February 25, 2020
Learning and Research

Commitment to Student Success

Wittenberg Chemistry Professor Furthers Student Success Through Active Learning

Wittenberg University Professor of Chemistry Justin Houseknecht has taken his commitment to student success to a whole new level over the last seven years. A proponent of active, hands-on learning, Houseknecht has become passionate about sharing with other chemistry faculty the teaching techniques that are contributing to higher student success rates in his organic chemistry classes. His efforts have resulted in the recent publication of a book and two academic articles.

In 2013, after participating in a National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop called Active Learning in Organic Chemistry, Houseknecht moved from using predominantly lecture to using active learning extensively in his classroom.

“There was good evidence from other disciplines, particularly physics, that the use of active learning methods improved student learning and success rates, particularly in historically underrepresented groups,” said Houseknecht, who also chairs the department of chemistry. “This conviction compelled me to transform my own teaching methods, provide other faculty with the tools to transform their own teaching, and develop data to support the efficacy of active learning methods in organic chemistry [courses].”

Houseknecht has seen an improvement in learning among his own students as measured by cumulative final exam scores, the number of students achieving a grade of C- or better, and the percentage of students earning an A or B.

The idea for a book about these teaching techniques arose from the leadership board of OrganicERS, a web-based community of practice designed to share and develop curriculum materials. With Houseknecht as the lead editor, Active Learning in Organic Chemistry: Implementation and Analysis was published online by American Chemical Society (ACS) Publications in September 2019 with the print version expected in early 2020. He said that he and his co-editors hope it “will both improve awareness of evidence-based instructional practices among organic chemistry instructors and improve their ability to implement a practice successfully.”

As a member of the OrganicERs leadership board, Houseknecht has facilitated workshops for chemistry instructors since 2013 that “have introduced hundreds of organic chemistry instructors to evidence-based instructional practices in the STEM fields,” he said.

Houseknecht is also a co-author of the peer-reviewed article “OrganicERs: Building a Community of Practice for Organic Chemistry Instructors through Workshops and Web-Based Resources,” which describes the workshops facilitated by OrganicERs. The article is available on the ACS website with publication expected in early 2020.

Approximately 200 organic chemistry faculty have attended the workshops since 2013.

“Conversations during and after the workshops as well as our survey data suggest that most attendees have found the workshops compelling and helpful in their personal transformation process,” he said. “Our surveys show that attendees in the 2015 and 2016 workshops, on average, increased their use of active learning by approximately one standard deviation. This is a very large increase for any type of instructional intervention.”

These results are described in the article “Effectiveness of the Active Learning in Organic Chemistry Faculty Development Workshops,” which appears in the Jan. 16, 2020 issue of Chemistry Education Research and Practice, a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Madelyne Miller, class of 2016, Sarah Watson, class of 2018, and Garrin Bachinski, class of 2020, developed survey instruments, collected attendee responses, and performed the initial statistical analysis. Each student presented their results at regional and/or national chemistry conferences. In addition, Doug Andrews, Wittenberg professor of mathematics, helped with the final statistical analyses.

Houseknecht, who holds a doctorate in chemistry from The Ohio State University, now focuses much of his professional work on developing methods for assessing the impact of active learning pedagogies on student learning in organic chemistry.

For more information on OrganicERs, visit https://www.organicers.org
For more information on Houseknecht’s publications, visit: Active Learning in Organic Chemistry: Implementation and Analysis at https://pubs.acs.org/isbn/9780841236295

“OrganicERs: Building a Community of Practice for Organic Chemistry Instructors through Workshops and Web-Based Resources” - https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00104

“Effectiveness of the active learning in organic chemistry faculty development workshops” -

Debbie Ritter
Debbie Ritter
Writer and Content Editor

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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