments?

13. Where did you find you had the most meaningful discussions during the assignments?

14. Are there any other styles of questions that you would have liked to have been included that you did not see on the assignments?

15. What do you see as the benefit of interinstitutional assignments?

16. What do you see as the drawbacks of interinstitutional assignments?

17. What suggestions do you have to improve the assignments?

18. Do you feel more confident communicating about chemistry concepts or chemical compounds and reactions?

19. When trying to explain a difficult problem or question to your partner, how did you go about describing it? What type of language did you use to explain it?

20. Were any of your language choices created by you or your partner? What I mean is, do you think that any of your language choices were understood by your partner but wouldn’t have been by another person?

a. How did you come up with these terms or language choices?

b. How did these terms help you and your partner understand the questions?

c. Did you continue using these terms with your partner, or did you eventually make your way to the correct terminology?

d. Did you ever use these terms with a different person, maybe at peer in your class, and they not understand the word? How did you handle that?

21. What did you find was the most effective method of communicating your thoughts to your partner?

22. Do you think your ability to communicate through chemistry terminology has changed as a result of your team assignments?

23. How did your team overcome the challenge of discussing the chemistry representations on your assignments?

24. What other kind of challenges did you encounter when using chemistry terminology?

25. Do you think these assessments provide a clear reflection of student understanding of chemistry concepts? Why?

26. Do you think these assessments provide a clear reflection of student understanding of chemistry terminology? Why?

27. Have these assignments affected the way you study for chemistry?

28. Have these assignments affected the way you learn in any of your other classes?

29. Have these assignments affected the way you view science as a profession?

30. What time of day did you usually meet with your team?

31. Where were you when you did a team meeting? (e.g. on campus or at home)

32. How do you think that time of day or location impacted you team meeting?

Appendix 2 – questionnaires

Questionnaire 1

1. With what gender do you identify?

a. Male b. Female c. Other: ____________

2. What is your age? __________________________________________

3. What is your current GPA? __________________________________________

4. What is your intended major?

a. BSc General Science

b. BSc Geology

c. BSc Cell and Molecular Biology

d. BSc Health Science

e. Other: _________________________

5. How many times have you taken this course (including this term)? If this is your first time taking this course, answer 1. ____________________

6. A scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how do you rate your confidence describing chemistry through words?

LOW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 HIGH

7. A scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how do you rate your confidence describing chemistry through drawings?

LOW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 HIGH

8. How many times have you connected to and participated in a video chat (for any reason)?

Never 1–3 4–10 10+

9. How many times have you connected to and participated in a video chat (for any reason) in the PAST 12 MONTHS?

Never 1–3 4–10 10+

10. What grade do you anticipate earning on the midterm?

a. A b. B c. C d. D e. F

11. What grade do you aim to earn in this course?

Your responses will inform instructional practices within your university.

Do you consent to the inclusion of your responses in the research study? (Your name will not be associated with any of your responses and your professor will not see your individual responses until after the end of the semester)

Yes No

Printed Name ___________________________ Signature _______________________________

Date: ___________________________

NOTE: The majors listed for question 4 reflect those at Mount Royal University. This list of options was changed for the survey tool used at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Questionnaire 2

1. What hardware are you using for your team online meetings? Circle all that apply

a. Mac Laptop

b. Mac Desktop

c. Chromebook

d. PC Laptop

e. PC Desktop

f. iPad

g. Android Tablet

h. Microsoft Surface

i. iPhone

j. Android Smartphone

k. Other: _____________

2. What software are you using for your team online meetings? Circle all that apply

a. FaceTime b. Google Hangout c. Skype d. Other: _________

3. What is the best aspect of your team meetings?




4. What is the most challenging aspect of your team meetings?




5. On a scale of 1 (hard) to 10 (easy), how do you rate the task of navigating the technology to connect to your team meetings?

HARD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 EASY

6. Please explain your rating for the previous question.




7. How do your team meetings influence your professional communication skills, if at all?




8. What grade do you anticipate earning on the midterm?

a. A b. B c. C d. D e. F

9. What grade do you aim to earn in this course?

a. A b. B c. C d. D e. F

Your responses will inform instructional practices within your university.

Do you consent to the inclusion of your responses in the research study? (Your name will not be associated with any of your responses and your professor will not see your individual responses until after the end of the semester)

Yes No

Printed Name ___________________________ Signature _______________________________

Date: ___________________________

Questionnaire 3

1. In your opinion, what are the most significant challenges to communicating scientific concepts with a peer at a remote location?





2. How have you attempted to overcome these challenges?




3. What benefits have you observed by communicating chemistry concepts with a peer at a remote location?




4. What could your instructor or university do to support online team meetings?




5. Describe your ability to communicate in chemistry?




6. A scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how do you rate your confidence describing chemistry through words?

LOW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 HIGH

7. A scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how do you rate your confidence describing chemistry through drawings?

LOW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 HIGH

8. What grade do you anticipate earning on the final exam?

a. A b. B c. C d. D e. F

9. What grade do you aim to earn in this course?

a. A b. B c. C d. D e. F

Your responses will inform instructional practices within your university.

Do you consent to the inclusion of your responses in the research study? (Your name will not be associated with any of your responses and your professor will not see your individual responses until after the end of the semester)

Yes No

Printed Name ___________________________ Signature _______________________________

Date: ___________________________


Thank you to Tonda Chasteen and Lauren VanderWal for their contributions to this project. Funding was provided to McCollum by the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Fund and a Mount Royal University Internal Research Grant. Funding was provided to Morsch by a UIS College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Scholarship Enhancement Grant, Charles V. Evans Research Grant, UIS Center for Online Learning Research and Service Faculty Fellows program.


  1. ACS, (2017), ACS Strategic Plan for 2017 and Beyond, Washington, D.C: American Chemical Society.
  2. Åkerlind G. S., Bowden J. and Green P., (2005), Learning to do phenomenography: a reflective discussion, in Bowden J. A. and Green P. (ed.), Doing developmental phenomenography, Melbourne, Australia: RMIT University Press, pp. 74–102.
  3. Allen G., Guzman-Alvarez A., Smith A., Gamage A., Molinaro M. and Larsen D., (2015), Evaluating the effectiveness of the open-access ChemWiki resource as a replacement for traditional general chemistry textbooks, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 16, 939–948.
  4. Andretta S., (2007), Phenomenography: a conceptual framework for information literacy education, Aslib Proc., 59(2), 152–168.
  5. Balasooriya C., di Corpo S. and Hawkins N. J., (2010), The facilitation of collaborative learning, High. Educ. Manage. Policy, 22 (2), 1–14.
  6. Barkley E. F., Major C. H. and Cross K. P., (2014), Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, 2nd edn, CA, USA: Jossey-Bass.
  7. Barnes D. and Todd F., (1977), Communicating and learning in small groups, London, UK: Routledge, Kegan Paul.
  8. Bergmann J. and Sams A., (2012), Flip your classroom, International Society for Technology in Education: United States of America.
  9. Bergmann J. and Sams A., (2014), Flipped learning: Gateway to student engagement, International Society for Technology in Education: United States of America.
  10. Bhattacharyya G., (2015), “What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate!”: Synergy and Interference with Multiple External Representations, Presentation at the 98th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition, Ottawa, Canada, June 16, 2015. Abstract retrieved from
  11. Bhattacharyya G. and Bodner G. M., (2014), Culturing reality: How organic chemistry graduate students develop into practitioners, J. Res. Sci. Teach., 51, 694–713.
  12. Bhattacharyya G. and Harris M. S., (2017), Compromised Structures: Verbal Descriptions of Mechanism Diagrams, J. Chem. Educ.,  DOI:10.1021/acs.jchemed.7b00157.
  13. Booth S., (1997), On phenomenography, learning and teaching, High. Educ. Res. Dev., 16(2), 135–158.
  14. Booth S., (2008), Researching learning in networked learning—Phenomenography and variation theory as empirical and theoretical approaches, Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Networked Learning, 450–455.
  15. Braun V. and Clarke V., (2006), Using thematic analysis in psychology, Qual. Res. Psychol., 3(2), 77–101.
  16. Bunce D. M. and VandenPlas J. R., (2006), Student recognition and construction of quality chemistry essay responses, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 7, 160–169.
  17. Çakiroǧlu Ü. and Aksoy D. A., (2017), Exploring extraneous cognitive load in an instructional process via the web conferencing system, Behav. Inform. Technol., 36(7), 713–725.
  18. Canelas D. A., Hill J. L. and Novicki A., (2017), Cooperative learning in organic chemistry increases student assessment of learning gains in key transferable skills, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 18, 441–456.
  19. Charmaz K., (1996), Grounded theory, in Smith J., Harre R. and Van Langenhove L. (ed.), Rethinking Methods in Psychology, London, UK: Sage, pp. 27–49.
  20. Cheng S. H., Sun Z., Lee I. H., Lee C., Chen K. C., Tsai C. H. and Yang Y. C., (2015), Factors related to self-reported social anxiety symptoms among incoming university students, Early Interv. Psychiatry, 11(4), 314–321.
  21. Christiansen M., (2014), Inverted teaching: Applying a new pedagogy to a university organic chemistry class, J. Chem. Educ., 91, 1845–1850.
  22. Cooper M. M., (2015), Why Ask Why? J. Chem. Ed., 92(8), 1273–1279.
  23. Daniels H., (2002), Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups, Stenhouse Publishers.
  24. Davidson N., (2002), Cooperative and collaborative learning: an integrative perspective, in Thousand J., Villa R. and Nevin A. (ed.), Creativity and collaborative learning: a practical guide for empowering teachers and students, 2nd edn, Baltimore, MD: Brookes, pp. 13–30.
  25. Davidson N. and Major C. H., (2014), Boundary crossings: Cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and problem-based learning, J. Excellence Coll. Teach., 25(3&4), 7–55.
  26. Day C., A. Kington, G. Stobart and P. Sammons, (2006), The personal and professional selves of teachers: Stable and unstable identities, Br. Educ. Res. J., 32(4), 601–16.
  27. Dijkstra P., Kuyper H., van der Werf G., Buunk A. and van der Zee Y., (2008), Social comparison in the classroom: a review, Rev. Educ. Res., 78, 828–879.
  28. Fautch J., (2015), The flipped classroom for teaching organic chemistry in small classes: is it effective? Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 16, 179–186.
  29. Festinger L., (1954), A theory of social comparison processes, Hum. Relat., 7, 117–140.
  30. Flynn A. B., (2015), Structure and evaluation of flipped chemistry courses: organic & spectroscopy, large and small, first to third year, english and french, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 16(2), 198–211.
  31. Flynn A. B. and Biggs R., (2012), The development and implementation of a problem-based learning format in a fourth-year undergraduate synthetic organic and medicinal chemistry laboratory course, J. Chem. Ed., 89(1), 52–57.
  32. Gosser D. and Roth V., (1998), The workshop chemistry project: Peer-led team-learning, J. Chem. Educ., 75, 185–187.
  33. Grove N. P., Hershberger J. W. and Bretz S. L., (2008), Impact of a spiral organic curriculum on student attrition and learning, Chem. Educ. Res. Prac., 9, 157–162.
  34. Hibbard L., Sung S. and Wells B., (2016), Examining the effectiveness of a semi-self-paced flipped learning format in a college general chemistry sequence, J. Chem. Educ., 93, 24–30.
  35. Holmes L., (2013), Competing perspectives on graduate employability: possession, position or process? Stud. High. Educ., 38(4), 538–554.
  36. Jackson D., (2016), Developing pre-professional identity in undergraduates through work-integrated learning, High. Educ., 74(5), 833–853.
  37. Kelley H. H., (1984), The theoretical description of interdependence by means of transition lists, J. Pers. Soc. Psychol., 47, 956–982.
  38. Kelley H. H., Holmes J. G., Kerr N. L., Reis H. T., Rusbult C. E. and Van Lange P. A. M., (2003), An Atlas of Interpersonal Situations, New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  39. Lafranzo N., (2017), Connecting younger chemists, Chem. Eng. News, 95(34), 35.
  40. Larsen D. S., Rusay R., Belford R., Kennepohl D., Bennett D., Soult A. and Morsch L. A., (2017), Come join the party!: recent progress of the community based LibreTexts (neé ChemWiki) project, Comm. Comp. Chem. Educ. News., Spring 2017, Paper 5.
  41. Marton F., (1981), Phenomenography—Describing conceptions of the world around us, Instr. Sci., 10(2), 177–200.
  42. Marton F., (1994), Phenomenography, in Husen T. and Postlethwaite T. N. (ed.), The International encyclopedia of education, 2nd edn, Oxford, UK: Pergamon, vol. 8, pp. 4424–4429.
  43. Mataka L. M., (2014), Problem-based learning (PBL) in the college chemistry laboratory: Students' perceptions of PBL and its relationship with attitude and self-efficacy beliefs, Western Michigan University.
  44. Mataka L. M. and Kowalske M. G., (2015), The influence of PBL on students’ self-efficacy beliefs in chemistry, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 16, 929–938.
  45. Mazhindu D. M., Griffiths L., Pook C., Erskine A., Ellis R. and Smith F., (2016), The nurse match instrument: exploring professional nursing identity and professional nursing values for future nurse recruitment, Nurse. Edu. Prac., 18, 36–45.
  46. McCollum B. M., (2015), in Exploring the Role of Instructional Styles on Learning Experiences in a Technology-Enhanced Classroom with Open Educational Resources, Symposium on Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Banff, AB, Nov 12–14, 2015; Miller-Young J., MacMillan M. and Rathburn M. (ed.), Calgary, Canada: Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
  47. McCollum B., (2016), Improving Academic Reading in Chemistry through Flipping with an Open Education Digital Textbook, in Schultz M. and Holme T. (ed.), Technology and Assessment Strategies for Improving Student Learning in Chemistry, Washington, DC: American Chemical Society Symposium Series.
  48. McCollum B., Fleming C., Plotnikoff K. and Skagen D., (2017), Relationships in the Flipped Classroom, Can. J. SoTL, 8(3),  DOI:10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2017.3.8.
  49. McCollum B., Sepulveda A. and Moreno Y., (2016), Representational Technologies and Learner Problem-Solving Strategies in Chemistry, Teach. Learn. Inquiry, 4(2), 1–14.
  50. McGuire S. Y., (2015), Teach students how to learn: strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation, Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  51. McKeachie W. and Svinicki M., (2010), McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers, 13th edn, Cengage Learning.
  52. Morgan D. L., (1996), Focus groups, Ann. Rev. Sociol., 22(1), 129–152.
  53. Morsch L., (2016), Flipped Teaching in organic chemistry using iPads, in Muzyka J. (ed.), The Flipped Classroom, American Chemical Society Symposium Series, Washington, DC: ACS.
  54. Nadelson L. S., McGuire S. P., Davis K. A., Farid A., Hardy K. K., Hsu Y., Kaiser U., Nagarajan R. and Wang S., (2017), Am I a STEM professional? Documenting STEM student professional identity development, Stud. High. Educ., 42(4), 701–720.
  55. National Research Council, (1999), Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  56. National Research Council, (2002). BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists, Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  57. Nicholson L., Putwain D., Connors L. and Hornby-Atkinson P., (2013), The key to successful achievement as an undergraduate student: confidence and realistic expectations? Stud. High. Educ., 38(2), 285–298.
  58. Overton T. L. and Randles C. A., (2015), Beyond problem-based learning: using dynamic PBL in chemistry, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 16, 251–259.
  59. Palincsar A. S., (1998), Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning, Annu. Rev. Psychol., 49, 345–375.
  60. Parks M. R., (2017), Personal relationships and personal networks, Routledge.
  61. Paterson M., Higgs J., Wilcox S. and Villenuve M., (2002), Clinical reasoning and self-directed learning: key dimensions in professional education and professional socialisation, Focus Health Prof. Educ., 4(2), 5–21.
  62. Patton M. Q., (2002), Qualitative research and evaluation methods, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  63. Paulson D. R., (1999), Active learning and cooperative learning in the organic chemistry lecture class, J. Chem. Ed., 76(8), 1136–1140.
  64. Pierrakos O., Beam T., Constantz J., Johri A. and Anderson R., (2009a), Preliminary Findings On Freshmen Engineering Students’ Professional Identity: Implications For Recruitment And Retention. Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, TX.
  65. Pierrakos O., Beam T. K., Constantz J., Johri A. and Anderson R., (2009b). On the Development of a Professional Identity: Engineering Persisters vs. Engineering Switchers, Frontiers in education conference, FIE’09, 1–6. 39th IEEE, San Antonio, TX.
  66. Pratt M. G., Rockmann K. W. and Kaufmann J. B., (2006), Constructing professional identity: the role of work and identity learning cycles in the customization of identity among medical residents, Acad. Manage. J., 49 (2), 235–62.
  67. Ram P., (1999), Problem-based learning in undergraduate instruction. A sophomore chemistry laboratory, J. Chem. Educ., 76 (8), 1122.
  68. Rusay R. J., Mccombs M. R., Barkovich M. J. and Larsen D. S., (2011), Enhancing undergraduate chemistry education with the online dynamic ChemWiki resource, J. Chem. Educ., 88 (6), 840.
  69. Saldana J., (2009), The coding manual for qualitative researchers, Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
  70. Seburn T., (2015), Academic Reading Circles, Toronto: The Round.
  71. Seery M. and Donnelly R., (2012), The implementation of pre-lecture resources to reduce in-class cognitive load: a case study for higher education chemistry, Br. J. Educ. Technol., 43, 667–677.
  72. Selinker L., (1972), Interlanguage, Int. Rev. App. Ling., 10, 209–241.
  73. Shelton-Strong S., (2012), Literature Circles in ELT. ELT J., 66, 214–223.
  74. Smith J., (2013), Student attitudes toward flipping the general chemistry classroom, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 14, 607–614.
  75. Smith B. L. and MacGregor J. T., (1992), What is collaborative learning? in Goodsell A., Maher M. and Tinto V. (ed.), Collaborative learning: a sourcebook for higher education, University Park, PA: National Center on Post-Secondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, pp. 10–36.
  76. Stevens D. D. and Cooper J. E., (2009), Journal Keeping: How to use reflective writing for effective learning, teaching, professional insight, and positive change, Sterling, Virginia: Stylus.
  77. Stryker S. and Burke P., (2000), The past, present and future of an identity theory, Soc. Psychol. Q., 63(4), 284–297.
  78. Sweller J., (1994), Cognitive load theory, learning difficulty, and instructional design, Learn. Instr., 4(4), 295–312.
  79. Thomas D. R., (2006), A general inductive approach for analyzing qualitative evaluation data, Am. J. Eval., 27(2), 237–246.
  80. Tomlinson M., (2012), Graduate employability: A review of conceptual and empirical themes, High. Educ. Policy, 25(4), 407–421.
  81. Trede F., R. Macklin and D. Bridges, (2012), Professional identity development: a review of the higher education literature. Stud. High. Educ., 37(3), 365–84.
  82. Warfa A. M., (2016), Using cooperative learning to teach chemistry: a meta-analytic review, J. Chem. Ed., 93 (2), 248–255.
  83. Xiang-Yun D., (2006), Gendered practices of constructing an engineering identity in a problem-based learning environment, Eur. J. Eng. Edu., 31 (1), 35–42.
  84. Yestrebsky C., (2016), Flipping a large first-year chemistry class: same-semester comparison with a traditionally taught large-lecture class, in Waldrop J. and Bowdon M. (ed.), Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom, 1st edn, New York: Routledge, pp. 17–28.
  85. Yeung K. and O’Malley P., (2014), Making ‘The Flip’ work: barriers to and implementation strategies for introducing flipped teaching methods into traditional higher education courses, New Direc., 10, 59–63.

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2018