Research papers, articles and letters from issues 1 and 2

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Issue 1, April 1999

Key skills: what do chemistry graduates think?

Paper | Simon B. Duckett, John Garratt and Nigel D. Lowe

We report the results of a survey in which we have tried to identify which key skills are most needed by recently employed chemistry graduates, and how well they feel they are being prepared for using these skills by their chemistry courses. Across the range of job-specific skills covered in the survey, the results show a general correlation between the extent of relevant course content and the importance of the skill to typical graduate employees. However, the results also support employer opinion that there are areas in which graduates could acquire more job-specific skills, and some suggestions are offered on approaches to exploiting more effectively the opportunities for skills development within chemistry courses.

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The idea of a closed book IT examination: a novel approach to assessing chemistry specific information technology

Paper | Brian Murphy, Michael B. Hursthouse and Ross Stickland

As part of the advanced chemistry practical module in the final-year of the BSc chemistry degree at Cardiff University, students are required to take a course in chemistry-specific information technology. The problem of assessing such a module at this level is always difficult. One possible means of overcoming this problem is by setting a closed book information technology examination in chemistry. This paper describes some of the problems (technical and otherwise) encountered in devising such an examination. A similar structured examination could be incorporated into any BSc chemistry course to overcome this problem of assessing the IT skills required by a chemistry graduate.

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The Chemistry Quiz, a tool for reinforcement learning

Paper | Stephen M. Walker

The Chemistry Quiz (The Quiz) comprises a series of programs used to improve students’ competence with the everyday numeric manipulations required in chemistry and is designed to complement the existing range of software available. The Quiz has been used by staff and students for three complete academic years and, in this same period of time, it has been used to test students’ ability to carry out volumetric calculations. The results suggest that an increase in reinforcement learning does improve the ability to perform these simple calculations as evidenced by higher pass rates and improved scores. In addition, there is a considerable saving in staff time compared with more traditional testing scenarios.

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Electronic presentation of lectures – effect upon student performance

Paper | Roy B. Lowry

The effects of transferring lecture material from overhead acetates to the computer presentation package Microsoft ‘PowerPoint’ are described. The advantages of this method and some simple additional techniques are described. There is a marked increase in the students’ performance in the end of module examination which has been sustained over two years. The possible reasons for this increase are discussed, together with the results of informal feedback from the students.

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Pre-laboratory support using dedicated software

Paper | Barry S. Nicholls

Dedicated pre-laboratory software supporting inorganic experiments has been integrated into the curriculum at Liverpool John Moores University. Its main objectives are to: (a) ensure that students prepare adequately for forthcoming experiments, (b) ensure that students are informed of hazards of those experiments and (c) offer an interactive transcript of the theory and processes involved. This paper describes the design, integration, uptake and productivity of pre-laboratory software during the 1997/98 academic year.

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Empirical research into chemical education

Perspective | Onno de Jong, Hans Jurgen Schmidt, Nils Burger and Holger Eybe

The number of universities and colleges at which chemists and researchers in chemical education work side by side has been growing and so has the wish, and the need, to cultivate partnerships. The exchange of information is important in fostering mutual understanding and appreciation. Chemistry and chemical education are closely related. We hope that this paper can contribute to the enhancement of the partnership between chemists and chemical educators. Close contact between the two disciplines is highly desirable for both sides. A well-found knowledge-base provided by empirical studies in chemical education is essential for making sound decisions about the practice of chemistry teaching.

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Action research: overcoming the sports mentality approach to assessment/evaluation

Review | George Bodner, Daniel MacIsaac and Scott White

Each time we make significant changes in what we teach or how we teach we are faced with the same question: how can we find out whether the innovation we have brought into our classroom is worthwhile? Chemists, familiar as they are with the criteria for decision-making adopted by physical scientists, find this question so difficult to answer that they often avoid doing the experiment that might provide evidence on which to base an answer. Nevertheless, through a knowledge of what is possible, it is possible to select an approach which will generate useful information without spending the amount of time which a committed educational researcher would consider necessary.

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  • ‘Small numbers’ | Jack Hoppe, Robin Perutz and P. G. Nelson
  • ‘Reflecting on learning’ | Michael Gagan, Roger Maskill and Imelda Race
  • ‘Assessment of CIT courses’ | R. B. Moyes

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Issue 2, September 1999

Preparing the mind of the learner

Paper | Ghassan Sirhan, Craig Gray, Alex H. Johnstone and Norman Reid

For a period of two years, examination performance in an introductory course in university chemistry was found not to be correlated with entry qualifications of the students in chemistry. For the next three years, examination performance did seem to be related to entry qualifications. The only factor that was found which might account for this was the use of pre-lectures which were employed over the first two years but were no longer in operation over the subsequent three years. On this basis, it is suggested that pre-lectures may be a useful tool in enabling students to make more sense of lectures, the effect being particularly important for students whose background in chemistry is less than adequate.

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Undergraduate students’ understanding of enthalpy change

Paper | E. M. Carson and J. R. Watson

The study described in this paper is an investigation into the conceptions held about chemical thermodynamics by first year chemistry undergraduate students. Students’ conceptions about enthalpy change are described and examples of students statements are given; it is clear that students come to the university with a very limited understanding of enthalpy change and have no knowledge of pV work. The impact of a lecture course on their conceptions is discussed; most students still held the same conceptions about enthalpy change although there was more awareness of pV work. Some quantitative information is given but the qualitative data show the range and variety of the alternative conceptions. Finally, the implications of the findings on the teaching of elementary chemical thermodynamics is discussed.

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Exercises for chemists involving time management, judgement and initiative

Paper | Simon T. Belt, Mike J. Clarke and Lawrie E. Phipps

Feedback from a range of learning opportunities frequently indicates that students feel they are given insufficient time, insufficient information, and insufficient guidance. In the light of this feedback, we have developed two exercises specifically designed to show students that real-life problems often involve coping with all three of these difficulties, and to provide opportunities to develop the skills needed to deal with the problems. These in-class exercises can be used either in isolation or as part of larger, integrated case study material. Feedback on these exercises suggests that students can learn valuable lessons by completing them.

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Changing the nature of physical chemistry practical work

Paper | Don Brattan, Don Mason and Antony J. Rest

The use of computer-based resources in supporting the teaching of a 1st year physical chemistry laboratory course is described where the course has been enhanced to develop skills in experimental design, data analysis and links to theoretical parts of the subject. It is concluded that interactive CD ROM packages can now be routinely customised to meet the individual needs of teaching and learning situations and that the onus rests on universities to provide funding for equipment, resources, and for staff development training.

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Assessment of chemistry degrees

Perspective | Patrick D. Bailey

I contend that the entirely reasonable demand for accountability has taken us down a track which is to the detriment of university education because it leads to a decrease in real quality of assessment. I agree absolutely with the proposition that Universities should have clearly defined aims and objectives, and that these should be reflected in the procedures used to define the class of degree awarded to students. The problem is that the demand for transparency in the process of assessment has been interpreted to mean that the working process must be objective; taken to its limit, this means that the marking process could be carried out by computer.

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Computer programs which respond to learning styles

Communication | R. K. Lyall and A. H. Johnstone

This paper describes an attempt to design and use a computer assisted learning program which responds to learners of two motivational styles. The program deals with aspects of statistics generally needed by science students. By interacting with the program the students were offered two distinct routes through it, one in which the students were led through (conscientious) and one in which students were encouraged to explore (curious). A record of the key strokes was kept to indicate the students’ navigation. The results indicate that the choices made, by individual students, of program routes, corresponded well with the learning styles allocated in the psychological test. It is concluded that programs written to take account of learning styles can give new meaning to ‘individualised learning’.

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Is peer assisted learning of benefit to undergraduate chemists?

Communication | Emma M. Coe, Angus O. McDougall and Neil B. McKeown

Peer Assisted Learning has been a relatively common feature in US universities for several decades, and has been adopted more recently in Britain to help reduce student ‘drop-out’, and also to encourage a more student centred learning approach. Peer Assisted Study Sessions (‘PASS’) started in the University of Manchester Chemistry Department in 1995 and in 1997 a similar scheme was started in the Chemistry Department at UMIST. Careful collection of data has indicated that those first year students who regularly participate in PASS achieve higher chemistry exam results than non-participants. There are also other hidden benefits to all the scheme stakeholders.

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Reflecting on learning

Letter | Nigel Lowe

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About University Chemistry Education

Published between 1997 and 2004 by the Royal Society of Chemistry, University Chemistry Education explored methods, ideas and issues facing teachers of chemistry in higher education, bringing together research, opinion, reviews and letters.