The role of laboratory work in university chemistry

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Norman Reid *a and Iqbal Shah b
aCentre for Science Education, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK. E-mail:
bOpen University, Islamabad, Pakistan

Received 23rd August 2005 , Accepted 9th February 2006

The place of experimental work in laboratories has always assumed a high profile at all levels of chemical education. This paper seeks to review the main strands of evidence available today and argues that the place of experimental work needs to be reconsidered at higher education levels. There is a need for a clarification of aims and objectives, and these need to be communicated to learners. It argues that higher education needs to be acutely aware of what goes on at school and to build on these skills. Pre-laboratory exercises are strongly supported by the evidence, while there needs to be a radical re-thinking of the use of laboratory manuals, with assessment being explored afresh. In addition, seeing the laboratory experience in the context of what goes on before and after, as well as other learning, will enhance the learning potential of this time. Examples of some ways forward are presented. Overall, it is argued that much more could be gained by the students if the laboratory experience, using similar experiments, was radically re- thought. [Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 2007, 8 (2), 172-185]