Publication Details

O'Brien, G. & Bedford, S. (2012). Small group work in large chemistry classes: workshops in First Year Chemistry. Aiming for Excellence in STEM Learning and Teaching: Proceedings of STEM Annual Conference 2012 (pp. 1-10). United Kingdom: Higher Education Academy.


First year chemistry classes at UOW are large (>500), the student body is very diverse in academic background and the students are enrolled in a broad range of degree programmes in science and applied science. Although students in Engineering degrees have a separate one semester programme, all other students taking first year chemistry do the subjects CHEM101 (Autumn) and CHEM102 (Spring). The undergraduate degree programmes range from nutrition and dietetics through health and medical sciences to biological sciences, to the degree programs run by the School of Chemistry itself, being BSc(Chem), BMedChem and BNano. The diversity of student intake includes those with senior school chemistry and mathematics, those without who attend a two week Bridging Chemistry intensive and those who have no senior school chemistry background, often lacking formal mathematics as well. Workshops based on Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) activities in conjunction with individual formative testing and group based peer assessment have been introduced into First Year Chemistry. We used different workshops formats in CHEM101 and CHEM102 depending on timetabling and other constraints. This has resulted in useful informative comparisons from the staff and student point of view. Extensive student surveying and focus group discussions have given rise to a rich body of commentary. We report our experiences and students' responses and outcomes. This research is being carried out within the context of increasing student numbers, increasing student diversity and major changes in Government policies concerning social inclusion and enablement.