Michigan State University masthead graphic Michigan State University masthead graphic


Melanie M. Cooper

CEM141: General Chemistry
Best Enhanced
“Understanding big ideas with beSocratic”
- Melanie M. Cooper -

CEM 141 is the introductory, large enrollment chemistry course for STEM majors. With support from an NSF grant, the instructors are currently transforming the course to focus on the big ideas of chemistry, and how it is used.

Students are assessed by three mid-term course exams and a final exam. Half of the questions on these exams are free response items, which ask students to construct explanations of phenomena by writing and drawing. iClickers are used for class participation, and homework is assigned in the beSocratic system.


Assignments in beSocratic help students make linkages between ideas in ways that traditional homework does not, allowing them to engage in deeper learning. Activities may include drawing (graphs, chemical structures, molecular level pictures), and writing explanations (often using drawings as support). Some types of drawings are recognized by the system (like graphs and simple representations), and students can be provided with contextual feedback and further questions.

The course instructors ask students to draw as a mechanism for illustrating what they understand. For example, what sodium chloride molecules look like before they dissolve, while they dissolve, and after they have dissolved. This illustration of student knowledge allows for the instructors to identify student problems and help them develop more normative ideas.

beSocratic also anonymously displays a grid containing other students’ responses. This allows for students to be asked to identify the positive and negative aspects of the responses, individually and as a whole. The instructor can also review responses and choose examples for class discussion.

Evidence of Effectiveness

Instructors have used beSocratic extensively for research on student learning:

Cooper, M. M.; Williams, L. C.; Underwood, S. M.; Klymkowsky, M. W. Student understanding of intermolecular forces: A comparison of instructional approaches, Manuscript in preparation

Cooper, M. M.; Williams, L. C.; Underwood, S. M. Student understanding of intermolecular forces: A multimodal study, Manuscript in preparation

Samuel P. Bryfczynski, Rebecca Brown, Josiah Hester, Andrew Herrmann, Danielle L. Koch, Melanie M. Cooper, and Nathaniel P. Grove. uRespond: iPad as Interactive, Personal Response System. Journal of Chemical Education (2014) DOI: 10.1021/ed4006453

Cooper, M. M., Underwood, S. M., Bryfczynski, S. P., & Klymkowsky, M. (In press). Using Technology to Collect and Analyze Data for Research. In D. M. Bunce & R. Cole (Eds.), Tools of chemical education research. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society.

Cooper. M.M. Klymkowsky, M.W. “Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (CLUE): A new approach to general chemistry, and a model for curriculum reform” J Chem Educ, 2013, 90, 1116-1122; DOI: 10.1021/ed300456y

Cooper, M. M.; Underwood, S. M.; Caleb Z. Hilley, and Michael W. Klymkowsky. Development and Assessment of a Molecular Structure and Properties Learning Progression. J. Chem. Educ., 2012, 89 (11), pp 1351–1357 doi.org/10.1021/ed300083a.

Technologies included in this course:


Lynmarie Posey, Assistant Professor Amy Pollock, Academic Specialist