David Read looks at some recent chemical education research

Working together joining large jigsaw pieces

Source: iStock

Teachers have been encouraged to use cooperative learning in their teaching for many years, with a broad acceptance that teacher-led instruction has limitations in terms of student learning. According to previous research, cooperative learning benefits students in many ways, which include the development of deeper understanding and increased motivation. 

In this study, Tarhan and Sesen describe using the ‘jigsaw cooperative learning’ (JCL) approach to teach acid-base theory to first year undergraduates at a Turkish University. The JCL approach is already employed by many schoolteachers, although they may not recognise the name. JCL involves placing students into ‘home groups’ with each individual responsible for a different aspect of the learning. Later, students break into ‘jigsaw groups’ made up of students who were all studying the same aspect of the learning, where material is discussed in depth to ensure understanding. Students then return to their home groups as experts to teach the material to their peers.

Students’ prior knowledge was probed using a multiple-choice quiz, showing that there was no significant difference between experimental and control groups. The experimental group was taught using the JCL approach, while a control group received teacher-led instruction. This was followed by a concept test, the results of which showed that students taught using JCL outperformed the control group by a considerable margin. This led the authors to conclude that JCL was successful in improving students’ conceptual understanding relative to traditional methods, backed-up by data showing that students in the experimental group held far fewer misconceptions.

The article provides useful ideas for educators looking to adopt a similar approach, as well as valuable insights regarding students’ difficulties with different acid-base theories. However, it is also interesting to note that not all of the students were convinced of the merits of collaborative working, showing that teachers need the right ‘sales pitch’ to engage learners effectively.