Making a Flexible Assessment in Chemistry

A Digital Learning Mentor (DLM) Featured Blog

This year TLi has been fortunate to partner with faculty who supported our team and their peers as Digital Learning Mentors (DLMs). In addition to bringing the faculty perspective to our Learning Design Meetings, DLMs have been available for peer-to-peer consultations and support for all aspects of teaching and learning, especially with digital tools. DLMs have also contributed by authoring a blog for TLi. This week’s blog is by Billy Munroe, Chemistry Faculty, and his experience with implementing some more flexible assessments, using an idea inspired by a course he took in OneHE. Read on to learn more.

What was your course teaching question or objective?

My objective was to find a flexible assessment method for General Chemistry 1 (Chem 121). Traditionally, I include multiple timed high-stakes assessments throughout the semester (i.e. midterm and final exams). A few students made it known that this model for checking student outcomes was stressful. Therefore, I sought ways to have alternative assessment methods.

A stressed student sitting at the computer biting a pencil.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

What courses/resources did you explore?:

From the OneHE website, I viewed the “working with flexible assessment” micro-course to learn about different assessment methods. One method described was the patchwork assessment method. This style of assignment has multiple tasks that are ‘stitched’ together to form a cohesive summative assignment on a related theme or topic.

How did you implement your learning?

I implemented the flexible assessment in my course in the middle of the semester to improve course outcomes. In previous semesters, my course organization has four midterm exams and a cumulative final exam. During the Spring 2022 semester, I observed that student performance and engagement with the material was poorer than previously observed with a flipped course model. Therefore, I sought alternative ways to encourage the class to engage with the material. Starting with midterm 3 an alternative assessment was given: projects to demonstrate proficiency with the course topics. Here, students have agency in choosing how they were to be assessed. 

Due to my short timeframe to implement the project in time for midterm 3, I opted to divide it into two major parts to divide the workload for the students. Each half of the project had three components: preparation of a narrated video, writing a short essay, and preparation of a diagram to illustrate chemical phenomena. The combined two parts of the project would have the same weighting of a midterm for grade calculation purposes. Students would have one week to work on each project half.

Two students seated at a desk intently focusing on their work.

What was the outcome?

Student feedback was mixed with the announcement of the project. While a few students were appreciative of an exam alternative, other students appeared apprehensive. Therefore, I made the decision to allow students to choose their mode of assessment with the higher of the two scores being counted. Students did appear to appreciate having a choice in their mode of assessment.

A very small number of students have chosen to take the project instead of the midterm! There are 69 students in the two sections of this course and only three completed both halves of the project. Initially, eight students started the project, with five opting to take the midterm exam instead of completing the project.

A scantron form in the process of being filled out.
Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu on Unsplash

Show me the project! 

To help give you ideas on how to format your flexible assessment, I’ll give a brief set of instructions that I used for my project

Project – Part 1

  • Thermochemistry [Video upload]: Film a short video (5 min) explaining either bomb calorimetry or coffee cup calorimetry. Include an explanation for how to calculate qrxn in kJ/mol for a substance when you are solving for qcal
  • Quantum Mechanics [Short essay; 500 – 600 words]: Using the principles learned in Chapter 6, describe how one of the items uses quantum mechanics for its function.
  • Atomic Orbitals [Diagram]: Using what you have learned about atomic orbitals (shapes, probabilities, and sizes of them), draw an accurate representation of all the electrons found in an element. (Select an element containing 16 to 36 electrons.) 

Project – Part 2

  • Properties of Light [Video upload]: Amino acids absorb light at very specific wavelengths, find out what this wavelength of light is and use this value for your video. Film a short video (5 min) explaining the following concepts: the type of light it is, calculate the frequency of this light, and calculate the energy (in J) of a single photon of this wavelength of light.
  • Periodic Properties [Short essay; 500 – 600 words]: Select two periodic properties that is covered in our course. Explain how do the trends change going down a column and across a row in the periodic table? Explain what causes these observed period trends.
  • Lewis structures [Diagram]: Using what you have learned about Lewis structures, formal charges, and resonance, draw the chemical structure of a non-proteinogenic amino acid and determine the best Lewis structure.

Do you have a teaching and learning question you’d like to explore?

We appreciate learning from Billy’s inquiry and personal reflection and hope you did as well. If you are CSUCI Faculty and have not yet activated your OneHE Subscription, please complete this OneHE Subscription Activation request form. Faculty subscriptions have already been paid for and are available through May 2023. In addition to the course, Billy took, other OneHE content-specific to assessments are listed below. The linked resources below are available for Free from OneHE. If you are a subscriber, you can access all the resources by logging into your OneHE Account

Courses (20 minutes to complete)

  • Working With Flexible Assessment (Sam Elkington) 
  • Self And Peer Assessment In/For A Digital World (Chie Adachi) 
  • Introducing Capstone Projects (Dave Lewis) 
  • An Introduction To Enhancing Academic Integrity (Camilla Roberts) 
  • Academic Integrity In The Virtual World (Tricia Bertram Gallant)

Activities to try with Students


  • VALUE 101: An Introduction to AAC&U’s Signature Approach to Assessment (Kate McConnell)
  • Identifying plagiarism RESOURCE

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