The implementation and preliminary evaluation of project-based learning in a first year environmental chemistry module

Williams, Neil (2019) The implementation and preliminary evaluation of project-based learning in a first year environmental chemistry module. In: Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference 2019: Making Connections, Innovating and Sharing Pedagogy; 03 - 04 Jul 2019, Kingston upon Thames, U.K.. (Unpublished)


This presentation will outline how Project Based learning (PjBL) has been introduced to teach atmospheric environmental chemistry in the first year of a chemistry degree programme. The motivation was to increase active learning by replacing lecture-centred teaching with student-centred learning, and thereby increasing student engagement. In addition, PjBL enables the development key employability skills such as teamwork, communication and research skills and critical thinking. The curriculum was designed to ensure constructive alignment of learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment. This is consistent with Constructivist learning theory and focuses on learning activities that allow students to create meaning. Research has reported that Problem Based Learning in first year chemistry (Williams et al. 2010) and environmental chemistry (Jansson et al., 2015) has had a positive effect on student learning employability skills Lectures and a workshop (4 hr total) were used to provide some background information on atmospheric pollution problems and the basic principles of atmospheric chemistry. The rest of the topic was then taught in six PjBL sessions (12 hr). Small groups (4-6) were asked to act as a team of research scientists charged with producing an evidence-based report on a specific atmospheric pollution problem. The report required a summary of the science involved, atmospheric concentration data and a critical analysis of potential solutions and progress made so far. The report was used as a formative assessment, feedback on which was designed to help prepare students for the major summative assessment which was a seen exam question based on the evidence-based report. The PjBL sessions provided support on team working, literature searching, data analysis and communication skills as well as time for teams to discuss their individual findings and the production of the group report. These sessions also contained small in-class portfolio-assessments (e.g. mini-presentations, self-reflections) to encourage regular engagement and progress. Each group was required to present preliminary reports on their topic to the rest of the class. Peer-assessment of the presentations was used in providing feedback on communication skills Some preliminary qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the PjBL experience will be presented. Student views were obtained by in-class clicker questions and written self-reflections. 81% of students said they were looking forward to working as part of a team at the beginning but only 50% said they had enjoyed working as part of the team after submitting their final report. Overall students did not necessarily enjoy it they did recognise the value of group work. Performance on seen exam question base on PjBL activity will be compared to previous years’ unseen exam questions based on lecture material

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