Research papers, articles and letters from issues 1 and 2

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Issue 1, May 2002

Teaching errors? A case study of students learning about the analysis of data quality

Communication | Jim Ryder and Ashley Clarke

This study examined the ways in which a small group of second year university physics students express ideas about sources of error in science, and how these ideas developed as a result of explicit teaching about errors. Prior to teaching, many of these students were unable to provide appropriate qualitative descriptions of sources of error in data. Explicit teaching about errors concepts, interwoven with student project work, resulted in significant improvements in student understanding.

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Undergraduate students’ understandings of entropy and Gibbs free energy

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

For many students, the study of thermodynamics presents problems; it is seen as consisting almost entirely of equations which are not understood and which have to be learned by rote in order to do calculations and to pass examinations. This paper describes part of a study designed to explore students’ difficulties in understanding thermodynamics. The paper focuses on students’ understanding of entropy and Gibbs free energy.

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Does chemistry have a future?

Perspective | Stephen W. Breuer

On 22 January 2002 a meeting was held at Lancaster University under the sponsorship of the RSC to address this question. It was attended by many directors of undergraduate study from universities all around Britain, all concerned with the continuing struggle to maintain student numbers in our undergraduate chemistry courses. In fact this is not a peculiarly British problem; most other developed countries are experiencing the same difficulties. The purpose of the meeting was to examine the current position in detail and, if possible, to recommend strategies that may help in recruitment to the entire sector. The reflections that follow are personal views prompted in part by those discussions.

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Is the mathematics problem recognised by the chemical industry?

Paper | Paul C. Yates

The mathematics problem in chemistry, as recognised by academics, is not present to any great extent in the United Kingdom chemical industry. Although the mathematical skills of many chemistry graduates are deficient in some areas, such employees are still seen by employers as being essentially numerate. Mathematical requirements in the industry are often low, and can be enhanced by the use of computers. Many employers place great emphasis on statistical techniques, and this and other applications of mathematics are seen to be lacking to some extent in mathematics courses provided to chemists at university.

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On the use of chemical demonstrations in lectures

Paper | Paul H. Walton

In an attempt to evaluate the benefits of lecture demonstrations, we have carried out our own empirical survey on a group of undergraduate students. The students were asked to complete a questionnaire after they had attended a lecture course (Acids and Bases, first year undergraduate) that was augmented with emonstrations. The results strongly support the notion that demonstrations are popular teaching tools. Importantly, the results show that a very large proportion of the students agreed that demonstrations helped them understand the theories – an encouraging link between demonstrations and educational value.

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Promoting active learning through small group laboratory classes

Paper | William Byers

Limitations of routine laboratory work are summarised and the importance of synergy, time and motivation to the promotion of meaningful learning is identified. A recent attempt to promote active learning through the introduction of student-led pre- and post-lab sessions into two environment-based group laboratory assignments is described. The innovation was evaluated through a student questionnaire and classroom observations and a number of advantages and disadvantages of the approach are identified.

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  • ‘Critical thinking’ | Trevor Toube
  • ‘Teaching experimental design’ | Stephen Breuer
  • ‘Calculating oxidation numbers of carbon in organic compounds and balancing equations of organic redox reactions’ | Ender Erdik and Selçuk Çalimsiz
  • ‘Administrators undermine degrees’ | Pat Bailey

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Issue 2, November 2002

Chemical education: theory and practice

Review | Patrick D. Bailey and John Garratt

We intend that this review should help the conscientious and caring teacher of degree-level chemistry to build on the tested experience of researchers into teaching and learning. There is a huge literature on this aspect of academic scholarship, much of it unfamiliar (and often incomprehensible) to practicing teachers, but which is potentially useful since it can provide short cuts to discovering how to improve our students’ learning. Our intention is to select those findings from educational research that are most relevant to chemistry, and translate them into an accessible language so that the educational theory can more easily contribute to the design and delivery of effective chemistry courses.

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Laboratory work provides only one of many skills needed by the experimental scientist

Proceeding | John Garratt

To meet the need for a scientifically literate population we need to review our responsibilities as teachers. I agree that laboratory work is a defining feature of a natural science, though not of course exclusive to chemistry. That doesn t mean that I think we should therefore describe chemistry as a laboratory-based subject, since I don t believe this does justice to what we actually do. I suggest that a better description of science (including chemistry, of course) is: ‘a discipline which is based on the logical and imaginative interpretation of purposeful observation’.

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A problem based learning approach to analytical and applied chemistry

Paper | Simon T. Belt, E. Hywel Evans, Tom McCreedy, Tina L. Overton and Stephen Summerfield

Problem based learning (PBL) and extended problem solving activities are increasingly being used in many disciplines. The effectiveness of these approaches suggests that there is a need for such resources for use in chemistry education. A problem-based approach can produce students who are well-motivated, independent learners, effective problem solvers and who have a broad range of interpersonal and professional skills. This paper describes the development of problem solving case studies as an approach to PBL in chemistry.

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Turkish chemistry undergraduate students’ misunderstandings of Gibbs free energy

Paper | Mustafa Sozbilir

This study is aimed at identifying and classifying Turkish chemistry undergraduates misunderstandings of Gibbs free energy. In order to fulfill this aim, open-ended diagnostic questions and semi-structured interviews were used, conducted both before and after the topic was taught. Seven different misunderstandings were identified. Although some of the findings of this study confirm the previous research findings, it goes beyond them by identifying new misunderstandings and suggests places where these misunderstandings may originate. The results have implications for tertiary level teaching, suggesting that a substantial review of teaching strategies is needed.

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Independent learning for the unwilling

Perspective | Derek J. Raine

Students respond to the learning environment and reward system that they actually experience, which might not be the one we planned (if we did actually plan one). To take a trivial and well-known example, a reward system that focuses on the final (knowledge-based) examination encourages only shallow learning. Or to put it slightly more forcibly (and contentiously), there are no bad students, only bad course designs.

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Repeatability and reproducibility

Letter | Jack Hoppé

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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.