Montana State University
TitleRetention Enhancement Chemistry Small Group Instruction RECSI II Request Date2012-12-05
DepartmentChemistry & Biochemistry
Requestorcharles mclaughlin Phone994 5399
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts  
Proposed Dates Start: Fall 2013 End: Spring 2016
Students in large chemistry lecture sections (~250 each) will be grouped into small (30 each) problem-solving, recitation groups (RESCIs) that will meet once per week in addition to their large lectures. Each RESCI section will be led by a teaching assistant (TA). TAs will receive specific weekly instruction from the lecture professor focusing on historically challenging lecture topics. TAs will guide students through the challenging material using a variety of small group teaching methods including peer assisted learning, board work, etc. Our goal is to better equip students for success in large "gateway" chemistry lecture sections
The setting of large lectures provides many challenges for students. For example, access to individualized help including clarification of already-presented material and including the critical interchange of “question-answer-more question-clarification” is difficult to achieve with 250 to 500 students per professor. Our challenge is to implement a proven plan (many of our similar tier universities already utilize a version of recitation sections, and we have successfully piloted a version of this in the past academic year) to attack the typically high DWF rates in large general chemistry lectures. This investment proposal specifically aligns with the following components of MSU’s Strategic Plan:

Learning Goal: MSU prepares students to graduate equipped for careers and further education.
Objective L.1: Assess, and improve where needed, student learning of critical knowledge and skills.
General Chemistry 121 serves a wide variety of majors on the MSU campus. Unfortunately, the high DWF rates in general chemistry indicate that many students are not meeting the standards that are required in order for them to continue to pursue their majors. The coupling of small, focused learning environments to the large lecture sections will provide students with more resources and guidance to achieve success. Increasing the students’ success rates in general chemistry will enable them able to continue toward the careers they came to MSU to achieve. Addition of RESCI sections is an important strategy for achieving Metric L.1.1. (mastery of disciplinary knowledge).

Objective L.2: Increase graduation rates at MSU.
The opportunity to learn difficult material that has been identified as historically the most challenging of topics within each unit via small groups that are led by a TA with direct input from the lecture professor will increase the opportunity to enhance student performance. Students with more support are much more likely to stay in the course longer, earning necessary credits toward advancement in their majors and, ultimately, toward graduation. Metric L.2.1 (increasing bachelor’s graduation rates) should be very well served by incorporation of RESCI sections. Addition of RESCI sections is also an excellent strategy for Metric L.2.4 (increasing freshmen fall-to-fall retention), since students who do well in their classes during their freshman year are surely more likely to continue in their studies.

Access Goal: Montana State University is committed to widening access to higher education and ensuring equality of opportunity for all.
Objective A.1: Educate more students while maintaining the quality of programs.
The high DWF rate for general chemistry must be directly addressed. This proposal allows the standards of general chemistry to be maintained while retaining many of those students who may otherwise be overwhelmed and simply give up in our courses. Strategies to achieve Metrics A.1.1 and A.1.2 (increasing the number of Montana undergraduates and transfer students) are well-served by ensuring that students know that there are programs such as the RESCI sections in place to help them succeed. Programs to improve student success such as the supplemental chemistry instruction sections will not only help the students succeed but will ultimately also serve as a recruiting tool.

Objective A.2: Diversify the student body
Many of the students who consider MSU for post-secondary education look into our large lecture classrooms and realize that college at MSU will be very different from their small town high school settings. Although some freshmen are prepared for the increased emphasis on self-reliance that is dictated by large lecture sections, many students are not. Students from small enrollment rural schools including Native American reservation schools may see our large lectures as often impersonal, and they may feel alienated. Our goal is to present our large lecture sections with an accompanying small-sized recitation section so that we can create an environment in which all students, including students from rural communities which include many Native American communities, are empowered to succeed.

Metrics A.2.1, A.2.2, and A.2.3 are especially well-served by the creating of supplemental instruction sections. Concerning Metric A.2.1 of increasing Native American student enrollment, please note that although high school graduation rates nationwide for Native Americans are comparable to graduation rates for other groups, only 8.6% of Native Americans nationwide who are 25 or older hold college degrees(i). Adults with college degrees have many advantages including higher salaries and benefits, improved health and life expectancy, and improved quality of life for their offspring(ii). Crosby’s recent thesis indicates that increased campus involvement and interactions with teaching mentors outside of classes are two contributors that enable Native American students to earn college degrees(iii). Thus, the strategy of including RESCI sections for general chemistry should improve the quality of general chemistry education for all students including our students from rural Montana and from our Native American reservations.


i. US Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2007).

ii. Institute for Higher Education Policy 1998.

iii. Crosby, Heather. “Explaining Achievement: Factors affecting Native American College Student Success” Applied Research Projects, Texas State University-San Marcos. 2011, Page 349.

Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries       135370       
Materials & Supplies              
Contracted Services              
Other Operations              
TOTAL 135370     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

Calculation Basis:

$8250 graduate student stipend and benefits per semester

undergraduate stipend hourly rates $10hr for 14 weeks

$ 750 professor extra planning sessions

TA positions will involve meetings with professor, attending lectures, planning lesson and grading


2013 fall:

Chem 121 projected enrollment of 2 sections    530 students                                          

                                                                        530 total/30 = 18 recitation sections = 3.6 TA

                                                                                    3 Graduate TA @ $8300       = $ 24750

                                                                                    .6 Undergrad TA  10 hr/wk    = $   1400

                                                                                    1 Professors @$ 750            = $     750

                                                                                                            2013 fall        = $ 26900

2014 spring:

Chem 121 projected enrollment of 2 sections    309 students                                          

                                                                        309 total/30 = 10 recitation sections = 2 TA

                                                                                    2 Graduate TA @ $ 8250      = $16500

                                                                                    1 Professor @$ 750              = $   750

                                                                                                            2014 spring   = $17250

2014 Fall:

Chem 121 projected enrollment of 2 sections    555 students                                          

                                                                        555 total/30 = 19 recitation sections  = 3.8 TA

                                                                                    3 Graduate TA @ $8250        = $ 24750

                                                                                    0.8 Undergrad TA 11 hr/week= $  1540

                                                                                    1 Professors @$750              = $    750

                                                                                                                  2014 fall   = $ 27040


2015 spring:

Chem 121 projected enrollment of 2 sections    324 students                                          

                                                                          324 total/30 = 11 recitation sections = 2.2 TA

                                                                                    2 Graduate TA @ $8250         = $ 16500

                                                                                    0.2 Undergrad TA 8 hr/wk       = $   1120

                                                                                    1 Professors @$750               = $     750

                                                                                                                2015 spring = $ 18370



2015 Fall:

Chem 121 projected enrollment of 2 sections    583 students                                          

                                                                        583 total/30 = 20 recitation sections  = 4 TA

                                                                                    3 Graduate TA @ $8250        = $ 24750

                                                                                    1 Undergrad TA x 12 hr/week = $  1680

                                                                                    1 Professors @$750              = $    750

                                                                                                                  2015 fall   = $ 27300




2016 spring:

Chem 121 projected enrollment of 2 sections    340 students                                          

                                                                        340 total/30 = 11.3 recitation sections = 2.3 TA

                                                                                    2 Graduate TA @ $8250         = $ 16500

                                                                                    0.3 Undergrad TA 9 hr/wk       = $   1260

                                                                                    1 Professor @$750               = $       750

                                                                                                                2015 spring = $ 18510



AY  2013-14 $ 44150

AY 2014-15 $ 45410

AY 2015-16 $ 45810

                                 TOTAL REQUEST: $ 135,370

Describe the Proposal

Our large introductory general chemistry lecture course (CHMY 121) will be divided into smaller recitation sections of approximately 30 students each. These supplemental instruction sections will be taught by a teaching assistant. Each recitation section will meet once per week to focus on a historically challenging topic from the week’s three large lectures. This topic will be selected by the lecture professor, who will meet weekly with the RESCI TAs to plan the RESCI sessions. The TAs will also attend the three large lectures each week to become fully familiar with the content, vocabulary and expectations that their students are being held to by the professors. The TAs will then employ a variety of small group teaching methods (individual board work, peer-assisted learning, pre-loaded smart pen problems available on D2L, etc.) to effectively interact with students.

             RESCI sections were implemented this year (summer 2012) during our stage one pilot in the summer course for CHMY 143, and student evaluations reflected an overwhelming positive response to the recitation sections. When several extra optional sessions were offered students even filled those.  These results indicate a welcoming and enthusiastic student viewpoint for the proposed teaching model. This spring, we are scaling up and providing recitation sections for approximately 500 students in two sections of General Chemistry 121. The larger scale at which we’ll be implementing discussion sections this spring will provide the department with additional data in case our plans for routine implementation of recitation sections for CHMY 121  (as described above) needs to be tweaked.

            By securing funding for three years, we will be able to offer a positive approach to increase student success in an important large lecture "gateway" course . We expect to reduce our high DWF rates in large general chemistry lecture sections. In addition to students attending the traditional MWF 50 minute lectures for a general course, they will be assigned to a 50 minute small group session each week. These smaller recitation sections will be directly linked to the most challenging content that was covered during recent lectures. The students’ study skills and fundamental understanding of the content will be enhanced by reinforcement during smaller recitation sections. In addition, the RESCI model enables us to provide a more personal, student-centered learning environment. It is important to note that the supplemental instruction sessions will not be “mini-lectures”. Rather, they will be highly active sessions as TAs engage students in assuming more responsibility for their own learning. As an added bonus, it is likely that informal small study groups will form as a result of students learning to support each other as they get to know people in their recitation sections. This was the case during the pilot program last summer. The RESCI sessions should allow students who may feel intimidated by learning chemistry in large lecture rooms to find ways to increase their success, and, therefore, their retention at MSU.

Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

            Chemistry 121 directly affects students in our nursing program. High grades in this fundamental course are required for the students planning this major and career path. With access to the supplemental instruction assistance that is described in this proposal, we anticipate that students will learn more and will perform better in general chemistry. Our goal is to impact the future needs of our state (and beyond) since critical health care professional positions are projected to be (and in some cases already are) understaffed. Students that face the rigors and demands of Chemistry 121 in a large lecture setting should find themselves better prepared for exams and for progression in their majors by utilizing the skills and understanding that they have gained from the small group (recitation) sections.

While this proposal will not guarantee success by itself, it will provide an important learning tool that will allow students to gain confidence and understanding of the most difficult concepts in introductory chemistry. The impact that adding recitation sections will have on the thousands of students who are pursuing an education in a field for which CHMY 121 is a gateway, foundational course on our campus should be profound. Our goal is to empower students to succeed in their majors and to enhance our graduation rate. Beyond our campus, helping MSU students meet the greater needs in our society is also an important aspect of increasing student success.

            In addition to the impacts and benefit of our undergraduates in general chemistry, our graduate students will also play significant roles in this proposal. The graduate students who will serve as TAs for the recitation sections will be learning how to teach chemistry under the strong mentorship of the lecture courses’ professors, better preparing the TAs to enter careers as college chemistry teachers. Additionally, carefully selected senior level undergraduates will be trained as recitation leaders. Since graduate school programs typically require teaching assistantships, our participating undergraduate students will be better prepared to enter graduate school after having served as RESCI TAs. Chemistry education majors will also gain real-life experience by participating as recitation leaders.

Implementation Plan

The first aspect of implementing this plan has been made possible with the one-time funding for 2012 to have a year-long pilot program. In the first stage, Investment Proposal funding allowed for the incorporation of recitation sections into CHMY 143 in the summer of 2012 (enrollment ~60 students) Two required recitation sessions were held per week for each student for the duration of the six week summer course.  Each supplemental learning session was taught by a TA that met weekly with the lecture professor to plan the recitation sessions. A small percentage of the overall Chemistry 143 grade depended on the performance of students on exercises that took place during the recitation time. The second stage of the 2012 pilot proposal is the implementation of the recitation sessions in a larger lecture course (Chemistry 121, enrollment ~300) during the spring semester of 2013. We have scheduled classrooms and times for the recitation sections, and TA selection has begun.  The current scale-up allows the department to obtain information that will be critical to fully implementing recitation sessions for CHMY 121 during the fall of 2013, as requested in this proposal for the next three years.

Although recitations were extremely successful in CHMY 143, and although the department’s long term goal is to implement recitation sections much more widely for as many  of our large lecture courses as possible, we are focusing on CHMY 121 in this proposal. CHMY 121 has had a higher DFW rate for the past two years than any of the other chemistry courses (about 35%). Gradual scale-up of implementation, beginning in an area of critical need, will enable us to develop the most effective format for recitations. Also, the amount of money that would be necessary to implement recitation sections for CHMY 121, 141, and 143 for the next three years would comprise nearly half of the entire $1M that is being made available for base funding, which is clearly unrealistic.   

Building on the pilot program described above, the implementation timeline for RESCI II is as follows:

    Spring 2013: Schedule meeting rooms and times that will provide sections for students in Chemistry 121 to begin with the fall 2013 semester.

    Summer 2013: Finalize TA selection and training in small group teaching methods.

    Fall 2013: Students begin participating in the weekly recitation sections. Approximately 30 students will be assigned to each recitation section to become part of the Chemistry 121 instructional delivery.

   Spring 2014: Students in Chemistry 121 will continue to participate in weekly TA-led (professor guided) recitation sessions.

  The above scheudle for fall 2013 and spring 2014  will be repeated over the fall 2014 – 2015 academic year and over the 2015 – 2016 academic year.  Of course, the format that is described in this proposal will be optimized as necessary to ensure that the students receive the best possible chemistry instruction. In addition, RESCI sessions will take advantage of new technologies (analogous to the Smart Pen mentioned above) that enhance instruction should they emerge during the funding period.

Assessment Plan

I. Students will be consistently (every semester) surveyed to evaluate the quality of TA presentations in their recitation section. The indicator of success in this component will be high scores reported on a 5 to 1 point system similar to what is used in our current faculty and lab TA evaluations.


II. Students will be consistently (every semester) surveyed to evaluate the usefulness of the instruction that is received in the recitation sections toward increasing their level of success in the respective lecture courses. The indicator of success in this component will be high scores reported on a 5 to 1 point system similar to what is used in our current faculty and lab TA evaluations.


III. Although this plan does not address all the contributing factors to the DWF rates in general chemistry, it is expected that the percentage of students receiving DWF grades will decrease.  The indicator of success in this aspect of the proposal will be obtained by comparing courses with recitation sections to the historical averages for those same courses (taught by the same instructors) over the past two years. The DFW rate determinations will allow us to determine whether our strategy is successfully addressing Metric L.1.1 for Learning Objective L.1. Graduation rates (Metric L.2.1) and the percentage of freshmen fall-to-fall retention (Metric L.2.4) for students who take general chemistry during the period when recitation sessions are offered can be compared to the rates and percentages for the period prior to implementation of RESCI sessions (with the help of Chris Fastnow).


IV. To accomplish Metrics A.1.1 and A.1.2 under Access Objective A.1, we will share data describing improved success rates for general chemistry students with the MSU Admissions Office so that they can use this information when recruiting new students.

Truthfully, we are not sure how to assess Metrics A.2.1, A.2. 2, and A.2.4 for Access Objective A.2 of increasing diversity of the student body, but we feel that providing learning opportunities that are more welcoming to all students (including minority students) is so important that we need to work on this even if we aren’t sure how to carry out assessment. Surveys of demographics of the classes may appear unwelcoming, which is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do. We will work with campus experts including Walter Fleming (Department Head, Native American Studies), coordinators of MAP, etc. to try to assess whether diversity in CHMY 121 increases over time.

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

Since recitation sections are used successfully at many universities, we fully expect to meet our assessment objectives. However, if Objective I is not met after the first year (2012 – 2013), then we will revamp the training and selection of the recitation TAs for the remaining two years of funding.


If Objective II is not met, then more emphasis will be placed on making the weekly professor-led planning sessions more specific and more closely aligned with stated course objectives.  Changes will be implemented throughout the funding cycle as needed.


If Objective III is not met after the first year (2012 – 2013) then further evaluations (class attendance, math skill level) will be explored to determine whether they are significant contributing factors to the DWF levels in the courses. It may be possible to address some of those factors by utilizing some of the recitation time as motivational, math review and note taking. Changes to recitation content will be implemented whenever appropriate for the duration of the funding cycle. 


If the assessment objectives are not being met, then renewal of funding will not be requested after the currently requested three year funding cycle has ended.

Department Head: Mary Cloninger (
Dean/Director: Paula Lutz (
Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (