Integrating Assessment to Promote Engagement in an Introductory Chemistry Laboratory

Catherine A. Burgess, Alexandra Yeung, Manjula D. Sharma

Abstract


Engaging and motivating students as they embark on their chemistry courses at university must be the primary objective of an introductory laboratory course, particularly if those students have no background in the discipline and lack confidence in their ability to succeed in the subject. A cohort of 288 mature age students, aged from 20 to 40, part time and full time attendees who had just completed an introductory chemistry course, were given the opportunity to perform a series of chemical reactions and report their experience. These students had never been in a laboratory. This paper describes the analysis of the student laboratory learning experience using the ASELL* methodology. Focusing on linking the theoretical concepts with the practical application, a highly structured multi-task exercise was designed to engage and motivate students while simultaneously developing the skill of observing and describing reactions using chemical equations. The students were then required to communicate key observations and in discussions with demonstrators, reflect on the underlying chemistry as part of their assessment. Analysis of survey results indicated an increased level of confidence in laboratory skills along with a new awareness of the relevance of the practical aspects of chemistry. Over 90% of the participants rated the laboratory as excellent and indicated a high level of enjoyment. The results of this study have implications for successfully introducing the practical aspects of chemistry to students from a range of backgrounds as well as demonstrating how the design of the chemistry experience can integrate assessment which increases engagement and reflection on conceptual understanding.
*Advancing Science by Enhancing Learning in the Laboratory.

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