I imagine any professor considering changing to a new textbook goes through the same dilemmas I did when I decided to switch. Even when we find a book that we know will benefit our students, we also know that there will be a time cost in making the transition. Faculty at schools of all sizes face time limitations. I know when I was looking at making a change, one concern was whether I would have the time to adequately prepare to change the course. I had decades of old exam questions at my disposal that were organized according to a different textbook. I had finally gotten my PowerPoint slides looking the way I wanted. Would making a change in textbook cause a huge shift in my preparation time? Would it be like starting over from scratch?
The answer was no. In fact, it was much smoother than I imagined it would be.
The instructor resources available with the Karty textbook proved extremely valuable for my transition. While the provided PowerPoint slides weren’t exactly what I wanted, of course, they all had a great foundation and required minimal editing to customize to my lecture style. Once I had a good idea of the topics and chapters I wanted to cover, plus the pace at which I planned to go, I realized that I would be able to keep up with the course during the semester without devoting my entire summer planning and preparation. The instructor guide was helpful at times, although I admit that I didn’t use it very much after the first few chapters—not because of the content, but because I had found my groove by then and I didn’t need it on a daily basis. In five years, I have never quit using it-I still refer to it at times for ideas if I find there is a topic my students are struggling with and want a different perspective.
The biggest fear for my class was changing up exams. I knew that my exams were both challenging and a fair assessment of my students’ abilities. I liked them. I didn’t expect to give them up, but I almost immediately chose to (for the most part). The ExamView Test Bank created for the textbook is the best I have seen. The first time I looked through it and saw how easy it was to use, I knew that it would be a valuable resource. The questions are categorized by difficulty, learning objective, section in the chapter, etc. Plus, it was easy for me to import my favorite questions from my existing exam bank to use alongside the Norton exam bank.
Here’s my approach to creating exams:
I generally make about half the exam consist of multiple-choice questions focusing on the most recent chapters we have covered. Most of these come from or are inspired by questions in the Norton Exam bank. About 30-40% of the questions are categorized as “Easy”—questions meant to establish if the students have a simple grasp of the material. Another approximately 50% of the questions are “Medium” difficulty—questions that combine 2 concepts, or push the student to show a deeper understanding of a reaction. Finally, about 10-15% of the questions are meant to be challenging- the ones that require a deep understanding of the nuances of a mechanism or reaction series.
The second half of each exam contains longer problems. Many of these are questions that come from my old test bank. Syntheses, investigative problems, or a problems that requires students to apply their knowledge of a recent lab experiment to the lecture portion (my course is a 4 hours and includes a lab each semester). After exam 2 of the fall semester, there is always at least one spectroscopy problem. The questions are designed to test the students’ cumulative knowledge of the course and their ability to see the bigger picture of how these chapters fit together. At the beginning of O-Chem 1, since they are just starting out, this section is comprised of about 10-15 short questions (some of which come from or are inspired by the Test Bank). By the second semester, the exam makeup changes to about 3-5 longer and more integrated problems. My exams have a possible 125 points, with the idea that there is enough time to answer 100 points worth of problems. Students can attempt as many as they want, but they have the option to skip 25 points worth of questions and focus on what they do know.
I keep track of students’ responses to questions I have used in a spreadsheet. When we meet to go over their exam, we can talk about where their progress stands on the basis of their multiple-choice section performance. Students should do really well on the fundamental portion, with varying degrees of success on the intermediate portion. The breakdown in intermediate difficulty question success is usually very reflective of the amount of studying a student is putting into the class. The most dedicated students will even get a couple of the challenge questions correct. Every student walks away with the realization that there is more to learn. The challenge questions also serve to illuminate misconceptions that a student has that some of the other questions may not.
Ultimately, the instructor resources with this textbook were instrumental in my ability to make the change to a new textbook without ever feeling overwhelmed.
Questions people have asked me about using the test bank:
1. “How many questions are there?”
There are close to 1900 questions written specifically for this textbook in the Exam View Test Bank, and making new tests or multiple versions is EASY.
2. “Do you reuse questions or exams?”
Yes, I allow students to review their past exams at any time, but they are not permitted to copy, photograph, or otherwise record any of my exams or questions. I don’t reuse the exact exam twice, but I will often use a couple of the same questions in the “intermediate” category to track the progress of one class against another. ExamView makes it easy to take a question, copy it, change the structure in whatever structure drawing software you use, and save for later use.
If you have other questions, reply here or email me directly!
-Nathan Duncan, Maryville College