Students' understanding of alkyl halide reactions in undergraduate organic chemistry
Organic chemistry is an essential subject for many undergraduate students completing degrees in science, engineering, and pre-professional programs. However, students often struggle with the concepts and skills required to successfully solve organic chemistry exercises. Since alkyl halides are traditionally the first functional group that is studied in undergraduate organic chemistry courses, establishing a robust understanding of the concepts and reactions related to them can be beneficial in assuring students' success in organic chemistry courses. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to elucidate and describe students' understanding of alkyl halide reactions in an undergraduate organic chemistry course. Participants were interviewed using a think-aloud protocol in which they were given a set of questions dealing with reactions and mechanisms of alkyl halide molecules in order to shed light on the students' understanding of these reactions and elucidate any gaps in understanding and incorrect warrants that may be present. These interviews were transcribed and analyzed using a qualitative inquiry approach and a modified Toulmin scheme. In general, the findings from this study show that the students exhibited gaps in understanding and incorrect warrants dealing with: (1) classifying substances as bases and/or nucleophiles, (2) assessing the basic or nucleophilic strength of substances, and (3) accurately describing the steps that take place and reactive intermediates that form during alkyl halide reaction mechanisms. In addition, implications for teaching and future research are discussed.