Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jennifer E. Lewis, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Xiao Li, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Xiao Li, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffrey R. Raker, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert F. Dedrick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Potter, Ph.D.


chemistry performance, factor analysis, higher education, reliability, validity


Student performance in college chemistry courses remains a concern for educators seeking to help improve the future STEM workforce. Besides math ability and prior chemistry knowledge, spatial ability and attitude toward chemistry have been considered as important factors influencing college chemistry performance. This work includes five studies and uses data collected from instruments to examine the relationships of these two factors - spatial ability and attitude - with student chemistry performance, and provides psychometric evidence for using the Purdue Visualization of Rotations test (ROT) and Attitude toward the Subject of Chemistry Inventory (ASCIv2) to measure these two factors, respectively, in college chemistry classrooms.

The first two studies are about the evaluation and application of the ROT to measure the spatial ability of college chemistry students. Study 1, Sex difference in spatial ability for college students and exploration of measurement invariance, examines whether ROT items function in the same way between sexes. This study provides evidence that the ROT is an appropriate tool to measure the mental rotation component of spatial ability for college students. Results indicate the bi-factorial structure of ROT items, with each of the five items sharing the same rotation pattern. Thus, the item score is influenced by the general construct of mental rotation ability and the item rotation pattern. In addition, ROT items function in the same way across sexes; therefore, they can support the use of ROT for examining sex difference with less concern about test bias. A sex gap favoring males persists in the data.

The second study, The role of spatial ability in students' progression through organic chemistry, examines whether students who scored low on the ROT in general chemistry are less likely to advance through organic chemistry, and the relationship of spatial ability to organic chemistry course grades for students who completed organic chemistry courses. The findings indicate that the ability to perform mental rotations, as measured by the ROT, does not present a barrier for students seeking to advance and succeed in the organic chemistry course sequence in the current setting after other factors, such as math ability, are held constant. For students who were at the low end of ROT, alternate approaches can be used to compensate for the lack of mental rotation ability to solve spatial-related chemistry problems, as suggested by the literature.

The next three studies are about the evaluation and application of the ASCIv2 to measure student attitude toward chemistry. The ASCIv2 is based upon a previous publication, Refinement of a chemistry attitude measure for college students. Study 3, Attitude toward the subject of chemistry in Australia: An ALIUS and POGIL collaboration to promote cross-national comparisons, and Study 4, Gathering psychometric evidence for ASCIv2 to support cross-cultural attitudinal studies for college chemistry programs, gather psychometric evidence for the use of ASCIv2 internationally. The purpose for these two pilot studies is to investigate how ASCIv2 functions at multiple sites where the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) is implemented with one of the objectives being to foster a positive attitude toward the subject in general. One student cohort is from a university in Australia, and the other is from a Saudi Arabian institution. The findings suggest ASCIv2 can be an appropriate tool to measure attitude in an Australian context; however, Saudi Arabian student cohorts responded differently to the item (chemistry is challenging vs. unchallenging), which raises concern about using these items to measure the attitude subscale for students in Saudi Arabia. As compared to Australian and Saudi Arabian students, US students at SE exhibited a negative attitude towards chemistry. Special attention should be paid to ways of getting students more interested in Chemistry.

The last study, College students' attitudes toward chemistry, conceptual knowledge and achievement: structural equation model analysis, examines the contribution of attitude to chemistry performance when math ability and prior chemistry conceptual knowledge are controlled. Results reveal that a full SEM model using three predictors at the beginning of the semester can explain a very high percentage (69%) of the variance in chemistry achievement at the end of course. Both prior conceptual knowledge and attitude toward chemistry contribute a significant unique portion to the prediction of chemistry achievement when controlling for math ability. Therefore, we should not ignore the importance of student conceptual understanding and attitude.

Additional analysis was performed using both ROT and ASCIv2. Results from multiple regression analysis indicate that the unique contribution of the ROT score to the ACS general chemistry exam score is not significant when other variables, such as attitude and math ability, are controlled.

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Chemistry Commons