Research papers, articles and letters from issues 1 and 2

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Issue 1, April 2000

Teaching introductory chemistry using concept development case studies: interactive and inductive learning

Paper | John S. Hutchinson

At Rice University, we have used an unusual approach to introducing fundamental chemical concepts in the introductory General Chemistry course. New concepts are developed through inductive reasoning in a series of case studies. These are designed to complement an interactive or ‘Socratic’ classroom technique, in which the focus is on active intellectual engagement of students in a discussion of chemical concept development. The methods are described in detail, and results are presented which demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach in developing a deeper understanding of chemistry as well as critical thinking skills.

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Soleq: tools and tutorials for studying solution equilibria

Paper | K. J. Powell, L. D. Pettit, R. M. Town and K. I. Popov

SolEq (Solution Equilibria) is a CD-based package of tutorials designed for teaching equilibria to senior undergraduate students. Between them, they cover the principles and applications of acid-base, redox, solubility, and metal-ligand chemistry in both homogeneous and heterogeneous systems. It also provides the computational software for applying equilibrium principles to real systems. SolEq has been used to support lecture and laboratory courses on environmental chemistry, coordination chemistry and analytical chemistry. It has also been used to create a customised refresher course for a graduate about to embark on a research programme in environmental chemistry.

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Introducing first-year students to some skills of investigatory laboratory work

Paper | Catherine Hunter, Solange Wardell and Hazel Wilkins

In order to introduce students to some of the skills involved in carrying out an analytical investigation, we devote the final three weeks of our first year laboratory course to the analysis of some common household products. Students, working in pairs, are allocated a specific problem and are given complete responsibility for investigating it. This involves planning the procedure, carrying it out, and interpreting the results. Our experience with this approach has highlighted for us some of the limitations of the recipe laboratories, and is regarded by both students and demonstrators as an effective learning experience.

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Evaluation of teaching and learning: matching knowledge with confidence

Communication | John Garratt, Jane Tomlinson, Simon Hardy and Doug Clow

We have used a two-part questionnaire to obtain feedback from students immediately before, immediately after, and six weeks after carrying out a computer-based simulation. The simulation is intended to help students to develop investigative skills. The first part of the questionnaire tests knowledge by means of multi-choice questions. The second part asks students to assess their confidence in their understanding or in their ability to apply knowledge. We conclude that this evaluation strategy can be a valuable and generally applicable way of identifying whether a particular learning experience helps students to develop an appropriate balance of knowledge, understanding and ability to apply knowledge.

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Mental models: the role of representations in problem solving in chemistry

Proceedings | George M. Bodner and Daniel S. Domin

A combination of techniques including field notes collected in operating classrooms, informal interviews with students in a tutorial environment, and formal structured interviews have been applied to study problem solving in chemistry among groups ranging from freshman enrolled in general chemistry through 6th-year graduate students within a variety of content domains including general, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. Regardless of the level of the students from whom data have been collected or the content domain in which the data were obtained we have found that one of the characteristic differences between successful and unsuccessful problem solvers is the number and kinds of representations they bring to the problem.

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Crossing the borders: chemical education research and teaching practice

Proceedings | Onno de Jong

In many European countries, chemistry education faces a number of important recurrent difficulties. At the secondary school level, many students have a rather negative view of chemistry. At university level, the number of first-year chemistry students is also decreasing. Another category of problems concerns the chemistry curriculum. Tackling the current crisis requires, among other measures, the use of research. Unfortunately, many teachers and researchers point out that there is a gap between chemical education research and the implementation of the research findings in college and classroom teaching.

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Chemical education research: where from here?

Proceedings | Alex H. Johnstone

The past 40 years has been characterised by much development activity in the field of Chemical Education. Much has been done to design demonstrations, microchemistry, computer assisted learning, CD ROMs, units on societal issues and a plethora of textbooks. However, most of these laudable activities have been devoted to the transmission of chemical knowledge rather than to any consideration of the nature and desirability of the content or to the nature of the learning process. In other words, we have been emphasising the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’.

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  • ‘Assessment of chemistry degrees’ | Jon J. Williams
  • ‘Professor Pat Bailey replies’ | Pat Bailey
  • ‘Some thoughts following “Crossing the borders”’ | Alan Goodwin
  • ‘Key skills development support from central services’ | Sara Shinton

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Issue 2, September 2000

The use of a computer-assisted personalized approach in a large-enrolment general chemistry course

Paper | Paul W. W. Hunter

The CAPA© system1,2 (a computer-assisted personalized approach) has been used in general chemistry courses at Michigan State University since January 1993. This networked software system is a tool that enables instructors to write and distribute personalized problem sets, quizzes, and examinations for their students and includes an array of course management and statistical functions. This paper discusses a range of advantages of the system.

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Preparing for the chemistry laboratory: an internet presentation and assessment tool

Paper | George M. McKelvy

Video recordings have been made to prepare students for 43 different laboratory exercises carried out by students taking the first semester course in Introductory Chemistry. Each exercise-specific video includes an introduction describing the purpose of the exercise, details of the laboratory procedures involved, and representative calculations. Each video is packaged with a pre-laboratory quiz and the whole package is made available to students over the web using the WebCT system. Both students and Teaching Assistants have been found to benefit from their usage of these packages.

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Getting a better picture: using video to improve the presentation skills of chemistry students

Paper | Brian Grievson and Nigel D. Lowe

We have introduced video recording as a routine method to help all our chemistry undergraduates to improve aspects of their presentation skills within our 3rd-year group exercises, structured learning packages. The ten-minute talks given by all teams are recorded and each team receives a copy of their own talk for review. Teams are encouraged to reflect on their recorded talk by requiring them to complete a pro forma analysing the good and bad points of their presentation. Written feedback from students provides evidence that they recognise the benefit of this exercise. We now intend to use video recording routinely in the delivery of these exercises.

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Misconceptions about error

Communication | John Garratt, Andrew Horn and Jane Tomlinson

First year students have been introduced to Least Mean Squares Linear Regression as part of a laboratory exercise in which they determined ∆HO from measurements of an equilibrium constant at different temperatures. We took the opportunity to obtain feedback concerning student understanding of the value of using an objective (statistical) method for fitting a line to experimental data and of the meaning of 95% confidence limits. Our analysis of these responses indicates that a majority of the students believe that the use of LMSLR increases the accuracy of (or reduces the error in) the calculated results, and that a large proportion hold confused views of the meaning of confidence limits. We conclude that these misconceptions are illustrative of a broader range of misconceptions about the origins and consequences of experimental error, and that these are significant barriers to learning.

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Independent study – providing focus and purpose

Communication | Raymond G. Wallace

The paper describes a final year undergraduate degree module which has been running at the Nottingham Trent University for the past four years. The module, ‘Independent Study’, is a student-centred programme where students study topics from two of the three main branches of chemistry, inorganic, organic and physical. The manner in which the summative end of module, revealed paper examination is structured, compels extensive coverage of the subject matter. The module allows concurrent final year project work to be carried out away from the home university. This ‘end of university’ unit of the course guides students to independence in their future lifelong learning. The results currently obtained with the programme show an equivalent level of academic attainment to traditionally delivered modules. The outcomes of the programme since its inception and its refinement are discussed.

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Chemistry lessons for universities?: a review of constructivist ideas

Review | Keith S. Taber

Research in science education has identified a vast catalogue of misconceptions, or ‘alternative conceptions’: beliefs held by students which are at odds with orthodox science. These ideas are often held tenaciously in the face of teaching, and while many are idiosyncratic, some are found to be widely held. No matter how skilfully university chemistry is explained, many students will build their new knowledge on shaky foundations. The ‘constructivist’ research programme seeks to explain the origins of students’ alternative ideas, and to use this information to inform more effective teaching approaches. According to this perspective, knowledge is constructed in the mind of the learner, and therefore learning builds on the existing ideas in the students’ minds, even if these are far from matching the (presumably ‘more scientific’) ideas the teacher had in mind. This review of the constructivist literature summarises the implications for teaching and learning chemistry in universities.

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Course-questionnaires as a research tool

Letter | John Garratt, Nigel Lowe and Jane Tomlinson

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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.