Integrating assessment to promote engagement in an introductory chemistry laboratory
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Engaging and motivating students as they embark on their study of chemistry at university must be a primary objective of an introductory laboratory course, particularly for students with little or no background in the discipline. A cohort of 288 mature age students who had never previously been in a chemistry laboratory was given the opportunity to perform a series of chemical reactions in a laboratory session and to report on their experience. The group consisted of a mixture of part time and full time students who had just completed a onesemester introductory chemistry course. This paper describes an analysis of the student learning experience using the Advancing Science by Enhancing Learning in the Laboratory (ASELL) framework and explores the effect of an oral assessment on the student experience of the laboratory. A highly structured multi-task exercise was designed to engage and motivate students while simultaneously developing the skills of observing chemical transformations, communicating key observations, describing reactions using chemical equations, and in discussions with lecturers, reflecting on the underlying chemistry as part of their assessment. Analysis of survey results indicated increased confidence in laboratory skills along with a new awareness of the relevance of the practical aspects of chemistry. Over 90% of the participants rated the laboratory as excellent and indicated a high level of enjoyment. The results of this study demonstrate that the design of an introductory laboratory experience can integrate assessment that increases engagement and reflection on conceptual understanding. This has implications for successfully introducing the practical aspects of chemistry to students from a range of backgrounds.
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