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Characterizing Students’ Understanding of Resonance and Exploring Its Relationship to Instruction

Dihua Xue, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Understanding resonance is essential to predict chemical reactivity and explain reaction mechanisms. Despite its importance in the organic curriculum, few studies have explored students’ difficulties with this concept and faculty’s instructional approaches to teaching it. The goals of this dissertation study are to address this gap in the literature by 1) employing an exploratory mixed-methods design to characterize students’ conceptual struggles with resonance and 2) exploring the relationship between students’ struggles and the instructional approach employed. Leveraging the results of a set of interviews with organic chemistry students, we distributed a survey to 361 students enrolled in the first-semester organic chemistry course, taught by seven independent instructors, across six different institutions in the country. We also conducted interviews with all seven instructors to explore how they teach resonance. Analysis of the surveys collected indicates that students tended to focus on the features and processes of recognizing and drawing resonance structures when asked to explain the concept of resonance and mostly did not understand the relationship between resonance structures and the resonance hybrid. Analysis of the instructional approaches demonstrated that most instructors attended to rule-based aspects in drawing resonance. When breaking down students’ conceptual understandings by instructional approaches, students yield to higher conceptual understanding when their instructors reinforced limitations of chemical representations. This dissertation study highlights the need to help students develop metarepresentational competence as well as to better understand instructors’ instructional decisions.

Subject Area

Science education|Organic chemistry

Recommended Citation

Xue, Dihua, "Characterizing Students’ Understanding of Resonance and Exploring Its Relationship to Instruction" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI27958220.