The proposals summarised here would be appropriate for students with an interest in the processes of education in chemistry. It would be expected that work on any of these projects would lead to an expansion of the frontiers of knowledge in chemical education, as well as to new perspectives of the field of chemistry that constitutes the context of the work. The research will certainly lead to a better understanding of chemistry for the investigator. All projects are related to teaching in this Department.
1. Pedagogical content knowledge about particular topics or concepts
The last twenty years has seen the development and refinement of a variety of methods to probe the quality of students’ understandings about a whole range of concepts and relationships, not only in chemistry but in all of the sciences. Some members of the academic staff in this department have indicated a desire to participate in such research in order to reflect upon their own teaching. This would constitute a worthwhile project.
The really important issue from the educational point of view is to identify the underlying causes of commonly found learning deficiencies - which in turn leads to the next issue of how we can design teaching strategies specifically tailored to meet the learning demands presented by particular concepts or relationships.
This project would concern identification of the demands on learners. What are the characteristics of the content that render certain concepts or skills difficult to learn (to meet defined criteria of adequate understanding)? This in turn begs the question of what forms of knowing constitute adequate understanding. The project would be based on the view that instructional strategies need to be content-specific: broad educational pedagogical principles are in themselves not sufficient. Development and evaluation of instructional strategies specifically designed for the teaching of particular concepts or skills would naturally follow as a component of a project of this sort.
2. Learning through the internet
There are now a myriad of potentially useful chemistry websites. Examples include sites related to the chemistry of the elements and to environmental chemistry. Some of those related to the Periodic Table are particularly powerful, allowing one to explore interactively a whole range of data and patterns. Can we design components of undergraduate chemistry courses that require students (with guidance) to obtain information for themselves, make their own judgements about trends and patterns and, consequently to frame their own questions about chemistry? Why access information from people (called lecturers) when there may be more active, more motivational (and cheaper?) ways of doing so. Might we change dramatically the role of lecturers in this way? There are huge opportunities for internet-based curriculum development and evaluation. Associate Professor Harrowfield (and perhaps others) is interested in participation in such a project.
3. Sources of evidence
To what extent should students understand the experimental evidence that is the basis for the chemical knowledge that they are required to learn? To give a specific example, should students have some understanding of why "we" believe that matter consists of atoms? Or of why we accept that the electronegativity of fluorine is greater than that of sulfur? To what extent do students have such appreciation? To what extent do our courses and our textbooks attempt to enhance such appreciation? There is room for some very interesting research here (in conjunction with Assoc. Prof. Jack Harrowfield). Prefacing research into students’ understandings of the experimental sources of our knowledge in relation to any particular chemical idea is the question ‘What is the evidence that leads us to believe that?’ This in itself might offer some challenge to an Honours student because the evidence is often problematic and derived from several sources. It would certainly enhance your understanding and appreciation of chemistry.