Among other duties, I teach large lecture classes of introductory chemistry at a land grant research university. The course I have “earned” (by generating the fewest number of student complaints, I am sure) is the course for non-science majors. It serves as a general science core course in our curriculum. Every graduate of my university must take at least two science courses, one of which requires a lab. This list includes courses such as the ubiquitous Astronomy and Geology courses and the less common Environmental Science. The first two are well-known in the US system and strive to create an exposure to scientific method and are relatively low-stakes courses. The Environmental Science course awards enrolled students significant points towards their total grades for attendance. That also makes the course pretty low-stakes. These courses can be difficult to compete with for student enrollment who are not highly motivated to work hard and actually learn college level material – which is the case for many students fulfilling university general requirements. I am happy to say enrollment in my course is growing fast – so fast, a second large lecture had to be added this year.
I’ve grown enrollment without lowering standards. Instead, I lower the stakes in this course by enhancing student learning success by adding lots of learning value – I’ll start to address how I do that in following posts. For now, here is the breakdown for student performance. It’s always lack of effort that creates an F grade in my class but on the other end, standards for A or B grades are fairly similar to the Chemistry course for science majors. I’ve never really understood how to relax learning standards and objectives of one course level over another for different student populations. To me, it’s all chemistry and a student either learns to do chemistry or she doesn’t, so a student who earns an A grade in Chem 101 would probably get an A or B in Chem 111. It’s the same basic material but mastery demands are flexible. Every semester, I am most proud of the number of students who decide to take the Chemistry course for majors after demonstrating they can succeed and learn chemistry in my Chem 101 course. That’s a significant measure because we do not grant credit for both courses. Those who move into the Chem 111 course from Chem 101 do so for their own benefit. The university gives no reward and actually penalizes for taking this sequence. It’s a challenge for students but many do earn A and B grades. By far, the largest number of students in Chem 101 earn C grades.
So – easy to pass the course if you do the work but challenging to earn an A. Usually C grades are most abundant. That’s my philosophy for a college introductory chemistry course for non-majors.