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January/February 2019

Transforming laboratory learning

Recipe-based teaching laboratories, where students simply follow a given set of instructions are known for invoking little critical thought and have yet to been shown to help students learn theoretical concepts. To address this, the use of inquiry (i.e. where students answer questions rather than simply following steps) and contextualisation (i.e. connecting the material to real-world or industrial settings) is increasingly being used, with many examples existing in chemistry and beyond. However, it is unusual for this approach to be used across an entire chemistry program within a university. Current research at Monash University (George-Williams S.R., Soo J.T., Ziebell A.L., Thompson C.T., Overton T.L. Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 2018, is tracking the effect of updating a large number of teaching laboratories over all year levels throughout all chemistry courses. It was found that students: (a) found the new experiences less easy and more challenging, (b) recognised the increased use of inquiry and context, (c) were less dependent on the laboratory manual, and (d) enjoyed the new laboratories for a large variety of reasons (e.g. real-world context or student driven). Further research is currently being undertaken into the overall effect of these changes on the students’ readiness for the workforce.

Compiled by Reyne Pullen MRACI CChem ( This section showcases exciting chemistry education research carried out primarily in Australia. RACI members whose recent work has been published in prominent chemistry education journals (e.g. Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., J. Chem. Educ., J. Res. Sci. Teach.) are encouraged to contribute general summaries, of no more than 200 words, and an image to Reyne.

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