Increasing Scientific Methodology, Argumentation to Improve Chemistry Lab Instruction

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The Department of Chemistry and Physics at State University of New York at Old Westbury has been awarded a grant of $296,189 from the National Science Foundation to explore how undergraduate students can be motivated to work independently and gain skills with inquiry-based laboratory experiences.

"Preparing the next generation of researchers, physicians and scientists is a critical need as our nation and world continue to grow more complex,” said College President Calvin O. Butts, III.  “With this funding, we will be able to test new, creative approaches for improving STEM learning and learning environments, focused on the learning occurring in our chemistry laboratories.”

To be administered by the Research Foundation of the State University of New York, the grant will fund a project that the researchers expect will bridge the gap between desired student learning outcomes and current instructional practices. Its goal is to improve undergraduates' understanding of scientific methodology and argumentation via inquiry-based laboratory teaching and argumentative writing. The project will also explore the impact of team teaching on student engagement and learning progress.  The grant period is from September 1, 2016 through August 31, 2019.

“Compared to traditional ‘cookbook-style’ laboratory experiences, which leave many students unacquainted with scientific methodology and argumentation, inquiry-based experiences provide a richer and more meaningful learning experience,” said Dr. Ruomei Gao, associate professor of Chemistry at Old Westbury and primary investigator for the project. “Our objective is to study creative approaches for improving STEM learning and learning environments, with a focus on a research-rich and a skills-rich chemistry laboratory curriculum.”

Serving as co-primary investigators in this research will be Dr. Judith Weinstein-Lloyd, professor of chemistry; Dr. Duncan Quarless, Jr., professor of chemistry; and Dr. Bright Emenike, assistant professor of chemistry. The project will also feature active participation by faculty from English Department and the College’s Writing Center to enhance student training on scientific writing.

By integrating students' self-designed projects into teaching laboratories, the project will provide opportunities for students to work independently and to think critically as scientists. Through guided argumentative writing, students' deep thinking will be persistently focused on projects while their knowledge-based understanding develops. By examining the impact of instructor-guided and student-generated inquiries on learning, the project will generate new evidence regarding effective instruction in the chemistry laboratory, and can lead to improved instructional design in undergraduate chemistry.

As SUNY Old Westbury enrolls large numbers of transfer students annually, the researchers intend to actively disseminate their findings to feeder community colleges and other institutions.