Teaching Organic Chemistry – a challenge or an opportunity?

O’Dwyer, Anne, Childs, Peter E. and Hanly, Noreen (2013) Teaching Organic Chemistry – a challenge or an opportunity? In: 5th Eurovariety in Chemistry Education, University of Limerick, 3rd – 5th July 2013. “Smarter Teaching-Better Learning, Limerick, Ireland..


This paper addresses the problems of teaching Organic Chemistry. It has been found that many of the difficulties experienced by those teaching and learning Organic Chemistry at Second-Level persist at Third-Level. These include IUPAC nomenclature, classification of functional groups, reaction types, reaction mechanisms, characteristics of organic compounds and practical work. While many Third-Level students are meeting Organic Chemistry for their first time, others may have studied Chemistry at Second-Level. However, these latter students may also have preconceived misconceptions, which persist into Third-Level. There are also problems with visualisation of 3-D structures and reaction mechanisms. Organic Chemistry is abstract in nature and requires a formal level of cognitive understanding. There are thus many factors contributing to the problems experienced with Organic Chemistry, and hence they cannot be addressed by one simple solution. While Organic Chemistry can be challenging to teach, it provides an opportunity to implement strategies and ideas to increase learners’ interest, motivation and understanding. Organic Chemistry in Action! (OCIA!) is an innovative programme for teaching Organic Chemistry, which incorporates a combination of teaching resources and ideas from Chemistry Education Research (CER). Although the programme has been developed to address the Irish Second-Level Chemistry syllabus, the teaching approaches and strategies used are also applicable for Third-Level Organic Chemistry. The OCIA! materials were trialled and evaluated at Second-Level and the pupils involved in the intervention showed an increased understanding of, and interest in, Organic Chemistry. The OCIA! programme includes a teaching resource package containing a Teacher Guidebook, Pupil Workbooks and custommade molecular model kits. The ideas of the OCIA! programme were well-received by ThirdLevel lecturers and post-graduate students in an exploratory workshop. This paper will show how the ideas of the OCIA! programme can be adapted for use in Third-Level Introductory Organic Chemistry lectures, tutorials and laboratory sessions.

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