Retaining weaker science students: a pilot project in Chemistry at the University of Limerick

Childs, Peter E. and Hayes, Sarah (2010) Retaining weaker science students: a pilot project in Chemistry at the University of Limerick. [Conference Proceedings]


The Irish government’s expansion policy on education has resulted in larger numbers taking up higher education than ever before. The last ten years has seen a huge growth in this area, so much so that in 2007 50-55% of 17-18 year olds entered higher education, with the goal being to reach 72% by the year 2020 (Trinity College Dublin, 2008). This diversity is evident in science courses at the University of Limerick, particularly in undergraduate Chemistry modules. Science courses at 3rd. level have significantly higher rates of non-completion (22.2%) in comparison to other courses such as Law (7.1%) (Flanagan and Morgan, 2004; Moore, 2004). The Chemistry module that was examined typically has a failure rate of 30-40% at the first sitting. It is taken by students from five different degree courses (A-E). Students who fail this module are usually those in ‘course A’ and ‘course B’, and they are significantly weaker on entry than those in courses C, D and E. To develop an intervention programme a pre- and post- diagnostic test of chemical concepts and misconceptions was designed and administered, together with an attitude/confidence test. The pre-test results were then used to design the course.(Journal of Chemical Education, 2008, Anders and Berg, 2005). Initial results based on this intervention show a significant improvement in students’ conceptual understanding of basic chemical ideas and a marginal increase in confidence levels. Students who took the intervention programme show significantly higher results, in relation to their peers who did not take the programme, in ongoing Chemistry modules. We believe that the intervention programme was successful, due to our teaching smarter, rather than teaching herder (Perkins, 2007).

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