Research papers, articles and letters from issues 1 and 2

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Issue 1, April 2001

Generating coursework feedback for large groups of students using MS Excel and MS Word

Paper | Philip Denton

A novel electronic procedure for generating and returning coursework feedback to students has been introduced by tutors at Liverpool John Moores University. The technique uses a combination of Microsoft Excel 97 and Microsoft Word 97 to generate personalised feedback sheets that can include the student’s mark, position in the class, and a series of statements selected from a bank of comments, written by the tutor. This procedure is particularly suited to classes undertaking the same coursework assignment, a common feature of undergraduate chemistry courses, and can make the assessment of work from large groups considerably less onerous. The operation of the software is described and the responses of staff and students to the procedure are reported.

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Experience with a random questionnaire generator in the chemistry laboratory and for other continuous assessment

Paper | Mary R Masson

The Random Questionnaire Generator, a suite of programs designed to produce randomised multiple-choice tests for assessment of a first year chemistry class, has now been in use at Aberdeen University for three years. It has proved popular with students and staff and gives a much more reliable mark for each student than the previous system. The Creator program has also been used to generate tests for use in continuous assessment tests for students at Level 2.

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Student misconceptions of the language of error

Paper | Jane Tomlinson, Paul J. Dyson and John Garratt

We have collected student responses to questions designed to establish their understanding of twelve terms used regularly when working with error and uncertainty in quantitative data. In most cases less than 50% of the sample of first year chemistry students provided evidence of ‘some or good understanding’. We suggest that their misconceptions are most likely to be rectified by persistently challenging the students to make explicit use of key words and concepts such as these whenever they present reports of quantitative data collected during practical work.

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Using questions to promote active learning in lectures

Communication | William Byers

An attempt has been made to remedy some of the deficiencies of the traditional didactic lecture by enhancing student involvement and learning through the use of focussed questioning within the lecture format. The potential benefits of questioning are considered and the effectiveness of the approach is evaluated through classroom observations, peer observation, an end of module questionnaire and student discussions. Some limitations of the approach are identified and suggestions for future improvements are made. The paper concludes with a brief consideration of the importance of thinking time to the promotion of meaningful learning.

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Why lecture demonstrations are ‘exocharmic’ for both students and their instructors

Perspective | George M. Bodner

A theoretical model is proposed to explain why lecture demonstrations are often popular among both students and their instructors. This model provides hints about selecting demonstrations that are most likely to enhance the learning of chemistry. It also suggests ways in which demonstrations can be used more effectively.

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Science and the public: teaching about chemistry on university courses

Perspective | Jim Ryder

A distinction can be drawn between knowledge of chemistry (the facts, concepts and relationships of chemistry, eg the structure of benzene, valency, Raoult’s law) and knowledge about chemistry (the practices of chemistry, eg how chemists decide which questions to investigate, how new knowledge claims in chemistry are developed and validated and how disagreements between chemists are resolved). Such knowledge about chemistry is of relevance to all chemistry undergraduate students irrespective of their future employment intentions. Whilst knowledge about chemistry is inevitably an aspect of university chemistry courses, it is suggested that knowledge about chemistry needs to be taught explicitly and should be a recurring feature of university chemistry teaching.

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  • ‘Customising and networking multimedia resources’ | Anthony Rest
  • ‘On the need to use the Gibbs’ phase rule in the treatment of heterogeneous chemical equilibria’ | Paolo Mirone
  • ‘Questionable questions’ | John Garratt

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Issue 2, November 2001

Learning in the laboratory; some thoughts from the literature

Review | A. H. Johnstone and A. Al-Shuaili

This paper provides a brief overview of the literature on laboratory work as a means of helping to answer three fundamental questions: What are the purposes of teaching in laboratories? What strategies are available for teaching in laboratories and how are they related to the purposes? How might we assess the outcomes of laboratory instruction?

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Preparing the mind of the learner – part 2

Paper | Ghassan Sirhan and Norman Reid

The effectiveness of pre-lectures has already been described in this journal. This paper completes the story by describing the effect of new teaching materials for first year undergraduates, which were designed to mimic the pre-lecture. It is shown that these materials are able to enhance the performance of the less well-qualified students so that their performance in formal examinations does not differ from that of their more qualified colleagues.

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Who is asking the question?

Proceedings | David Phillips

What skills do chemistry graduates need? To begin, we should consider who might be asking the question. The answer must include future employers, those professionals responsible for HEI provision and, importantly, the ‘customer’ students themselves. From a consideration of these, we may be able to distil ‘core’ skills that all graduates should have.

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Teaching chemists to think: from parrots to professionals

Proceedings | Tina L. Overton

There is a need in chemical education to provide students with open ended, creative problem solving activities. Problem solving case studies are being developed in order to provide students with a ‘real’ context to extend their knowledge of chemistry, to develop intellectual or ‘thinking’ skills and to practise a range of transferable skills. The case study described here is set within an environmental investigation of a river and the mechanics of delivery have been designed to be flexible, allowing it to be tailored to a particular course and lecturer. There may be no right or wrong answers and it has been designed to highlight a number of issues. The nature of the activities involved ensures that, in order to complete the case study, students must use a variety of subject specific and transferable skills.

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Can problem solving be taught?

Proceedings | A. H. Johnstone

There has been a strong movement over the past few years to consider Transferable Skills as part of the education process at all levels. Among these skills Problem Solving has had a prominent part; but is Problem Solving a Transferable Skill and can it be taught?

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Experimental design – can it be taught or learned?

Proceedings | John Garratt and Jane Tomlinson

There is no single approach to investigations which can be described as the scientific method, and that the details of the scientific approach depend on the context. However, there is no doubt that an ability to handle experimental error is an important part of at least some aspects of the scientific approach to investigations. We also propose one universal principle of scientific method; it is that ‘Doing an experiment is the last resort of the scientist who has nothing left to think about’. We will try to justify this in posing the question ‘Do we teach chemists enough about the methodology of science?’

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Teaching chemists to communicate? Not my job!

Proceedings | Patrick D. Bailey

In this paper, I re-state the case for embedding the teaching of communication skills within a chemistry degree programme; present the case for communication skills being taught centrally by universities, as a generic skill; give the counter argument for these skills being taught by chemists within the chemistry degree programmes; and provide my own view of the key features of communication skills that all chemistry degree courses should embrace, with some examples and sources of material.

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  • ‘Is your web site legal?’ | Roger Gladwin
  • ‘Learning in the laboratory’ | Daniel S. Domin
  • Response by A. H. Johnstone

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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.