Models in chemical education : an investigation into their uses
This thesis is concerned with the use of models in chemical education, in particular the
way chemistry students use models in understanding chemistry.
The study begins with an outline of the reasons for my interest in the subject of models
in chemistry. The report describes some of the problems encountered by undergraduate
chemistry students in dealing with three dimensional structures, and surveys literature
relating to visualization skills in chemistry. Preliminary broad areas for investigation
are identified including the relevance of models to students, problems of representing
3D structures, and students' use of models to solve chemical problems. A pilot study
to gather information in these areas and to develop a suitable research instrument for
investigation is described. The pilot study proved useful in highlighting errors in understanding
chemical concepts, assessing practical model use, and considering students'
perceptions of the relevance of models.
This is followed by a consideration of the role of models in understanding chemistry
in relation to the nature of model, chemistry and understanding, and the links and interactions
between them. It discusses issues such as the match between the currently
perceived roles of models in chemical practice and in chemistry teaching and the desirability
of bringing these into line. It surveys the literature concerning purpose of model
use in chemistry and describes the features of chemical structure models used in the
research. Criteria for selecting appropriate data collection and analysis methods in a
research study are considered and 80me of the methods adopted in recent chemical education
research described. The chapter concludes with a description and justification of
the particular research methods used in the study.
The report gives details of the interviews carried out with selected scientists to consider
the notion of 'the good chemist'. It then describes the videorecorded workshop interviews
with forty five chemistry students relating to their appreciation and use of models in
chemistry, and the follow up int.erviews with eight of the participants. Data from these
interviews are analysed in an attempt to answer the research questions posed initially,
including individual chemists' purposes in using models, patterns in model appreciation,
perceptions of the good chemist, fiexibility of model use as an indicator of competence as a
chemist, and the potential of the workshop interview in higher education assessment. The
research findings are discussed in relation to existing literature, and the study concludes
with a discussion of the implications for chemistry curricula, chemical education and for