Improving Undergrad Chemistry with Evidence-based Teaching and Digital Courseware – Digital Promise

Improving Undergrad Chemistry with Evidence-based Teaching and Digital Courseware

A teacher explains an assignment about molecules to high school chemistry students.

February 9, 2024 | By

We believe that college education should provide learners with opportunities to thrive and succeed. Yet, in the STEM disciplines, the “weed out” culture is so prevalent that many instructors and students expect and accept low pass rates in their courses. At Digital Promise, we want to change this narrative. Our new research project, ChemCORE (Chemistry Courseware Outcomes Research and Evaluation), is aimed at understanding how evidence-based teaching practices and digital courseware might lead to widespread transformation of the field. In partnership with educators and innovators this study will focus on the experiences and outcomes of historically and systematically excluded (HSE) and/or low-income students in undergraduate chemistry courses.

Our Collective Responsibility

Introductory STEM courses are difficult to pass for many students. Historically and systematically excluded and low-income students are even less likely to pass, compared to their peers1. In the case of introductory chemistry, about a third of all students do not pass, and this figure is 45 percent or more for many HSE groups. Without a passing grade in these introductory courses—which are fundamental for their degree—many students are discouraged from continuing their major or a college education altogether.

As the United States population becomes increasingly diverse, we can’t stay complacent about the negative experiences and outcomes of HSE students in STEM. Doing so will mean letting the exclusionary norms and practices of STEM programs go unchecked. We also know that diverse teams can better solve pressing socio-scientific issues, like climate change and healthcare disparities2. Thus, we have a collective responsibility to make sure diverse students are supported for STEM success.

Our Research to Reimagine Introductory Chemistry

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ChemCORE will address topics such as the conditions that will maximize instructors’ use of evidence-based teaching practices while using the REAL CHEM courseware and the impact of using the courseware on student outcomes and experiences. Our research study is part of a larger effort involving the creation and evaluation of a digital courseware, REAL (Relevant, Engaging, Active Learning) CHEM, developed by Arizona State University and Carnegie Mellon University.

This project is closely related to Digital Promise’s STATS (Statistics Teaching and Technology Studies) project that is investigating similar issues in introductory statistics.

The ongoing disparities in student outcomes and experiences in college STEM courses are complex and multifaceted. At Digital Promise, we hope to continue learning and moving the needle forward to create more equitable and just STEM classrooms through research and meaningful collaborations. If you’re interested in learning more about the ChemCORE project or joining our cohort of chemistry instructors contributing to the research, check out our website!


  1. Koch, A. K. & Drake, B. M. (2018). Digging into the disciplines I: Accounting for failure – The impact of principles of accounting courses on student success and equitable outcomes. John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.

  2.  McGee, E. O. (2021). Black, brown, bruised: How racialized STEM education stifles innovation. Harvard Education Press.

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