Students' experience in a general chemistry cooperative problem based laboratory


Most educators and scientists would agree that science laboratory instruction has the potential of developing science practices fundamental to achieving scientific literacy. However, there is scant evidence to support that this potential is realized, particularly in tertiary level education. This paper reports qualitative results from a sequential explanatory mixed methods study aimed at investigating the effectiveness of a college, cooperative, project-based General Chemistry Laboratory in promoting student learning. Quantitative findings showed that students in this programme increased their ability and metacognitive strategies in solving online ill-structured chemistry problems. For the current study, we used a phenomenological approach to investigate the essence of students' experiences in this learning environment. Eleven participants volunteered to take part in in-depth, open-ended interviews. Phenomenological data reduction, analysis and interpretation produced an outcome space composed of three dimensions (Affective Response, Understanding of the Learning Experience, and Strategic Response). The need to 'take charge of learning' emerged as the interconnecting factor bringing cohesiveness to the experience. These findings are consistent with the previous quantitative report. Additionally, they support the notion that immersion in a lab environment appropriately designed to constantly challenge students to think through problems and figure out solutions does indeed promote metacognition and problem solving skills. Situating learning in this context facilitates meaningful self-discovery and internalization of strategies as opposed to externally introducing them. We believe that these findings contribute evidence of the relationship between experiences in the laboratory and student effective learning and can inform and guide curricular development. © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2011.

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Chemistry Education Research and Practice