Chemical Education Roundup, 7-22-12

Has it really been almost a year since I last published a roundup? Wow. I confess that I’ve been putting much more effort recently into another project, The Organometallic Reader. With BCCE 2012 coming on soon, it seems an appropriate time to start the roundup train going again. I can’t make it to BCCE this year, unfortunately, but the e-program looks fascinating. Follow my man Jeff Raker on Twitter for nods to talks he finds interesting.

So what’s new in the world of chemical education research? What are the cool jams? What is everybody up to? Here are some of my favorite papers over the past year, in no particular order.

On the theoretical side, all organic chemists should check out the hybrid orbital controversy that erupted in the pages of J. Chem. Educ. earlier this year. At issue is whether hybrid orbitals are “real” and whether they should be taught to general and organic chemistry undergraduates. Rebuttals to the original paper brilliantly come to the defense of hybrid orbitals. As an educator, I feel more confident teaching and discussing hybrid orbitals with students after reading this series.

I’ve been waiting on this one for a while: in April, Grove & Cooper’s article on representational competence while drawing organic reaction mechanisms was finally published. Although the papers’ results left me wanting more, the authors’ conclusions will resonate with any organic chemistry teacher. They found that many students avoid using mechanistic approaches to solving organic chemistry problems when mechanisms are not the direct goal, as in “predict-the-product” questions. However, among students who did draw mechanisms, a disturbing trend emerged: the proportion of students who drew nonsensical mechanisms containing cyclic electron flow actually increased with time! On the positive side, the most notable trend over time is a decrease in “nucleophile-attacks-nucleophile” and “electrophile-attacks-electrophile” mechanisms. Still, the (understandable) disrespect that students develop for physically correct mechanisms over time is staggering. Organic chemical educators must be relentless!

And what’s new on the educational technology front? Check out the transition-state catalogue of organic reaction mechanisms put together by Ess—a ZIP file in the SI contains transition-state structures for many different mechanistic steps in xyz format. Problem-solving websites for organic chemistry have become painfully dated; the site ChemVoyage emerged this year as a new resource for solving organic chemistry problems that incorporates scaffolding and other innovations inspired by research on how students learn. It’s a simple site with only multiple-choice questions, but it’s a good start for a small but growing movement of new, web-based educational technologies for chemistry learning. That it originated in the academic community is a definite plus in my book. Corporate systems have seen their fair share of attention in the research community this year as well.

Recent studies that have caught my eye include bridging the gap between nursing and chemistry (my significant other is a nurse, and much of this resonates), deliberate design of a spectroscopy curriculum with learning theory and tutoring in mind, and a nice study of the Science Writing Heuristic applied to the high-school level.

Finally, a large group of science and engineering education researchers recently put together a report on discipline-based educational research, and the report was covered nicely by the editor-in-chief. of J. Chem. Educ. Worth a read!


One Comment

  1. Thank you for doing this roundup. I have always been in the camp of “hybrid orbitals don’t exist”, but I’m less sceptical after that article. I also kinda wish ChemVoyager was open to the public.


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