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University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Chemical Education

Karen Knaus

Research in Dr. Knaus' laboratory is focused on developing educational assessment materials in chemistry. Educational assessment is a broad field of study that involves the measurement of learning. The nature of educational assessment has become increasingly more important as teachers are being asked to defend the teaching and learning that takes place in their classrooms. Assessment research studies in Dr. Knaus' laboratory involve using a strong theoretical basis to support the design of experiments and interpretation of results.

Current research projects:

Investigating the complexity of general chemistry learning content
Chemistry is considered by many to be a complex domain of learning. Perception plays an important role in the learning process. Whether perceptions are related to understanding particular concepts or the difficulty and mental effort invested in solving tasks, perceptions are an important part of the learning process that should not be ignored. This project explores how students' perceptions of the complexity of learning content contribute to learning and performance in first year college chemistry. Creation of novel assessment materials, survey instruments, and cognitive interviewing techniques are important components of this project.

Related reading: Chase, W.G., and H.A. Simon. (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 1, 33–81.

Johnstone, A. H. (2006), Chemical education research in Glasgow in perspective. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 2006, 7 (2), 49-63.

Johnstone, A. H. (2010), You can’t get there from here. Journal of Chemical Education, 87(1), 22-29.

Developing assessment tools that examine expertise in chemistry

What makes a person an "expert" in a particular area of learning (such as organic synthesis or teaching high school chemistry)? Some studies indicate that expertise is achieved through 10 or more years of deliberate practice. This project is aimed at understanding how "experts" vs. "novices" organize their knowledge in particular chemistry content areas. The design of novel assessment tools that allow us to probe knowledge organization is the basis for this work.

Related reading: Ericsson, K. A., Roring, R. W., & Nandagopal, K. (2007). Giftedness and evidence for reproducibly superior performance: An account based on the expert-performance framework. High Abilities Studies, 18, 3-56.

Ericsson, K. A., Nandagopal, K., & Roring, R. W. (2007). Toward a science of exceptional achievement: Attaining superior performance through deliberate practice. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Investigating the learning of chemistry through creative activities

How do we get students excited about learning chemistry?

Creative inspiration can be a powerful tool for learning. If you visit You Tube Broadcast Yourself(, you will find a variety of homemade student chemistry videos. In this project, the measurement of learning of chemistry that is achieved through creative activities is the focus. What kind of creative outlets can you imagine that could potentially motivate and enhance the learning of chemistry? Can we quantify the learning of chemistry through these activities? How do creative activities change students' perceptions of chemistry?