Behind the scenes of Education in Chemistry 50 years ago - Linear v branching - now we're back to front

Spotlight on volume one

It seems that we have been looking for more efficient and effective ways to teach chemistry than conventional lectures for at least 50 years. In this issue's dig around the EiC archives, I have found an interesting article about a pioneering programmed learning, by F D Gunstone and R B Moyes from the University of St Andrews. This was at the cutting edge of innovative teaching practice in 1963, (bibliographic references cited from 1960-1963) and far removed from Simon Lancaster and David Read's exploits into 'lecture flipping'.

Little steps are best

The authors describe two main types of programmes, linear and branched, and give a set of useful points about how to achieve low error rates in their design and development. The keys to success they advise are to keep step sizes small and only introduce new ideas when previous concepts are fully understood by the student, which makes perfect sense. The authors state that although these programmes can be presented on a 'simple machine' (they do not provide any description of this), they are mostly used in books or on sheets of paper. This methodology did, however, form the basis of early computer-based learning (CBL) design.

Who benefits?

Where we are now advocates of the many benefits of student-centred learning, and students taking control of how they learn, the authors concentrate on the benefits for teachers, eg writing these programmes helps teachers to clarify their ideas and helps them to develop clear presentation. This, of course, is always good practice, but I can't help feel that the students are most definitely 'programmed'. This approach doesn't allow for the development of independent thinking skills that are so much in demand today. The main benefits to students stated is that they can work at their own pace and this method may be useful for 'below average students who gain confidence from repeatedly getting the right answers'.

One similarity with today's innovative teaching practice - the goal was for the lecturer to be able to support more students to learn effectively.