A central ambition of research in chemistry education at the third level is to promote students’ reasoning and to facilitate their learning process. Particularly organic chemistry still represents a very labor-intense subject for most of the students, resulting in a weak conceptual knowledge and a strong reliance on rote-memorization. The mainly “static” view on chemical reactions in general chemistry changes towards a “dynamic” perspective through proposing mechanisms for chemical transformations. Given the variety of variables that govern organic mechanisms, it is not surprising that reasoning about mechanisms represents a huge challenge for undergraduates. However a clear and workable characterization of what constitutes mechanistic reasoning in organic chemistry is still vague. This makes it difficult to determine how to promote mechanistic reasoning. Therefore, a reasoning structure was derived from the philosophy of organic chemistry and was used to capture students’ productive resources and to characterize the complexity of their reasoning. Based on these results, an instructional scaffold was created that is capable to support students in identifying implicit properties and build cause-effects relations.
The main article that will be discussed appeared in Chemistry Education Research and Practice (Caspari, I.; Kranz, D.; Graulich, N., Resolving the complexity of organic chemistry students’ reasoning through the lens of a mechanistic framework. Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 2018,19 (4), 1117-1141.) This article describes how the philosophy of science was used to guide the analysis of student reasoning.
A more general discussion of the type of items that is used in the study can be found in the Journal of Chemical Education (Graulich, N.; Schween, M., Concept-Oriented Task Design: Making Purposeful Case Comparisons in Organic Chemistry. J. Chem. Educ. 2018, 95 (3), 376-383.). It may be noteworthy for those who are interested in task design.
Within the realm of analyzing student reasoning, the following article (Caspari, I.; Weinrich, M.; Sevian, H.; Graulich, N., This mechanistic step is “productive”: organic chemistry students’ backward-oriented reasoning. Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 2018,19 (1), 42-59.) describes a secondary data analysis that was conducted in cooperation with the Hannah Sevian’s research group. The article describes how the aspect of “chaining”, a reasoning strategy derived from the philosophy of science, helps to characterize students’ and their professor’s reasoning. It uncovers interesting aspects on how we communicate driving forces in organic chemistry.
Nicole Graulich is a Professor of Chemistry Education and the head of the Institute of Chemistry Education at the Justus-Liebig University in Gießen, Germany. She earned her teaching degree in French and Chemistry at the Justus-Liebig University in 2007 and pursued a PhD in Organic Chemistry at the same university. After a teaching break at a local High School, she was awarded a Post-doc Fellowship from the German research foundation and spent two years doing research in chemistry education with Gautam Bhattacharyya in Clemson, South Carolina. Since 2014, she started her own research group with a strong emphasis on learning organic chemistry at the tertiary level. The group is focused on describing qualitatively students’ learning processes in organic chemistry and on creating instructional material upon these insights. She was awarded the best dissertation award from the Justus-Liebig University and the nationwide “Ars Legendi” Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching Natural Sciences in 2016.