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Abstract

This work examines the teaching approach for chemistry laboratory practicals for first year undergraduate students to determine if the underpinning pedagogical strategy meets the requirements for these students for the remainder of their undergraduate programme. This is based on the knowledge, skills, content and learning outcomes for undergraduate chemistry courses. This work aims to enhance the first year experience of chemistry education by facilitating greater student engagement and “deeper” learning of relevant content during practical laboratory experiences by focusing on the learners’ needs. During this research, a survey of undergraduate science students from 2nd, 3rd and 4th years was carried out to determine if first year chemistry practicals facilitated the development of skills needed in further science education. It concluded that overall there was a positive response to first year laboratory practicals, that students engaged with them and felt they assisted with skills required for subsequent years of undergraduate study. Participants were most satisfied with the organic chemistry experiments while, for the physical/analytical chemistry experiments, the results obtained reiterated difficulties with mathematical calculations that are accepted as an issue in other aspects of third level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. As a result of these findings, modifications that were made to the laboratory practical element included a pre-populated workbook supplied to the students and the introduction of pre-laboratory questions to be completed by each student before each session to reduce cognitive load and improve the students’ knowledge and understanding of 2 the purpose and potential outcomes of each laboratory practical. Also, the total first year chemistry syllabus was re-organised, as was the scheduling of the experiments to synchronise the theory lectures with the experiments as far as was practical.

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