Investigating perceptions of the structure and development of scientific knowledge in the context of a transformed organic chemistry lecture course
Organic Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (OCLUE) is an undergraduate lecture-based organic chemistry course that has been transformed in line with the vision for science education set out by the ‘Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas’ (National Research Council, 2012). OCLUE is designed to progress students understanding of core ideas in organic chemistry through the use of scientific practices such as constructing explanations, predictions and models. The purpose of this study is to generate theory on how OCLUE students conceptualise the structure and development of scientific knowledge. Eleven students with diverse experiences and exam performances were interviewed. The data was collected and analysed in accordance with the tenants of constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2000). OCLUE students conceptualised a hierarchical structure of scientific knowledge whereby behind claims and answers in science is important information that determines the validity of the claim or answer. Being adept in utilising this information was important to students in OCLUE as it provided them with the opportunity to account for why phenomena occur in organic chemistry. Students explained that the process of developing scientific knowledge is rarely straight-forward or pre-determined. Instead it was believed that scientists needed to piece together what they know in seemingly random ways in order to solve science puzzles. In the context of OCLUE, students explained that memorising information ahead of OCLUE exams was insufficient. Instead they had to synthesise and interrogate their prior understanding to figure out new problems encountered in OCLUE exams. Students attributed the efficacy of OCLUE's pedagogy to helping them engage in constructivist thinking processes that involved interrogating and applying their prior knowledge. This contributes to the understanding that OCLUE has set out a precedent organic chemistry course that can foster a more scientific way of learning science that contrasts students’ engagement in considerably arduous memorisation techniques.