Date of Award

Fall 2018

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Samuel Pazicni

Second Advisor

Christopher F Bauer

Third Advisor

Margaret E Greenslade


Understanding how student characteristics affect learning in chemistry can influence the pedagogical strategies employed by chemistry instructors. Previous studies have investigated the effects of characteristics including prior knowledge, math ability, and motivations on course performance. Student characteristics can also influence study strategies employed by students. Few studies, however, have focused on the role of language and reading comprehension skill on learning in chemistry, and fewer have investigated the levels of epistemological beliefs of general chemistry students. Three studies are presented in this dissertation. In the first study, the effects of prior knowledge and reading comprehension skill on learning from reading text about two chemistry concepts were assessed and analyzed. Linear regression analyses were utilized to establish relationships between predictors and test scores after reading to determine whether reading comprehension skill influenced learning gains after reading text. A meta-analysis of four large-scale studies showed that prior knowledge and reading comprehension correlated with post-test scores, and that an effect called Expertise Reversal may help low prior knowledge students close the post-test score gap if they read text with certain readability characteristics.

A second study examined the epistemological beliefs held by general chemistry students, and whether those beliefs grew in sophistication over one semester. It was found that, overall, students held moderately sophisticated beliefs in all five dimensions of epistemological beliefs measured. Students that performed better in the chemistry course were predicted to have slightly more sophisticated epistemological beliefs, and women were also predicted to have more sophisticated beliefs, and these beliefs did not change over the course of the semester, based on results of regression analyses. These findings show that there is room for growth of epistemological beliefs in general chemistry.

The final study presented is the development of a survey to quantitatively assess the use of, and attitudes toward, textbooks in a general chemistry course. Student responses to three iterations of the survey were used to develop the items and language used in the survey. This survey can be used by instructors and researchers to gather quantitative data about study strategies involving textbooks.