Engaging Diverse Students: Utilising a series of simple reactions to "experience" chemistry.


  • Catherine A. Burgess University of Newcastle. Australia
  • Alexandra Yeung University of Sydney
  • Manjula Sharma University of Sydney


ENGAGING DIVERSE STUDENTS: UTILIZING A SERIES OF SIMPLE REACTIONS TO "EXPERIENCE" CHEMISTRY KEYWORDS: student engagement, mature age students, chemistry laboratory. Background. It can be challenging to engage and motivate students as they embark on their first experience of a chemistry course. This study is based on a diverse cohort of 288 mature age students, ranging in age from 20-40 years, with no chemistry background. This mixture of part time and full time students had just completed a one semester pre-university introductory chemistry course without any practical component.This study describes the educational analysis of one specifically designed laboratory practical and an analysis of the student learning experience. Aims. 1) To determine if one specifically designed laboratory practical can engage a diverse group of mature age students? 2)To assess whether students feel this is a worthwhile experience? 3) to determine whether mode of attendance, full or part time, has an impact on student engagement? 4) To determine which aspects of the practical the students report as the most and least valuable. Description The students are required to carry out six chemical reactions, plus one modelling exercise. This includes recording all observations, balancing equations, using correct formulae, testing for and listing the states of the reactants and products. Working in groups of three or four, students moved from station to station to complete each of the reactions. The demonstrators were able to challenge the students by asking them to explain what was happening in each reaction. Design and Method. The educational analysis of this laboratory practical was performed using the ASELL approach, a trialled and tested methodology which facilitates student learning taking into account variations in student background. This approach involves three phases of review. 1) testing in a workshop with subsequent feedback, 2) surveying the originating university 3) peer review. The analysis uses survey and open ended responses to explore the individual student experience and the educational intent of the laboratory practical. Results. Over 90% of the students rated the" experience" as excellent, indicated a high level of interest and enjoyment and considered it a worthwhile exercise. There were 236 individual comments in the open response survey which indicated that the group engaged with the content and believed they had acquired an increased level of confidence in their laboratory skills. Mode of attendance did not have any significant impact on the level of engagement with both cohorts rating the experience as excellent. Two aspects of the laboratory which the students enjoyed most was the interaction with the demonstrators and seeing the relevance of the experiment to their chemistry studies. 90% of the students strongly agreed that the laboratory practical increased their understanding of chemistry. Conclusions The analysis of the laboratory practical using the ASELL methodology ensured that the design was appropriate for the student cohort and delivered a valuable learning experience by engaging the students. The results of this study have implications for successfully introducing the practical aspects of chemistry to mature age students from a range of diverse, non traditional backgrounds in pre-university or foundational chemistry courses.

Author Biographies

Catherine A. Burgess, University of Newcastle. Australia

Science Discipline Coordinator English Language and Foundation Studies Centre. University of Newcastle. Callaghan. Australia.

Alexandra Yeung, University of Sydney

Manager, Institute for Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education (IISME) Associate Director, Advancing Science by Enhancing Learning in the Laboratory (ASELL) Project

Manjula Sharma, University of Sydney

Associate Professor Manjula Devi Sharma Director, Institute for Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education Chair, Division of Natural Sciences Learning and Teaching Strategy Group Head, Sydney University Physics Education Research (SUPER) group School of Physics | Faculty of Science