Identifying the existence of barriers to students’ learning from assessment results

Justin Read, Adrian George


The present study is part of a wider investigation of student perception and performance in chemistry examinations, part of which has been reported previously (Read, George, Masters and King 2004a, 2004b). There are several units of study (UOS) in first year chemistry at the University of Sydney which combine both general/inorganic chemistry (hereafter ‘inorganic’) and organic chemistry, and this paper presents examination performance data for eight such units. It is suggested that assessment results can be used to identify the existence of learning barriers by a purely statistical method, and that the nature of such barriers can then be investigated qualitatively; such a method could readily be applied to investigate units in other subject domains. Finally, whilst explanation in organic chemistry has been discussed in the literature (Goodwin 2003), as has students’ development of organic predictive skills (Treagust, Chittleborough and Mamiala 2004), the belief amongst chemists that some students simply do not ‘get’ organic chemistry remains based on anecdotal evidence. This paper presents empirical data consistent with this belief, and offers a speculative interpretation of the nature of learning barriers faced by students learning organic chemistry.

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