Motivating non-chemists to analytical chemistry courses

Posted by @vania.calisto@ua on Oct. 3, 2022, 11:34 p.m.

Vânia Calisto

Chemistry Department, University of Aveiro, Portugal


Challenge and goal

Students are usually much more motivated in courses which address contents specifically related with the subject of the BSc degree in which they are enrolled. While non-specific courses are fundamental in the curricular plan of a BSc, students struggle to find the purpose of studying those subjects and often just realize how important they were after starting their final BSc projects or even their professional careers. Therefore, the attitude of the students towards these courses reflects their lack of interest and motivation, addressing them having in mind getting a grade just enough for final approval but not actually considering the relevance of what they are studying. This is the case of Analytical Chemistry related courses included in the curricular plans of non-chemistry BSc degrees, where teachers often fail to convince students of the transversal importance of the analytical point of view for their professional careers. This challenge will be tackled by raising awareness of participant teachers to this issue. The main goal is to encourage teachers to propose changes in the way Analytical Chemistry is addressed for non-chemistry students, introducing modifications in the courses’ design which should be tailored for each context.

Topic of the user case

Improve the motivation of non-chemists towards analytical chemistry courses

Local context (specific)

The Chemistry Department of the University of Aveiro is involved in teaching Analytical Chemistry-related courses to BSc degrees in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology, Biochemistry and Environmental Engineering. Currently, from the referred bachelors, 20 to 30 students enrol, each year, in the Chemistry degree, while the number of students enrolling all the other referred BSc account for almost 200 students.

While Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology, Biochemistry and Environmental Engineering are not “strictly” speaking Chemistry degrees, Analytical Chemistry is of high relevance for all of them considering its transversal nature as a subject. This challenge is of high importance in this specific context seeing that, as demonstrated, the number of non-chemistry students involved in Analytical Chemistry courses are actually much larger than the number of Chemistry students. The referred figures (much lower number of Chemistry students than from other BSc) reflect, in fact, a relatively recent trend. Before that, the opposite trend was verified meaning that most Analytical Chemistry courses previously designed should be adapted to the new reality.

Local educational scope

The programmed CPD activities are directed to teachers involved in Analytical Chemistry courses included in the curriculum of BSc such as (but not limited to) Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology, Biochemistry and Environmental Engineering.

Pre-knowledge/ Background of the participating local teaching staff

Up to now, no pedagogical courses are required to teach at the University of Aveiro. CPD-related workshops are increasingly available at this institution but are voluntary and address general pedagogical problems and not specific situations as the one described in this user case. In this way, local teaching staff in Analytical Chemistry does not have access to CPD actions for their specific context.


Local CPD goals

The main goal of this CPD activity is to trigger a change in the way Analytical Chemistry is taught to non-chemists. The lecturers involved should be motivated/able to:

- Recognize that the same subject cannot be presented in the same way in different contexts (and different contexts might arise even inside the same course);

- Make a reflective assessment on their teaching practices of Analytical Chemistry to non-chemists and how it affects the students’ motivation and engagement and, consequently, their performance;

- Re-design an Analytical Chemistry course.

Needs defined in STEM-CPD Roadmap

1 frame the course in the context of the study programme
16 design interactive lectures
4 engage students and arouse interest for the discipline in the class
24 use blended learning approach
5 be interested in their students' progress.
1 be reflective teachers and reflect about their courses / lectures.
11 collaborating with a peer-lecturer on a redesign of a course.

CPD activities at the local university

The CPD activities here presented are intended to prepare Analytical Chemistry teachers to introduce modifications in courses that are part of non-chemistry BSc with the view of having a direct impact in the students’ motivation and thus in the successful achievement of the courses’ intended learning goals.

The CPD activities will include participation in Flipped Classroom. In this activity the participant teachers will:

a) Asynchronous moment: read some information on the challenges faced when teaching Analytical Chemistry to non-chemists with particular examples illustrating the reality of their Institution, as the base for a first autonomous reflection on the CPD topic;

b) Synchronous group activity: Lectures’ team meeting to discuss the challenge presented in the first asynchronous moment and to discuss possible ideas for re-design courses;

c) Asynchronous moment: complete small assignments on the development of a proposal for the modification of a course in a given context. Different categories can be addressed in the assignments, e.g.: exercises for illustration of concepts strictly related with a specific BSc; proposals of on-site visits for students to industries applying concepts taught in the course; proposals of lectures involving alumni working in such industries to reinforce the understanding of the industry knowledge requirements (and even in academic research environment, for students that value that professional option);

d) Asynchronous and synchronous moments: collaborate with a peer-lecture on a redesign of an Analytical Chemistry course directed to a non-chemistry BSc based on the ideas that arose during the previous moments of this activity.


Teaching and learning materials

Teaching and learning materials will include:

- Reading materials;

- Collaborative platforms (eg. Microsoft Teams) for group work, to allow for the attribution of individual assignments followed by (a)synchronous exchange of ideas for a successful implementation of the new vision for the course;


Sustainable implementation

Firstly, the CPD activity should be carried out with a team of peer-lectures involved in the teaching of the same course, allowing to test the proposed approach at a smaller scale. In case of positive results, the CPD activity can be implemented with a larger group of teachers that face the same challenges in different courses.

Expected impact of the CPD User Case

This CPD User Case in expected to highly increase the motivation of Analytical Chemistry teachers to develop different teaching approaches for students from non-chemistry BSc from the ones applied in Chemistry BSc.

The ultimate expected impact of this CPD action will be to significantly increase the students’ motivation (and therefore engagement) towards Analytical Chemistry, by showing the direct relevance of the subject in their professional careers. In this way, expected learning outcomes of the courses are likely to be achieved with higher rates of success, decreasing the number of students enrolling in the same course over and over again.

Plans for eventual continuation of the CPD within the same topic

The CPD activities here proposed, if implemented with success, can be extrapolated to teach any non-specific course included in the curricular plan of any BSc, either in the Chemistry Department or in other Departments facing similar challenges.

Constructive alignment, Competence design interactive teaching, Engagement and motivation, facilitation discipline specific learning, Blended learning (type P1-1, P1-2b, P1-3b, P1-4b)

This CPD scenario describes a User case in which lecturers develop their competence in sound course design and designing interactive teaching and how to engage and motivate students and how to facilitate discipline specific thinking and how to use blended learning and develop attitudes in supporting student development and enabling students’ well-being in a learning process and inclusivity and reflecting on own teaching practice.
The approximate duration of a User case that follows this scenario is several weeks.
In this CPD scenario the participants professionalize in a close connection to their own teaching practice (at their workplace) and meet in person on location with the training staff and with other participants.

Learning environment
Several weeks

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See also