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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Investigating Student Perceptions of the Chemistry Laboratory and Their Approaches to Learning in the Laboratory

  • Author(s): Berger, Spencer Granett
  • Advisor(s): Stacy, Angelica M
  • et al.

This dissertation explores student perceptions of the instructional chemistry laboratory and the approaches students take when learning in the laboratory environment.

To measure student perceptions of the chemistry laboratory, a survey instrument was developed. 413 students responded to the survey during the Fall 2011 semester. Students’ perception of the usefulness of the laboratory in helping them learn chemistry in high school was related to several factors regarding their experiences in high school chemistry. Students’ perception of the usefulness of the laboratory in helping them learn chemistry in college was also measured. Reasons students provided for the usefulness of the laboratory were categorized.

To characterize approaches to learning in the laboratory, students were interviewed midway through semester (N=18). The interviews were used to create a framework describing learning approaches that students use in the laboratory environment. Students were categorized into three levels: students who view the laboratory as a requirement, students who believe that the laboratory augments their understanding, and students who view the laboratory as an important part of science. These categories describe the types of strategies students used when conducting experiments.

To further explore the relationship between students’ perception of the laboratory and their approaches to learning, two case studies are described. These case studies involve interviews in the beginning and end of the semester. In the interviews, students reflect on what they have learned in the laboratory and describe their perceptions of the laboratory environment.

In order to encourage students to adopt higher-level approaches to learning in the laboratory, a metacognitive intervention was created. The intervention involved supplementary questions that students would answer while completing laboratory experiments. The questions were designed to encourage students to think critically about the laboratory procedures. In order to test the effects of the intervention, an experimental group (N=87) completed these supplementary questions during two laboratory experiments while a control group (N=84) performed the same experiments without these additional questions. The effects of the intervention on laboratory exam performance were measured. Students in the experimental group had a higher average on the laboratory exam than students in the control group.

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