The extended BSc programme at the University of Pretoria was the context of this study; specifically, students enrolled in foundation chemistry. This study was aimed at improving teaching and learning at this level, by implementing pre-existing education interventions, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) and the use of the Chemorganiser. Themes chosen for the interventions were the mole concept and stoichiometry and redox reactions, as these have been identified as common areas of difficulty in Chemistry (Johnston, 2010).
POGIL required students to take on well-defined roles and work in groups on specially designed worksheets (Farrell, Moog & Spencer, 1999). Chemorganisers were A4 sheets which broke down topics by highlighting key concepts and provided students with a clear strategy on how to solve problems (Reid and Sirhan, 2001). Chemorganisers were used individually after a class discussion thereof. Different theoretical frameworks underpin the two interventions: POGIL is constructed around “The Learning Cycle” in which students explore data, invent concepts and apply these concepts to problems (Farrell et al., 1999). On the other hand, “Cognitive Load Theory” was the motivation behind the development of Chemorganiser in that content is “chunked” to become more manageable for the students (Kirschner, 2002).
The POGIL intervention was implemented in a group of approximately 50 students, likewise with the Chemorganiser intervention, the remainder of the students on the course acted as a control. The Integrated model of School Effectiveness (Scheerens, 2004; 1990) served as the theoretical lens for the study. The effectiveness of each intervention was explored using the classroom variables of productivity, student preference and opportunity to learn along with the output of student performance. Mixed methods, including observations, focus group interviews, student questionnaires and student performance data, were used.
During the first year of implementation the Chemorganisers were well received by students. Increased classroom participation and confidence was noted along with stable levels of attendance. Students requested the inclusion of more challenging content. This intervention did not affect the time allocated for the tutorials and was easy to implement. Students performed better on average than their counterparts; a highly statistically significant difference was noted (p<0.0001).
Contrary to evidence for the success of POGIL elsewhere, students who experienced this intervention were dissatisfied and class attendance dwindled. Students required twice the time to be spent on the same content. Students often found group work challenging and lacked confidence in their preparedness for assessment. The interventions were refined before implementation in the second year. The content integrity of each intervention was preserved with adjustments to the POGIL group organisation. Data collection methods remained the same. Further improvement was noted in student performance for the Chemorganiser group. All other findings remained similar for the Chemorganiser group. The POGIL intervention was far better received by the students; students were at ease in groups of their own choosing. Students attended tutorials and worked productively. POGIL students performed better in assessment in year 2, their performance being equivalent to that of the control group.
The findings of the study suggest that Chemorganisers created an effective learning environment, through the active reduction of cognitive load on the students. The effectiveness of POGIL was improved in the second year. That is, the challenges of group work could be managed effectively through careful re-implementation. For the purpose of full scale implementation, the Chemorganiser was judged to be the intervention of choice.