Bridging the gap – student understanding and the chemistry bridging course

David Youl, Justin Read, Adrian George, Anthony Masters, Siegbert Schmid, Michael King


Students commencing university study come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Some students have substantial prior knowledge in areas they intend to study; others may have essentially no prior knowledge of some of their subjects. Universities may partially resolve this problem with streaming in units where cohorts are large. Nevertheless, it remains inevitable that some students will need to undertake preparatory work if they are to be ready to commence university study, and bridging courses are intended to help students to ‘bridge the gap’. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that bridging courses can effectively help students to address a knowledge deficit, and to explore some of the ways in which such assistance is best provided, by taking the University of Sydney
chemistry bridging course as an example.

The University of Sydney chemistry bridging course is a seven-day intensive course that covers basic chemical concepts. It consists of thirteen one-hour lectures each followed by a two-hour tutorial session, giving students the opportunity to apply the principles covered in the preceding lecture. The efficacy of this bridging course has been briefly mentioned in previous work (Read, George, Masters, and King 2004). That work showed that the percentage of students who failed the end-of-semester exam (based on raw marks) was three-fold lower for students with weak background knowledge of chemistry (which includes bridging course students), compared with students with no prior knowledge of chemistry. However, that work did not elaborate on this finding. This paper expands upon that previous report, providing additional results from the 2003 student cohort, and extending the work to the 2005 cohort. The aims of this study are two-fold: firstly, to confirm that bridging course participants do perform better in the end-of-semester exam than do students with no prior knowledge who do not participate in the bridging course, and secondly, to explore the reasons for any differences observed.

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