Addressing the learning of chemistry at undergraduate level: towards the development of independent learning
Lovatt, James (2009) Addressing the learning of chemistry at undergraduate level: towards the development of independent learning. PhD thesis, Dublin City University.
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A key focus of education is to encourage and provide opportunities for learning. Recent research in science education has identified challenges in teaching and learning of science such as declining student engagement, provision of appropriate assessment and transition between various stages of formal education. This study addresses these challenges. Firstly, the students’ profiles was determined both as the student entered university and then as they progressed through their study. The profile includes an indication of the students’ motivation, their preparedness for university, their expectations of university, their interaction with learning supports and their approaches to learning at university.
In this study, varied and changing student profiles have been observed. It has been shown that factors including student ‘interest’, ‘learning responsibilities’, ‘student attendance’ and their ‘approaches to learning’ are positively correlated with academic achievement. It has also been shown that these factors which correlate well with academic achievement are also those that become problem areas by the end of both first and second year i.e. changing student profiles show an increase in surface approach to learning, reduction in perceived preparedness to take on learning responsibilities and reduction in student engagement. It is clear that these contributing factors towards student learning are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are interconnected, e.g. the approach that students adopt towards their learning is a factor in the quality of their learning but the approach and thus the learning is also influenced by the learning environment.
With the knowledge of the student profile on entry to university, a first year undergraduate chemistry laboratory for general science students was developed and implemented with the focus of providing learning experiences that allowed for the development of a range of appropriate skills within the student as well as tackling issues of engagement and preparation for independent learning.
From detailed analysis of several aspects of the new laboratory course, a framework for undergraduate chemistry laboratories is proposed. Having addressed the purpose of laboratories, the framework addresses many of these aspects that are normally not present in first year laboratories, namely problem solving tasks, open -ended problems, experimental design and development of professional skills. Additionally, a student assessment system was introduced that rewarded students for several different elements of the laboratory including manipulative skills, data interpretation, knowledge of the task in hand, knowledge of the underlying concepts, as well as maintenance of a laboratory journal. Additional elements were introduced including verbal presentations, pre-laboratories and practical assessments.
This work clearly shows that implementation of such a framework has a positive effect on student learning and engagement and thereby is an appropriate learning environment. Additionally this work has shown that it is possible to implement such a system with large numbers of first year students by implementing, with adequate tutor training, a small group teaching environment for large heterogeneous groups of students.
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