Orchestrating Learning and Teaching in

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The idea ol"'orchestrating' learning trades upon the virtues ofmanaging the ..... Acids and bases - consider an aqueous solution of a Bronsted-Lowry weak acid.
Orchestrating Learning and Teaching in Interdisciplinary Chemistry M. Helena Pedrosa de Jesus and Patricia Almeida Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal Mike Watts Roehampton University, London Abstract: The work reported here focuses upon the progress o f a university department as it attempts to orchestrate the interplay between ihe demands of undergraduate chemistr\' and the particular learning characteristics of students, and the approaches to leaching and leaming favoured by siaR" The discipline of chemistry is depicted as a practical seientitlc discipline that is continuously undergoing change and advancement and not as a static, abstract body of transmitted knowledge. The leamers in the course come from a range of backgrounds, and have been surveyed for their leaming preferences using Kolb's (1999) Leaming Styles Inventory. This has allowed the department lo "tune" or tailor some of its course provision towards these characteristics. These developments include "enhancement' leetures to broaden the appeal of chemistry, moves to enact a greater devolution of learning to the leamers, and the re-conflguring of traditional laboratory exercises and project work to increase learner autonomy. The orchestration of leaming in this way does not come without some instances of resistance to ehange but, in the main, as evidenced in some of the feedback from students, is an important move in the professional re-shaping of university provision of the science. Sommaire executif: L'etude dont il est ici question analyse revolution d'un d^partement de cbimie a rUniversite d'Avciro, au Portugal, alors que celui-ci tente d'orcheslrer I'intcraction entre les exigences des etudiants d'un programme de ehimie, en particulier les exigences des etudiants inscrits a un eours de base, et les approches k l'enseignement et a I'apprentissage que prefere le personnel cnseignant du departement. Cette interaction reconnait entre autres que : la ehimie. par sa nature et son contenu. donne une structure aux proeessus d'apprentissage et d'enseignemeni dans ce domaine, que les etudiants sont tres differents dans leur approche a I'apprentissage, et que cliaque professeur a son style d'enseignement ires personnel. Nous nous servons de Panalogie de Torchestration pour explorer ['interaction entre ces trois aspeets. La ehimie est perdue eommc une discipline scientillque pratique qui suhit des changements continus au fur et a mesure que de nouveaux progres sont accomplis, et non comme un corpus statique de connaissanees abstraites. Les apprenants qui suivent ces cours proviennent de differents milieux et s'orientent vers toutes sortes de programmes de ehimie : ehimie pure, genie chimique, sciences de I'environnement et didactique dc la ehimie. Cent etudiants ont fait Tobjet d'une enquete visant a analyser leurs preferences en matiere d'apprentissage selon I'inventaire propose par Kolb (Learning Styles Inventory, 1999). Dans I'echanlillon, les deux sexes, differents groupes d'age et plusieurs disciplines etaient represenies ; la moyenne d'age etait de 19 ans, dont 63 % de femmes et 37 % d'hommes. On a demande aux panicipants de repondre deux foJs a un invcntaire LSI (Leaming Styles Inventory), soil une Ibis au debut du premier semestre de I'annee universitaire 2002-2003 (Session A) et de nouveau au debut du second semestre (Session B). Les travaux de Kolb indiquent que les apprenants ont des preferences personnelles en matiere de selection, de perception et d'analyse des informations qui entourent les laches d'apprenlissage, ee qui iniluence leurs faijons de reagir a la theorie, a la planification, a Taction et a la reflexion.

© 2005 Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education

CJSMTE/RCESMT 5:1 January 2005

Le iravail dans le cadre de ce projel de recherche a permis au departement de I'Universitc d"Aveiro de « personnaliser» certains de ses couts en tenant compte des diOerentes caracteristiques de I'apprentissage, et cette personnalisation implique un souci constant des questions et commentaires des etudiants. L'enseignement de la chimie a ete petfectionne grace a une serlc de corrections visant a integrer aussi bien les exigences du curriculum que ia satisfaction et la participation des cnseignants et des etudiants. La theorie de Kolb et les resultats de la recherche ont influence, guide, voire dans certains cas catalyse certains changements au Departement de chimie. Dans ce sens, une premiere etape a ete de creer et d'adopter des strategies d'enseignement ct d'apprentissage qui explorenl ditTerents moyens dc stiinuler Tapprentissuge actifen ameliorant la qiialite des interactions dans la salle de classe. Cette approche a implique I'utilisation de techniques pedagogiques qui tenaienl compte des commentaires des etudiants, y compris des cours magistraux sous forme de presentations visant a stimuler leur interet pour ia chimie, une decentralisation de Tapprcntissage en faveur des apprenants. la re-eonfiguration des exercices traditionncis au laboratoire et des ptojets visant a rendre les apprenants plus autonomes. Cette orchestration de l'apprentissage n'est pas sans susciter une rtisistance au changement, mais, en general, comme I'indiquent certains commentaires des etudiants, il s'agit d'une initiative professionnelle importante pour re-calibrer un programme universitairc dans ce domaine scientifique.

Introduction The idea ol"'orchestrating' learning trades upon the virtues ofmanaging the processes of learning and teaching in order to maximize outcomes on a variety of fronts (Watts, 2003). It recognizes that any one group of learners will have a range of learning characteristics and preferences, as will any one teacher have a range of personal attributes and preferred approaches to leaching. Moreover, the subject discipline will play an important part in shaping this managed learning, for example through its linguistic registers, use of symbolism, mathematical content or social import. An implication of "orchestrating' learning is that the management of learning is not a wholly systematic design process. It is "situation sensitive' and relies upon teachers' skills and abilities to monitor learning progress, detect the need for change, make appropriate responses while simultaneously meeting eurricular objectives, assessment requirements and institutional cxpeelations^—that is. to lead the orchestration of teaching and learning. Well-orehestrated learning takes plaee when it all comes together": when a teacher stages personally satisfying sessions that 'chime' with learners' favoured modes of learning which, at the same time, are modulated by the demands and characteristics of the subject under consideration. Un-orehestrated learning falls short by lacking one or many of these ingredients. A metaphor such as 'orchestration' brings with it both power and pitialls. The intention is to interlace modes of teaching and learning, while managing the dictates of particular topics within a curriculum, and meeting institutional imperatives. To this extent it contrasts with more narrow studies of classroom interactions such as those involving 'teaching-learning sequences" (TLS). as advocated by Meheut and Psillos (2004). Sueh sequences are seen as fairly structured and linear developmental pathways from learners' early performances towards specified learning objectives and curriculum goals, and teaching 'engineers' learning {Artigue, 1988) so that students move along a strongly pre-ordained itinerary based on epistemological and psychological analyses of the subject material to be covered. Orchestration, on the other hand, implies shifts in responsibility for the outcomes of sessions between teachers and students. Orchestration trades on the fact that learners preferentially take in and process facts, concepts, rules and principles in different ways; for example by seeing and hearing, rellecting and acting, analysing and visualizing, reasoning both logically and intuitively, progressing steadily and in fits and starts. The key issue raised here, then, is the extent to whieh any tcaeher can plan for sueh differentiation within a classroom of learners to ensure that both genera! and specific educational goals are achieved. While rejecting a TLS-style pedagogical 'science' (or "engineering') to formalize the organization of learning and teaching, there is still a need for clear and articulate rationales. Tbe emphasis here is on the plural—there are 82

Orcbestrating Learning and Teaching in Interdisciplinary Chemistry

many routes by which teachers and learners achieve sueeess, and the metaphor of 'tcacher-asorcbestra!-leader-of learning' fits more comfortably with tbese autbors' educational principles than 'teacher-as-systems-engineer.' The research reported here discusses teachers and learners of chemistry at the undergraduate level, where a university department has adopted approaches to the teaching of chemistry that attempt to 'tune' not only with learners' preferences but also with a particular analysis of the substanee and nature of chemistry as a subject discipline. This 'trefoil' of interactive concerns is represented in Figure 1. The work took place at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and entailed teaching provision for first-year university students during their study of chemistry. The students were drawn from a broad foundation course that leads towards obtaining a degree in Cbcmical Engineering, Physics (meteorology and oceanography), Hnvironmental Hngineering, Teaching of Physics or Chemistry and Hiology. This means that the eohort contained not only students working towards Chemistry degrees but also those from other undergraduate programmes that have the discipline of chemistry as part of their curriculum. Aspects of this work have been discussed elsewhere (for example, Pedrosa de Jesus, Teixeira-Dias, & Watts, 2003; Teixeira-Dias et al., 2004). This work is motivated by tbe need to ereate strong and positive learning and teaching environments for young adults in higher education and, principally, in the physical sciences.

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l.rarnen'preterred model of learning

leachcn' preftrretl d to teaching

Figure 1: Trefoil of interactive concerns Figure 1 suggests tbat there is a strong interaction between approaches to teaching, the nature of learning and tbe subjeet of ebemistry. It is important to explore each of tbese in turn. Tbe sections that follow not only describe these interactions in genera! but also discuss some specific data drawn Irom our study, beginning with a discussion of chemistry.

The nature of chemistry Setting aside the debates of the 1960s and '70s on the nature of disciplinary versus multi-disciplinary modes of study, a discipline is commonly considered to be a well-established braneb of teaming or knowledge with a recognizable methodology associated with it. Our definition of discipline is 'learner-oriented' and leads from the Oxford English Dictionary where it is suggested that, in its origins, 'discipline refers to the student not tbe teacher: etymologieally, discipline pertains to the disciple or scholar." From this definition, "discipline' has particular reference to learning, the 83

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subjeet matter to be learned, and the practice of application of that learning, rather than to some singular philosophical abstraction or professional niehe. A common synonym for discipline is 'field of inquiry,' implying the search for what has yet to be known or discovered—until recent times, academie disciplines spanned broad plains of interconnected ideas. Bn4tree( 1993) defines tbe idea of discipline in terms of a 'knowledge community' and defines tbese communities in terms of the conversations that take plaee within them. He describes tbe cohesion in such a knowledge community as a 'social occurrence and construction' that emerges from interaction and negotiation with others. He points out that each knowledge community has its own language, and fluency in that language defines membership, wbere the language and conversation are part of the cognitive engagement among members of the knowledge community. He goes on to contend that tbe practice of teaching is that of inculcating others into such conversations. In a similar vein. Wells (1999) ehooses the metaphor of'semiotic apprenticeship.' Learning, he says, should be seen as tbe gradual but cumulative development of expertise through participation in the activities in which, in the various disciplines, knowledge is progressively constructed, applied and revised. Kuhn (1962) has given the name 'normal science' to the everyday activity of doing scienee, the routine management and progress of sciences like chemistry. In Kuhn's view, tbe induction of the new scientist into a particular discipline eomes through the use of standard texts, a reservoir of common problems, the use of established demonstrations and exemplars, routine exercises and practical activities. Through these means the young cbemist is normalized into the world of ebemistry and the discipline of being a chemist. From the learner's point of view, the major task is to discover, in action, when, where and how to use tbe discipline's most important tools—tbat is, to learn their semiotic significance. This discourse constitutes in large part what it is to do science and, in this case, chemistry. In tbis sense, language provides the most important resource or, as Cole (1994) puts it, the "master tool of all.' Simmoneaux (2001), too, believes that collaborative discourse is essential to student partieipation in science. The fundamental value of such co-operative strategies lies in their potential for opening up university environments to a dimension that reaches beyond the simple acquisition of knowledge. Sharing and debating knowledge (for example, in chemistry) contextualizes tbe issues that arise and thereby socializes the novitiate into the forms of language tbat surround that knowledge. The fundamental goal for Simmoneaux is to help students become full and active members of a broader society rather than simply 'diseipline-bound' chemists. In ternis of the metaphor of 'orchestration of learning/ chemistry is both disciplinary and interdisciplinary in that while it provides a singularly important understanding of our material world at the molecular level, it shares important ties with biochemistry, biology, pharmacy, and environmental sciences along with many other disciplines. Perhaps its most central and practical objective is to synthesize new forms of matter. In this sense, it is present in and clearly has an enormous impact upon virtually all aspects of everyday life as in for example the production of pharmaceuticals, pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture or novel materials for the electronics industry. In this sense, chemistry is an extremely practical scientific discipline and is continuously undergoing change as new advances are made; it need not be seen simply as a static and abstraet body of knowledge to be transmitted wholesale from teacher to student. While abstract theoretical and mathematical matters are vital to chemistry, it is its very 'worldliness' that also allows it to be contextualized quite readily within real and praetical contexts and applieations. This 'context-rich' nature oi'chemistry provides many opportunities to promote interaction, discussion and debate between teachers and learners, to embed the subject within tbe lived experience of students. To this extent, then, different academic fields would favour ditferent learning styles. As Kolb (1981) has said:


Orchestrating Learning and Teaching In Interdisciplinary Chemistry

Overtime ... selection and socialisation pressures combine to produce an increasingly impermeable and homogeneous disciplinary culture and correspondingly specialised student orientation to leaming. (p. 234)

Approaches to learning As Brockbank and McGill (2000) point out, tbere is no science or theory of learning that embraces all the activities involved in human learning. Most of what people do, think, feel and believe is a consequence of learning and so the scope for learning is w ide and varied. As noted earlier, learners, too, are multi-variant and eome in many shapes and sizes. DilTerentiating between learners is a eomplex task and, in this research, choices were made to limit this by focusing on students' styles and strategies for learning and, in particular, explore Kolb's (1984) learning cycle. Kolb's work is well known and widely used as a basis from which further detailed study can emerge. In brief, learners are seen to set goals on the basis of tbeory, take action and, on the basis of this experience, devise new actions or a revised plan. Kolb's work suggests that Icamers have different ways of selecting, perceiving and processing information that surrounds the learning task, shaping the ways in which they respond to theory, planning, action and refiection. These difterenees are related to their background knowledge and their styie(s) of learning. A great deal of work (Jbr example, Bntwistle et al.. 2000; Riding & Rayner, 1998; Sadler-Smith, 1997; Schemck, 1988) about learning styles and learning strategies has been reported since tbe 1970s, and many different taxonomies and measurement instruments have been designed (for example, by Hntwistle, 1997; Honey & Mumford; 1992, Kolb, 1999). The characterization of students' learning styles and strategies has been seen as a way of: • Observing the outcomes and experience of learning (Beatty, Gibbs, & Morgan, 1997); • Identifying students at risk through inellective study strategies (Tait & Entwistle, 1996); • Evaluating the quality of student learning. Ineffective or inappropriate learning strategies are considered to be significant factors in student failure or drop out (Tait & Entwistle, 1996); • Enhancing communication strategies (Kolb, Baker, & Jensen, 2002); and • Improving teamwork (Kolb, 1984). Tbe present study has built upon Kolb's theory of experiential learning, whieh shows how experience is translated througb reflection into concepts, which in turn are used as guides for active experimentation and the ehoiee of new experiences. Kolb considers the following stages: Concrete experience - the student wants to be actively involved in a new experience Reflective observation - the student watches others or collects and analyses data Abstract conceptualization - the student creates theories to explain observations Active experimentation - the student uses theories to solve problems and make decisions in practice The eycle may be initiated at any point, but the stages are tben thought to be followed in sequence. So, tbe learning cycle provides feedback, which is the basis for new action and evaluation of the consequences of that action. Since learners might go through the eycle several times, it may be better regarded as a spiral of cycles (Healey & Jenkins, 2000). Tbere are two primary axes that lie behind the cyele: an 'abstract-concrete' dimension and an •active-reflective' dimension. These entail the main dimensions of the learning process, corresponding to two distinctive ways by which learning takes place. The first refers to the ways in whieh new infonnation or experience is grasped, and the second to how that which is perceived is tben processed or transformed. The ways adults perceive or grasp experience ranges from immersing themselves in tbe experience using their senses, feelings and knowledge in a concrete way, to thinking abstractly about matters, using logic and reason. Having perceived the experience, they 85

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need then to understand it through transforming it. Here individuals differ in their preference for doing so, either through active experimentation or by watching and reflective observation (Fielding, 1994). Kolb (1984) suggests that students develop a preference for learning in a particular way. The preferred style reflects only a tendency, and students may adopt dilTerent learning styles in different situations, although they tend to favour some learning behaviours in preference to others. Kolb identifies four learning styles, with specific characteristics (see Figure 2): Convergent - Students witb this learning style have facility in solving problems, making decisions and applying ideas in a practical way. A convergent student 'seems to do best where there is a single correct answer or solution to a question or problem' (p.77). Divergent - Divergent students have facility in viewing concrete situations from different perspectives. Observation is more important than action. 'Divergence' means the capacity to generate alternative ideas. Assimilator - Students with this style are more concerned with ideas and abstract concepts than with people. The strength of this learning style relics in assimilating distinct observations into an integrated explanation. Accommodaiive - Accommodative students like doing things and becoming involved in new experienees. The term 'aecommodation' derives from the facility of adapting oneself to different circumstances. Concrete Experience

Active Experimentation

Accomodative Can carry out plans Interested in action and results Adapts to immediate circumstances Trial and error style Sets objectives Sets schedules

Divergent Imaginative, good at generating ideas Can view situation from different angles Open to experience Recognizes problems Investigates Senses opportunities

Convergent Good at practical applications Makes decisions Focuses efforts Does well when there is one answer Evaluates plans Selects from alternatives

Assimilator Ability to create theoretical model; Compares alternatives Defines problems Establishes criteria Formulates hypotheses

Reflective Observation

Abstract Conceptualization

Figure 2: Four learning styles (Kolb, 1984) The data collected from the 100 chemistry students at the University of Aveiro is shown in Figtire 3. The sample was mixed in age, gender and degree fields, and the mean age was 19 years old, with 63% female and 37% male. They were twice asked to complete a Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) (Kolb, 1999), once at the beginning of the first semester of the academic year 2002-2003 (Semester A) and again at the start of the second (Semester B). Tbe LSI inventory is organized in such a way that there are 12 groups of statements, each with 4 statements and, in every group, one statement corresponds to a particular stage of the learning cycle. Within each group, students must organize the four statements according to their own preferences. The LSI measures the relative emphases of each one of the four modes of the learning process (concrete experience, reflective


Orchestrating Learning and Teaching in Interdisciplinary Chemistry

obser\'ation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation), as well as the relationship between abstract and concrete., and active and rellective.





Figure 3: Results of the LSI in Semester A (white, 1 st semester), Semester B (black, 2nd) After the analysis olihe LSI questionnaire, eight students were selected for interviewing: two from each learning style. These pairs were chosen lo have dilfercnces in their learning styles, as a way of exploring the previous results. The inten'iews were semi-slnictured. tape-recorded, and results from their analysis were used to support the LSI data. The results of the Kolb inventory for the two semesters show a strong consistency between the four categories over the two periods of the research, and indicate that the majority of these students fall into two camps of learners: accommodative and divergent. Nulty and Barret's (1996) typography of academic disciplines uses Kolb's system and suggests that the archetypical chemist is an assimilator. As can be seen in Figure 2, they base this on "abilities to create theoretical models' and to 'formulate hypotheses.' Accommodative and divergent learning styles, say Nulty and Barret. display characteristics more in keeping with students from the social sciences than the physical sciences. As noted earlier, this foundation course in chemistry attracts a very wide range of students for whom this programme is a basic requirement before they continue with their studies into other specialist areas and so, to this extent, these students are less typical chemists and probably do represent more varied approaches to their learning. To repeat parts of Figure 2, this suggests the following characteristics:

Accommodative Can carry out plans Interested in action and results Adapts to immediate circumstances Trial and error style Sets objectives Sets schedules

Divergent Imaginative, good at generating ideas Can view situations from different angles Open to experience Recognizes problems Investigates Senses opportunities

Given that these students display many of the characteristics above, how might the teaching of chemistry be tuned to better meet their preferred tiiode of working?


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Approaches to teaching The thrust of this paper is that, increasingly, students bring to the classroom a great diversity of learning preferences, begging the question: How to respond? It is not possible to fully ditTerentiate between, and provide for, leamcrs on the basis of all possible learning preferences, styles and strategies. Differentiation is a complex and difficult business that can defeat even the most experienced of teachers. Moreover, the argument here is that it is also difficult to align curriculum objectives with teaching approaches and learning outcomes—not least because any one teaching approach may, under certain circumstances, meet numerous curriculum goals and generate a multitude of learning outcomes. While Biggs' (2000) Constructive Alignment of Curriculum 'means' and 'ends' may seem to be plausible and desirable goals, reaching these is still an inexact art. The choice of approaches to teaching cannot follow a direct linear logic and may sometimes be contingent upon expertise, style, disposition, design and, not least, 'classroom chemistry.' The course at the University of Aveiro has been tuned through consecutive course editions towards both the requirements of the curriculum and the satisfaction and involvement ofthe teachers and students. This activity of tuning is not so much a result of once-and-for-all modification, but a relatively constant concern and evolution that requires almost permanent consideration of students' questions and feedback, and of student-teacher and student-student interactions. Kolb's theory and the results ofthe Leaming Styles Inventory research have informed, guided and, in some instances, catalyzed changes in the Department of Chemistry. However, there has not been simple causality between theory and practice; our notion of'orchestration' would suggest a more complex and rounded response. As a result, the course matter has undergone two levels of tuning: "fine' tuning and 'coarse' tuning. Fine-tuning has involved small shifts in practice, protocol, subject emphasis or minor subject diversions suggested to students or by students. For example, a major precondition for the success of this work is that students feel free to ask questions ofthe teacher and are encouraged to do so at any time in the classroom. That is, the atmosphere surrounding the student must provide plenty of stimulus and encouragement for development. The students in this course are invited to raise questions (verbally and in writing) on and around the subject matter addressed to the teacher, and several routes are provided for them to do so. A key principle is to enhance students' willingness to interact in the classroom. Teachers agree to respond to questions, and responses are given in two main ways: within usual class and lecture systems, to tackle both general and particular studem questions, and through a dedicated computer software system (described in Pedrosa de Jesus, Teixeira-Dias & Watts, 2003), to provide the students with more individualized answers, explanations, advice and with suggestions for further reading, with the encouragement to raise follow-up questions. Coarse-tuning has meant turning these 'minor" moves into a more stnictured reality, hy creating and adopting strategies for teaching and learning that explore ways to stimulate active leaming by improving the quality of classroom interactions. This has entailed the use of approaches to teaching based on students' feedback. These coarse developments have taken the following five forms: (i) ' Q Q Lectures' At the end of each topic the course team has introduced an additional lecture on a related, yet not previously planned issue, based upon students' questions and feedback. The acronym 'QQ' stands for 'Questocs em Quimica.' the running title for much ol this initiative at Aveiro. The lecturer selects a broad case study fi-om within chemistry to exemplify a particular topic and uses this to address student concems. The students are advised to read further on the selected topic from chapters in the recommended textbook. Some examples of topics selected for the 'QQ-lectures'

Orchestrating Leaming and Teaching in Interdisciplinary Chemistry

during the first semester have been 'The unnatural nature of life,' 'Gaseous hydration,' 'Hydrophobia and molecular affinities in water' and, during the second semester, 'Fuel ceils,' 'The ozone layer' and 'Conducting polymers.'

(ii) Conference-lectures These have been entirely voluntary lectures on topics of wide scientific, technological and social interest intended to stimulate and enhance students' engagement in chemistry. Three such conference-lectures have been 'the X-ray diffraction of DNA,' 'the oxygen bond in haemoglobin: an example of cooperation?' and 'magnetic materials as stores of infonnation.' These additional lectures have been 'on demand," not included in the regular lecture timetable, and have provided a means of estimating the degree of students' enthusiasm and interest in chemistry. These lectures have each drawn audiences of about 50 students from the cohort of 200 in semester 2. Lecture notes were issued ahead ol the lecture to ease comprehension of some potentially complex issues in chemistry.

(iii) Seminar-tutorial sessions While the seminar-tutorial sessions are considered natural extensions ofthe usual large classroom lectures, they have been designed here to provide better opportunities for interpersonal interactions with the students. Instead of simply providing students with lists of dry-lab exercises, each of these tutorial sessions has presented a particular case study related to the subject matter previously lectured on in the large classroom. In this way, students have been required to: (a) analyse the ease study in hand, (b) propose a structured Hne of thought, (c) proceed in finding and selecting the data provided in a book of data, (d) discuss the results and eventually, and (e) explore practical applications in day-to-day situations. Some examples of case studies used in the seminar-tutorial sessions have been: Acids and bases - consider an aqueous solution of a Bronsted-Lowry weak acid. Present and discuss the approximations that may be used for evaluation ofthe solution pH. Provide concrete examples that illustrate those approximations. Redox reactions - consider a metal with at least two positive oxidation states present and discuss the conditions for the metal to undergo eomproportionation or disproportionation. Provide examples of each. Calculate the extent ofthe reaction in each case. Hydrocarbons - consider the nomia! boiling points of hydrocarbons. Investigate possible correlations with molecular or structural features. Plot and discuss the encountered eorreiations. Do they originate any practical applications? Discuss them. In these seminar-tutorial sessions, students are encouraged to interact with other students and/ or with the teacher in a relaxed atmosphere. In tum, the teacher's intervention in the classroom has been to orient and encourage students to ask questions, recognize difficulties that arise and find adequate and efficient strategies to meet them. In Bamett's (1990) tenns, a seminar is usually limited to questioning the internal mechanism ofthe discipline. Here, attempts are made to widen the issues to some debate ofthe external challenges to chemistry.

(iv) Practical laboratory sessions To engage fully in laboratory sessions it is important that students have opportunities to: (a) identify the main objectives ofthe work, (b) identify and overcome any conceptual and practical difficulties encountered, (c) plan and execute the work involved, (d) record and discuss the results and observations in their lab book (a log book, not a book of reports) and eventually, (e) suggest practical alterations and improvements, and (0 raise questions orally or through using any ofthe


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dedicated desktop computers available in the laboratory rooms. Some examples of practical work for laboratory classes include: Phenolphthalein - plan and execute experiments for observing the colour changes of phenolphthalein in the pH range approximately from pH I to pH 12. Among the phenolphthalein structures provided in the laboratory manual, identify those involved in each obser\ed colour change. Write the corresponding acid-base reactions. Wliat is the structural feature, the presence of which provides colour'.' And what is the one that makes a particular phenolphthalein structure uncoloured? Separation of substances - plan and execute experiments for separating copper sulphate and salicylic acid from a provided ethanol-water solution where both of those substances are in solution. Base your experimental strategy on test-tube experiments carried out to answer the following questions: Is copper sulfate soluble in water? What about in ethanol? Is salicylic acid soluble in water? In ethanol? I-'xplain your findings in your lab book. Corrosion of iron - plan and execute experiments for studying the corrosion of iron. In particular, the planned experiments should provide clear answers to the following questions: What is (are) the etTcct(s) of strong electrolytes in the corTosion process? How might one confirm that eathodic protection prevents corrosion? (v) Mini-projects In the first year of this research work, this initiative was undertaken as a 'pilot' with students from just one ofthe seminar-tutorial classrooms involved. The students were given 6 weeks to choose, negotiate and develop a small project on some topic of chemistry of interest to them. The majority of the mini-projects have been library-based exercises, with a great deal of discussion within the group and with the teacher, although some have been based upon laboratory experiments. The following topics are examples of those chosen by one class of 26 students: 'blood gases and deep-sea diving,' 'self-replicating molecules,' 'catalytic converters,' 'hydrogen as a fuel,' 'CO-, and the greenhouse elTect,' 'catalysts based on zeolites,' 'magnetic resonance imaging in medicine,' 'chemistry and forensic science.' Work was conducted in groups of 2, 3, or 4, in their own time (outside formal sessions). During this period, eaeh group had various sessions with teachers, in which only students had the initiative to question their topic and the teacher would only provide appropriate orientation and guidance for students to identify and answer their questions. The projects were then presented by each 'project team' to the other students and to members of staff in the department. The presentations took place on an evening over a period of three hours, with each presentation being subject to numerous questions trom both peers and tutors. In some instances the presentations were organized around a series ofthe team's own questions. In the second year of this development the general process was repeated, though this time further seminar-tutorial groups were invited to participate with a wider selection ot topics, resulting in a total of 13 projects being presented by some 42 students.

Orchestrating teaching, iearning, and chemistry The orchestration described so far has been an attempt to bring some harmony to the teaching of a subject discipline (Chemistry) through designing specific teaching approaches to encourage the engagement of particular eohorts of students. So, for example, by designing and including 'mini-projects' in the modules, and through re-de.'^igning the practical laboratory sessions, the intention has been to enable these learners to problem-solve through their own planned experiments and investigations, to trade upon their imaginative ideas, to set schedules and objectives leading to outcomes of interest to themselves, and to Icam—in seeure circumstances—through experience and (where appropriate) through trial and error. 90

Orchestrating Learning and Teaching in Interdisciplinary Chemistry

Chemistry has already been characterized as a practical, 'worldly,' scientific discipline under constant review as new advances are made, and most certainly not a static, abstract, mathematical body of knowledge to be transmitted wholesale from teacher to student, it has been seen as important to use the 'context-rich' nature of chemistry to provide many opportunities to promote interaction, discussion and debate between teachers and leamers, to embed the subject wilhin the lived experience of students. The approaches to teaching discussed above have been designed to encapsulate these features while, at the same time, tune into students' comments, questions, feedback and general approaches to leaming. This fairly long comment from one ofthe tutors instrumental in the design ofthe programme gives a flavour ofthe thinking behind the changes being made: • Tutor: It is quite usual in the teaching of university chemistry lor students to have the opportunities of these kinds of lectures and practical experiences. These students are probably not aware that such lectures and tutorials take a lot of research and time to prepare. That said, I think that this added effort is well worth the time. I would hate my students to emerge with a science degree and not, for instaiicc. know something ofthe naiure of elements! The Theory classes are not there simply for the transmission of infonnation. Now, while there must be some imparting ofknowledge, these classes go way beyond that. The students are not there to sit and listen but must feel free to interact, to express doubts, to ask questions. Similarly, the Seminar-tutorial sessions are not designed just to solve pre-packaged problems. I'm not interested in students simply making substitutions into formulae—they'll gain little from such a mechanised process. Instead we work together to resolve case studies, problems in which the .students must undertake different learning tasks. They must analyse the case in question and understand what is being asked for. Text-based problems like these seldom actually contain the requisite figures and the students must then search through data-sources in order to gather what data they need. This is difikult but is what happens in thcmistry^—there is an immense amount of data and the students must select exactly what is needed to solve the problem. Krom this it can be seen that the intention behind the range of provisions being made and the tuning ofthe chemistry course is to increase interaction between the tutors and students, to increase student autonomy in leaming and for students to engage with the subject discipline. The design of some elements of this course is unusual—^for example, the laboratory exercises and the 'miniproject' work. The laboratory work has dispensed with long and complex lists of procedures with elaborate equipment, and has been based on fairly straightforward ideas that require simple equipment, easily available in the laboratory. In this way, laboratory work has provided significant opportunities for students to really engage with the topics at hand. This design has tuned to such 'accommodative" approaches to leaming as a disposition to investigate, to adapt to immediate circumstances, to carry out plans, undertake action and generate results. Lab tutors are encouraged not to 'take over' at the moment that a student encounters a difficulty but instead, to provide appropriate orientation and guidance for the student to overcome the dilTiculty independently. Students are asked to record observations and results in an individual laboratory book—a logbook that remains in the laboratory room as an accumulative record o f t h e student's work. This forms part o f t h e assessment process which, in turn, is concentrated on students' progress rather than on performance on individual lab works. In a similar way, the 'mini-projects' have been designed to appeal to students who can recognize and develop problems, value setting their own objectives and schedules, are imaginative and good at generating ideas and open to new experiences. Students expressed this as follows: Student A: We decided to do the mini-project group work because it was a theme we all found interesting, it's the future! It's Chemistry but presented in a way ihat I think is more interesting. Tm now


CJSMTE/RCESMT 5:1 January 2005

seeing what we can do with all that we leam in classes ... Lectures arc theory. In tutorials it's somehow the application of that theory in practice ... and here, in the mini-projects, it al! comes together. Student B: The mini-project work has been hard ... I know that it's possible to be successful and so the task can't be too difTicult. I know that some local high school kids have actually obtained biodiesel, so it can't be so very complex ... But 1 am having difficulties in finding a protocol to do it, though I think I have now found one that works ... I'm going to show it to the tutor today, but even if he says it's OK,, we may not have time to do the experiment.,. and we really want to do it! Student C: When we agreed to do a mini-project we didn't know what was expected of us!! But it was worth it! Now we know more about our tbeme (the greenhouse effect), and it was so very interesting to do an investigation, even though it was really quite a small project. My favourite part ofthe work was setting up the experimental work. There was only another group doing something practical too. We were waiting for the results to be more ... more evident ... but then we understood why the results were like they were. But even those results helped us to understand better the greenhouse effect... Sometimes, when we heard people talking about the greenhouse etTect we goi completely the wrong idea, we thought that there would automatically be a bigger increase in temperature ... and our experiment helped us to understand that is not like this at all! The following comments concern the practical laboratory exercises: Student D: There is one thing I don't like very much about the practical work: we didn't have a protocol to tbilow during the experience ... we had to construct our own procedures, and this sometimes is quite difficult. Student E: We didn't have a format to follow during the laboratory exercises in the way we used to have in school. That can be good, but can be a bad Ihing too ... we really had to work harder!! We had to prepare the practical work at home and work out what we had to do in advance, because ifwe didn't prepare the practical work then, when we came to laboratory classes, we were just standing around, we couldn't do anything. It's interesting to 'build' the experiment... we started with a problem and, with the material and the reagents that we had available, we built up our own processes. Although it is harder than when we were at high school, I think that in this way we became more ,,. implicated ... and this way we understood better what we are doing... it i.sn't only just 'add this chemical to that' and so on. Student F: In the beginning I did not like the lab classes ... there were no instructions to follow and 1 didn't like this ... Now I can understand the teacher's aims and it is true that, like this, without lineby-line instructions, 1 have much more work, but I also understand what I am doing, unlike my old school practical classes.

Orchestration: A summary To summarize: the orchestration that has been discussed so far has been (i) an attempt to explore some ofthe leaming preferences ofthe students in the programme, (ii) to analyse the particular nature ofthe subject matter at hand, and (iii) to tune approaches to teaching in order to maximize learning. These activities have not taken place in a linear fashion, and changes have been introduced along the way even as the research outcomes have been emerging. Moreover, the changes have been made with a keen eye to students' and teachers' perceptions ofthe value ofthe changes taking place. This paper has set out to present and discuss the broad sweep ofthe work, the formative shaping of work in progress, rather than a fully-tledged summative evaluation in all its detail. Needless to say, and as is indicated in some ofthe students' comments, not alt the feedback has been entirely positive—not all change is welcome change. In broad tenns, the negative comments suggest that the teaching team needs to work harder at supporting the students as they develop greater levels of autonomy rather than abandon these teaching approaches altogether. These com-


Orchestrating Learning and Teaching in Interdisciplinary Chemistry

merits suggest ways towards refining these approaches better to meet students' learning needs— routes to enhancing the orchestration of learning and teaching in chemistry. This study is an attempt to explore the relationship between the discipline of chemistry as an academic degree programme, approaches to teaching this, and students' disposition towards particular learning styles and strategies. This report relates to a relatively small cohort of students engaged in studies of chemistry. As suggested earlier, disciplinary styles empower scholarship, not only by giving ready-made ways to develop and present work, but also by giving shape to problems in the field and methods by which they may be solved. Teachers choose topics within the conceptual structure of their discipline and choose approaches to teaching and learning that resonate with this. Their aim is to enrich the conceptual structures of the students they teach, expand the scope of the dialogues within the classroom and, ultimately, help make the subject attractive and intriguing, so intellectually compelling that learners will want to learn, will volunteer to turn to the literature central to the discipline, to solve problems, to bask in the ideas that characterize the subject. To appreciate the learning styles and strategies of students in the class is important., not least for the questions they ask and explanations they receive. The idea is not to teach each student exclusively according to his or her preferences but to look for a balance in approaches to learning and teaching. If the balance is achieved, students will be taught partly in a manner that they prefer, whieh leads to an increase in comfort and willingness lo learn. They will also develop strategies to cope with teaching methods that cross their preferences and so maximize their chances of learning. Further work based on this early study will examine the connections between questions, learning styles and subject specific approaches to teaching—and what it means for the teacher to orchestrate these successfully.

Acknowledgements This study is supported by Funda^ao para a Ciencia e a Tecnologia, Portugal, Project POCTI / 36473 / CED / 2000

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