The CASPiE Experience: Undergraduate Research in the 1st Year Chemistry Laboratory

Gwen Lawrie, Denise Adams, Joanne Blanchfield, Lawrence Gahan, Gabriela Weaver


With 40 separate programs represented amongst the students enrolled in 1st year chemistry at The University of Queensland (UQ), an integrative teaching and learning framework has evolved which incorporates inductive approaches to increase the relevance of chemistry in multidisciplinary contexts. With increasing evidence of poor engagement in the practical component of the course an intervention was planned through the introduction of an undergraduate research experience based on current innovative practice in chemical education (Weaver, Russell & Wink, 2008). The solar cell laboratory research module developed in the Centre for Authentic Practice in Science Education at Purdue University was translated to the UQ context. From a cohort of 1000 students, 26 students self-selected to participate in the pilot module which replaced three conventional ‘cook-book’ laboratory exercises. The adaptation of the module retained the skill-building and inquiry phases of the authentic CASPiE experience. Peer-assisted study sessions replaced the peer-led team learning component of the module and students were asked to prepare an abstract instead of a practical report to maintain the weighting in assessment compared to the majority of the course cohort. A mixed methods approach was adopted for the evaluation of the learning experience including pre- and post-tests, a ‘nature of science’ questionnaire and interviews. Data has been evaluated through quantitative and qualitative analysis (SPSS and NVivo). Students demonstrated increased engagement in the CASPiE module and greater gains in learning from this experience than in a conventional 1st year chemistry laboratory exercise. They exhibited greater engagement through the intellectual responsibility of completing their own experiments even when they failed to get the results they expected. The outcomes of this case study are presented including discussion of the implementation and factors that emerged reflecting the success of the translation of this pedagogical strategy from the US to Australian contexts.

The outcomes of the pilot study are informing the scale-up of the implementation in 1st year chemistry and the development of a UQ research based module for implementation in 2nd level chemistry in 2009.

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