Section

Student experience

Abstract

Both attitude and previous experiences play a large role in shaping a student’s approach to and achievement in a given subject. Similarly, students’ enjoyment of their learning experiences is an important factor in determining their retention in their course of choice. Here, we explore the attitudes toward the study of chemistry amongst a cohort of first-year undergraduate students at a regional Australian university, including assessing these parameters at the beginning of their first term, the end of the first term and the end of their second term. In addition, metrics on the students’ experiences of studying chemistry were collected at the latter two timepoints. Generally, student attitudes toward chemistry were positive, as were student learning experiences in most instances. Two-step cluster analysis revealed the presence of two distinct clusters of students within the data, differing significantly in their overall attitude toward the study of chemistry. Students who had studied chemistry in Year 12 did not show any significant differences in their attitudes toward chemistry, when compared to students who had not studied Year 12 chemistry; however, their learning experiences in first-year chemistry were rated as being significantly more positive. We attribute this to their increased ability to engage with and successfully learn from the topic material presented in lectures and tutorials, as their previous exposure to the ‘language’ of chemistry may provide them with an advantage over chemistry-naïve students.

Practitioner Notes

1. Overall, regional Australian undergraduate students appeared to have a positive attitude toward chemistry. However, this is not the case for all students. Identification of challenged students early in the semester could be useful for initiating intervention actions. 2. Students generally rate lecture classes as the least enjoyable mode of content delivery. We suggest that lecture presentations could continue to be made more engaging and less of a “lecture style”. 3. Students find the practical laboratory classes engaging and enjoyable. These should continue to form an important part of the chemistry classroom. 4. With the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent shift toward online teaching, it is important that chemistry educators are able to leverage online learning platforms to provide the best experience for students. This may require upgrading their digital literacy skills and increasing the frequency of teacher-student interactions. 5. Further work is recommended to determine the impact of different styles of pedagogy and teaching approaches on student attitudes and experiences.

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