PITCH-Project PITCH – Innovating Exams, Accomplishing Transfer, Fostering Equal Opportunities: in organic chemistry

PITCH is a research project at Duisburg-Essen University which aims to develop a digital exam culture for several departments involved. The project is funded by the foundation Innovation in University Teaching (Stiftung Innovationen in der Hochschullehre).

Core elements of organic chemistry are complex organic molecules which are depicted by structural formulas (e. g. figure 1). At the current state organic chemistry lacks suitable tools for digital assessment of structural formulas.


Citronensäure 3

figure 1: citric acid molecule depicted by structural formula

To digitally depict complex organic molecules many licensed products are available. But these products are designed to be used by chemistry professionals and therefore not fully suitable for training and assessment situations for the following reasons: (1) These products assume expert knowledge. Hence, they do not allow users to make mistakes usually made by beginners during learning. Using these programs students cannot depict molecules in the (flawed) ways they would depict them in a paper-pencil setting, and teachers cannot recognize these mistakes.



figure 2: citric acid molecule depicted digitally

(2) Licensed products (as they are addressing chemistry professionals) were not designed to be integrated into LMS like Moodle. Even if universities are owner of a license that allows their students to use these products licensed products only enable to create digital depictions of complex organic molecules, but they do not foster instructional support and creating demanding tasks. On the contrary, by integrating these products into Moodle (or other LMS) instructional designers are risking to harm learning due to needlessly complicated input options which induce extraneous cognitive load (see Paas & Sweller, 2014; Mayer, 2009). (3) Licenced products are mostly not able to compare different depictions of identical molecules to check whether they are identical or different. Therefore, licensed products cannot inform learners whether their answer is correct or wrong and feedback still has to be given by a teacher either in class or by e-mail or another digital communication tool. Hence, a digital learning and assessment environment needs to allow teachers and students to at least teach, learn and perform as they would do within a paper-pencil-based setting. Furthermore, a digital learning needs to be easy to handle and must not induce extraneous processing which might harm learning due to cognitive overload or negative affective effects (like user denial). Additionally, a digital learning environment should offer advantages compared to paper-pencil-settings like reducing teachers work load due to automatic task generation. A digital tool also needs to work trustworthy. Bugs or temporary suspension of service will probably lead to user denial and hinder the use of such a tool for examining. Finally, a digital tool should foster learning by including helpful instructional support.

Principle-based feedback is a promisingly approach to enhance digital learning environments (see Johnson & Priest, 2014; Narciss, 2006, Shute 2008). Integrating principle-based feedback into a digital learning environment offers several advantages for students and teachers compared to paper-pencil lessons in class. (1) Students can receive an immediate feedback which outperforms delayed feedback (like the feedback students receive when they compare their homework in class) with regard to motivational aspects and which allows them to get an impression of their already reached level of skill acquisition. (2) Students obtain additional chances to practice. (3) Students receive individual (bug-related) feedback which cannot regularly be provided in class. (4) Teachers obtain free capacity as they do not have to correct students work. (5) Teachers do not have to present a step-by-step solution for every task in class. (6) Teachers are enabled to focus on characteristic difficulties and mistakes made by many students during class. Additionally, a digital learning environment which runs properly can be used as an exam tool as well.

For the project PITCH an editor (KEKULE.JS) for depicting complex organic molecules will be implemented into the e-learning and e-assessment tool JACK®. This will allow teachers to digitally provide characteristic tasks for organic chemistry by the use of Moodle. JACK also enables teachers to use principle-based feedback. One goal of the project is to automatize this principle-based feedback in such a way that it is no longer necessary to design feedback for every task but to have automated principle-based feedback for specific types of tasks.

This learning environment (using Moodle, JACK and KEKULE.JS) is going to be introduced to organic chemistry classes. Effects on learning outcome, cognitive load and motivation are going to be examined.



Johnson, Ch. I. & Priest, A. H. (2014). The Feedback Principle in Multimedia Learning (pp.449-463), in: Mayer, R. E. [Hg.]. The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning – Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511811678

Narciss, S. (2006). Informatives tutorielles Feedback. Entwicklungs- und Evaluationsprinzipien auf der Basis instruktionspsychologischer Erkenntnisse, Münster / New York / München / Berlin, Waxmann Verlag GmbH.

Paas, F., & Sweller, J. (2014). Implications of cognitive load theory for multimedia learning. In R. E. Mayer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (pp. 27–42). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139547369.004

Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of educational Research, 78(1), 153-189. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654307313795