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It has been noticed that incoming first year students tend to exhibit misunderstandings about various chemistry topics, namely oxidation and reduction processes. This document proposes the implementation of teaching techniques that would aid university students enrolled in chemistry courses in understanding electrochemistry concepts better, particularly oxidation-reduction processes, and solutions to counter misconceptions related to these subjects that might negatively affect the student learning experience. Within this proposal will be discussed:
Ranked by both teachers and students as the most difficult subjects to be taught and learnt electrochemistry and redox reactions are, by textbook definition, respectively, “the branch of chemistry that deals with relationships between electricity and chemical reactions”, and “chemical reactions in which the oxidation state of one or more substances change. ” Oxidation is commonly taught as simply being the process of losing electrons/ an increase of an oxidation number, and reduction as the of gain of electrons or decrease of an oxidation number. The first misconceptions about oxidation and reduction processes are most likely caused by the nature of the terms used to explain these processes. The etymology of these terms finding origins in a phenomenological context, the word “oxidation” for example, does not always do justice to the actual properties of the “oxidation” phenomena, as oxygen molecules are not necessarily involved in redox reactions, and therefore causing these basic concepts to be source of confusion for students. Adding on to that, this lack of understanding is mainly related to students, especially non-abstract learners, not being able to mentally visualize structures and processes that ordinarily occur at an atomic level.
As discussed in the article titled Students’ Understanding of Redox Reactions in Three Situations by Margareta Ekborg and Lise-Lotte Österlund from the Department of Mathematics, Technology and Science Education at University of Umea, Sweden, difficulties faced by students in using theoretical knowledge of redox to interpret the various phenomena is due to the fact that the aspect is mostly done by solving algorithmic problems, which students find too abstract.
Another study led by Micheal J. Sanger and Thomas J. Greenbowe from the Department of Chemistry at Iowa State University in 1996, shows that although most students happen to be able to successfully calculate cell potentials when dealing with electrochemistry problems, they still demonstrate misconceptions of the topic. As to underline the majority of students’ inability to relate theoretical knowledge to algorithmic exercises, they state “Most students demonstrating misconceptions were still able to calculate cell potentials correctly, which is consistent with research suggesting that students capable of solving quantitative examination problems often lack an understanding of the underlying concepts. ” This is still relevant today; I have myself tutored general chemistry II for two semesters, but still find it challenging when it comes to explaining electrochemistry theoretically to fellow students, and even more so to first-year-tutees that haven’t had prior exposure to the topic of concern.
The discussed ideas and proposed solution are targeted to introductory/general chemistry courses, CHEM 177 and CHEM 178 dispensed at Iowa State University and have to potential to be extended to other institutions providing similar courses in their curriculums. If successfully implemented, this will significantly contribute in building a solid chemistry knowledge base in the university’s students.
In order to provide students with a better and more effective learning experience, more interactive and engaging teaching strategies have to be adopted. Prior research has shown that computer animations highly contribute to an increased understanding of chemical concepts among college chemistry students, as the modules enable them to form “more expert like, dynamic mental models of particle behavior in these chemical processes. ”
Objectives can therefore be accomplished by making extensive use of computer/digital modules that will enable and encourage students to actively engage with the material independently of having to memorize theoretical terms which are often source of confusion, such as animations, computerized tutorials, and digital three-dimensional displays and demonstrations. These designed modules will be used as the primary learning tool outside of lectures and laboratories, with featured activities, quizzes/homework, and displays used as references for students.
The following steps along with tentative timelines for the completion of tasks, in order of chronology, will be taken in the accomplishment of this project.
The first part will be consisting of gathering information about the common issues faced by students learning electrochemistry. This will be done through various investigations: research, study of literature, knowledge assessment tests, and feedback from students. The targeted group, current CHEM 177 and 178 students and prospect students, will be surveyed on their base knowledge of electrochemistry concepts. Contribution to the creation of surveys and assessments will ideally be done by curriculum developers, textbook writers, professors, lecturers, teaching assistants and/or former students who successfully passed chemistry courses.
The next step to be taken will be to update program curriculums and syllabi following results of the completed research to meet the needs of students. This includes modifying the course structures as needed by putting more emphasis on and dedicating more time to explaining the theoretical terms and concepts to students in order to get rid of the common and widespread misconceptions and misunderstandings.
The final step of this project will be the design of the modules that will pertain to the concepts of concern. These modules will be designed to meet the following goals:
Part of research and investigations will be done by Nene S. Thiam, Junior in Agronomy – Plant Breeding and Biotechnology, former CHEM 177 and 178 tutor. Will also be involved the Iowa State University Department of Chemistry faculty and staff members. This will include teaching assistants, tutors, and students that are willing to participate in gathering the information necessary to the realization of the project as well.
The financial and fiscal costs towards the realization of this project involve purchasing programing and design softwares for the creation of modules, by the department of Chemistry at Iowa State University – exact amounts to be determined, and time commitment from the personnel following the timelines above.
Subsequent to its successful implementation, this additional learning tool guaranties to improve the overall learning experience of students who most often find it difficult to work around chemistry notions. By emphasizing the importance of understanding electrochemistry and effectively demonstrating its concepts making use of creativity, we will be able to get rid of the negative perceptions about chemistry in general which is a major source of discouragement for students in pursuing careers in the field of life sciences.
As of fall 2018, according to the Office of Registrar, the Iowa State international students population surpasses 10% of the total enrollment. This is where the implementation of this module, once more, comes in handy; when language becomes a barrier in learning terms and definitions, visual and active learning tools are what will accommodate non-native English speakers.
The adoption of ideas discussed in this proposal will greatly enhance the quality of knowledge delivered to the university’s students and improve their overall learning experience, thus can only benefit to our institution and conserve its reputation.
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