Student-centred learning through a new investigative laboratory program in first year chemistry

Grainne Moran, Neil Duffy


A new laboratory program in chemistry has been designed, with the aim of fostering student-centred learning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The pilot phase is being introduced in 2003, initially for a class of 175 first year students, who have a good chemistry background and who have already completed one session of chemistry. We set out to offer our entry-level students the opportunity to appreciate that there are important unanswered questions in chemistry, to begin to ask their own scientific questions, to design and carry out experiments and to evaluate their results, in a problem-solving or research context. Group work was introduced both to foster a student-centred culture in the labs and to enable more significant experimental work to be undertaken. This initiative coincided with a university-wide first year experience project at UNSW in the development of graduate attributes, which is providing support for the project. This paper will report on the program design, assessment issues and initial evaluation of effects on student learning and motivation. The results of this project will eventually be used to extend the approach to much larger first year courses.

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