Suits, Jerry P.

Committee Member

Hyslop, Richard M.

Committee Member

Watzky-Brewer, Murielle

Committee Member

Holt, Emily


Chemical Education Program


University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources


Place of Publication

Greeley (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



193 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


Stereochemistry concepts are often some of the most difficult topics for students to grasp in the organic chemistry curriculum. Several factors may influence students’ abilities to solve stereochemistry problems, including their spatial abilities, strategy choice, and ability to use various types of spatial representations. A mixed-method study was conducted to investigate the role that these factors play when novice organic chemistry students solve stereochemistry problems. Eye-tracking methods were used in an attempt to capture cognitive processes of students while solving these problems. Additionally, three-dimensional molecular models and spatial ability measures were used to further analyze and characterize their strategies for solving these problems. Quantitative eye-tracking data revealed key insights into how organic chemistry students solve stereochemistry problems. Further, qualitative data indicated that strategy choice and representation type impact success on stereochemistry problems. Finally, results showed a significant relationship between spatial ability and performance in a first semester organic chemistry course. The findings of this study have several implications for how we teach chemistry. First, students who struggle with visuospatial tasks due to their inability to successfully apply holistic mental rotation strategies may benefit when they are taught to use analytic strategies. However, while analytic strategies may help students to arrive at the correct answer on stereochemical problems, they may do little to help students visualize the three-dimensional arrangement of atoms or the spatial relationships between molecules. Additionally, performance on stereochemical problems may be enhanced when students are allowed to use physical models, and when they are encouraged to search for key features of the molecule during the problem-solving process.

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Copyright is held by the author.