Research papers, articles and letters from issues 1 and 2

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Issue 1, May 2004

An interactive working group in chemistry used as a diagnostic tool for problematic study styles

Paper | Annik Van Keer, Paul Geerlings and Henri Eisendrath

Students entering university were tested for their subject knowledge and learning styles. Students with low scores on both tests were advised to follow a process-oriented remedial instruction by means of Interactive Working Groups (IWGs). In reality a mixture of students participated which favours student interaction and thus learning. The general aim for all IWG s is to generate autonomous study skills in particular science disciplines. In this article, the first session of an IWG developed for the general chemistry course is described. It is organised at a very early stage of the academic year (4th week). Its purpose is to evaluate students text analysis and comprehension skills of particular basic chemical concepts appearing in a text chosen for study. The text is part of their textbook and the subject is stoichiometry. Three activities in this IWG have been examined: their general study skills, their test results assessing basic chemical knowledge, and their ability to interpret textual information. For the latter we compared each student s scheme with that of an expert. It was found that students performance on the assignments corresponding to these three activities could be of predictive value in identifying a surface approach to learning at an early stage.

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Raising the status of chemistry education

Perspective | William S. Price and John O. Hill

Despite being one of the cornerstones of science, technology and industry, and forming the foundations of the life sciences, it is apparent that chemistry is in decline internationally as an ‘enabling science’. This paper, primarily using Australia as an example, explores the components of the problem, identifies the challenges involved in addressing these, and proposes some solutions, which relate to raising the status of chemistry education. Chemistry as a discipline has a bright future – providing that chemistry education can more effectively convey the truly broad scope and integral position of chemistry, not only among the sciences, but also in daily life and human activities in general. This will entail improving its public perception, altering and restructuring the curriculum from primary school through to and including university to emphasize the multidisciplinary nature of chemistry and how the individual chemistry units of study integrate together and with other disciplines, and highlighting the ultimate outcomes and career opportunities.

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The Sussex ‘degree by thesis’ in retrospect

Perspective | James R. Hanson

“University chemistry courses are attracting a decreasing proportion of students and must be made more attractive.” This familiar problem formed the opening sentence of an article in Chemistry in Britain in 1970 that Colin Eaborn wrote describing the Chemistry Degree by Thesis. This novel degree programme was conceived against the background of falling numbers. With the current decline in the numbers entering chemistry, there is a pressing need to retain students in chemistry. Consequently, it may be helpful to look again at the experiences gained from the Degree by Thesis (the CT degree).

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  • ‘Conceptual understanding of electricity: galvanic cells’ | Ali Riza Özkaya, Musa Üce and Musa Şahin
  • ‘The Bologna process and chemistry degrees in the UK’ | Michael Gagan

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Issue 2, October 2004

Old wine in new skins: customising linear audio cassettes into an interactive CDROM format

Paper | Don Brattan, Michael Gagan, Tony Rest and Ray Wallace

An audio cassette from the Educational Techniques Group Trust’s Chemistry Cassettes series entitled ‘Entropy – the driving force of change has been adapted from a linear format into an interactive CDROM format’. Details of this process are described together with a student evaluation process of this topic. The results of the evaluation were encouraging in terms of acceptance by the students and their performance for the numerical parts of the topic, though difficulties with the abstract aspects were still encountered. It was encouraging that a large number of students asked that more topics from the Chemistry Cassettes series should be produced in interactive CDROM or on-line format.

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Ideas underpinning success in an introductory course in organic chemistry

Paper | Adnan K. Hassan, Robert A. Hill and Norman Reid

Students coming to university chemistry courses have often been taught a considerable amount of organic chemistry at school level and may bring to their university course important ideas. These ideas are discussed in the context of the Scottish Higher Grade Chemistry course. The extent to which these ideas have been understood was measured with 367 first year chemistry students before the students started their first organic chemistry course at university, using structural communication grid questions. Their understanding was related to their performance in the class examination at the end of the course. It was found that bond polarity was the area of greatest difficulty, with problems also arising from the student understandings of functionality and stereochemistry. What this study has shown is that certain ideas in school chemistry are well established, and others are not so well established, and that performance in a first level chemistry course in specific areas of organic chemistry reflects the grasp of the underlying ideas gained from school. This emphasises the importance of knowing what ideas pupils bring with them from school courses and how they came to gain these ideas. It also pinpoints some topics that may need to be developed further before introducing new organic chemistry ideas.

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Assessment in chemistry and the role of examinations

Paper | Stuart W. Bennett

Over the last decade and more, there have been many laudable and, to a large extent, successful programmes that have introduced context-based learning, problem solving approaches and holistic perspectives. Nevertheless, even with such approaches, assessment remains a major learning driver for many students. Soaccepting that there is a strong argument for the retention of assessment, and that changing the culture of assessment-motivated learning would be difficult if not impossible to achieve, a critical consideration of the quality of assessment should be a feature of every study programme.

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Experimenting with undergraduate practicals

Paper | David J. McGarvey

This article provides an account of a practitioner’s experiences and observations in a transition from the use of traditional (expository) style practicals to problem-based practicals in undergraduate chemistry laboratories. Specific examples are used to illustrate the principal features of the different styles of practical used and a representative selection of student and demonstrator comments on their initial experiences of problem based practical work is also included.

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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.