ON THE ROLE OF THE LABORATORY IN LEARNING CHEMISTRY.
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Our study will investigate the role of the laboratory in learning chemistry. Although teaching chemists have expressed opinions on what students gain from the laboratory experience, no one, to our knowledge, has ever undertaken a study to show what students do gain. Popular opinion suggests that the thinking/reasoning skills of students might be improved by their participation in laboratory experiences and we intend to determine if that idea is, in fact, true. University chemistry departments invest a great deal of resources, both in personnel and capital, in teaching laboratory courses, no doubt in part due to the culture of our discipline. A clearer focus on what students gain, if anything at all, may improve instruction in these courses and cause us to rethink the boundaries between the lecture and laboratory portions of any chemistry course. Furthermore, a better understanding of what is unique to the laboratory situation could direct us to what might be effectively simulated by other techniques, reducing risk, cost, and demand on the department’s teaching laboratories, while, at the same time, opening opportunities for distance education.