Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Suazette Reid Mooring

Second Advisor

Dr. Alfons Baumstark

Third Advisor

Dr. Kathryn Grant


Organic Chemistry students’ understanding of Organic Chemistry is shaped by their prior experiences, in-class experiences, and laboratory experiences. One essential prior General Chemistry experience that affects Organic Chemistry students is the understanding of chemical structures and bonding. This fundamental topic is the basis of the structure-function relationship and it highlights the numerous conceptual interconnections present in chemistry. However, many students possess incoherent knowledge structures regarding this topic. Therefore, more effective assessments are needed to identify these interconnected misconceptions. The use of concept-mapping and think-aloud interviews were used to investigate the knowledge structures of undergraduate Organic Chemistry students’ understanding of bonding concepts, resonance and Lewis structures for the first chapter of this dissertation. The study found that understanding of electronegativity was weak among students with low concept map scores (LS students) in comparison to students with high concept map scores (HS students). Additionally, several common misconceptions over the three topics were revealed through student interviews. An examination of LS student interviews further revealed that a lack of understanding of electronegativity led to a misunderstanding of polar covalent bonding. The think-aloud interviews reflected the connections students made with the concepts of electronegativity and polar covalent bonding in their concept maps.

Chemistry labs are also considered a critical component of Organic Chemistry education. Laboratory instruction is presented in a variety of styles such as traditional or “cookbook”, project-based, open inquiry, and guided inquiry. Students can experience these laboratory environments in a variety of ways which directly affects how they learn or what they take away from the laboratory experience. The second half of this dissertation characterizes undergraduate students’ perspectives of a project-based Organic Chemistry laboratory and their perceptions of success and purpose in that laboratory using the theoretical framework of phenomenography. Eighteen participants were interviewed in a semi-structured interview format to collect their perspectives. A situated cognition framework was also used to design an outcome space that describes students’ engagement in the laboratory environment and its relationship to learning.