Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jennifer Lewis, Ph.D.


Guided inquiry, Cooperative learning, Hierarchical linear modeling, Equity, Higher education


This work presents an evaluation of a reform teaching practice, known as peer-led guided inquiry, that combines guided inquiry and cooperative learning for college chemistry teaching. Integral to implementing the reform in a large class (greater than 100 students) was the role of peer leaders, undergraduate students who have successfully completed the target course. These peer leaders facilitated cooperative learning groups during weekly guided inquiry activities in general chemistry. The evaluation, using data collected over a 3-year period, had two main foci: effective teaching and promotion of equity in the classroom. Both of these aims were evaluated using hierarchical linear models. The reform was found to be effective, with a progressive increase in the test scores of those students in the reform classes versus the students in the traditional classes. Furthermore, students in the reform outperformed their counterparts on an externally-constructed national exam.

Both findings also held true when controlling for student SAT scores. Effectiveness is not sufficient cause for recommendation amid concerns that distinct groups of students may be disadvantaged by a reform. The evaluation therefore had special concern for students who were at significant risk of low performance in a college chemistry course, such as those with poor high school preparation. No evidence was found that the reform made the situation worse for these students; in fact, the reform was determined to be effective regardless of preparation as measured by SAT scores. In addition, formal thought ability was found to be an important factor in chemistry performance, independent of SAT scores, with low formal thought ability placing students at-risk. The evaluation data indicated that the reform may have allowed students who entered the course with low formal thought ability to overcome this disadvantage, though this effect could be attributed to chance.

Finally, to understand further the students in this setting beyond cognitive factors, an inventory of student study approaches was administered. Three specific approach profiles were prevalent: surface, surface achieving and achieving. Two less prevalent approach profiles, deep and deep achieving, were related to better understanding of chemistry as measured by the national exam.