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A Critical Look at Safety Instruction in the General Chemistry Laboratory

Chemistry Building, Room 400
Analytical Seminar

Over the past two decades, active learning strategies have been incorporated into general and organic chemistry classrooms to replace the long-held tradition of “sage on the stage” lectures.1 These active learning strategies have included, but are not limited to, classroom response systems (“clickers”), think-pair-share, discovery-based activities, and peer teaching.2-3 When used correctly, these strategies enforce meaningful learning, which is the integration of newly learned material with previously learned concepts.4 After these concepts have been integrated they can then be used to solve unfamiliar problems.5 The active learning strategies employed in chemistry classrooms have not yet been introduced to the realm of safety instruction in the laboratory. The purpose of this work is to understand how teaching safety in a passive manner is affecting the ability of general chemistry students to minimize risk in unfamiliar safety situations. The study began with observations to not only note current missteps students are making in response to risky situations but also to observe how the TAs choose to present safety material in pre-laboratory lectures. The next step was to interview general chemistry students and TAs to acquire their technical knowledge of safety guidelines as well as the steps they would take to minimize risk in specific situations. Using the underlying themes in the observations and interviews, an online safety assessment was created, the results of which give valuable information about students’ ability to minimize risk after two semesters of passive safety instruction in general chemistry laboratory.

1.         Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., Felton, P., Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty. Jossey-Bass: San Fransisco, CA, USA, 2014.

2.         Nel, L., Students as Collaborators in Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences in Technology-Enhanced Classrooms: An Engaged Scholarship Approach. British Journal of Educational Technology 2017, 48 (5), 1131-1142.

3.         Benware, C. A., Deci, E. L. , Quality of Learning with an Active Versus Passive Motivational Set. American Educational Research Journal 1984, 21 (4), 755-765.

4.         Novak, J. D., Meaningful Learning: The Essential Factor for Conceptual Change in Limited or Inappropriate Propositional Hierarchies Leading to Empowerment of Learners. Learning 2002, 86 (4), 548-571.

5.         Mayer, R. E., Rote Versus Meaningful Learning. Theory into Practice 2002, 41 (4), 1-12.

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Head of Chemistry: Prof. Jason Locklin