Conventional courses have been traditionally taking place in Higher Education with students acting as passive listeners and note-takers. According to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) criteria, this aspect is especially relevant, considering that one of its principal aims is to develop autonomous learners with higher-order thinking skills. This contribution is focused on implementing new methodologies in a mandatory Inorganic Chemistry module included on the second level of the Chemical Engineering degree.
In this context, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a highly effective tool, not only for knowledge acquisition but also for important skills such us teambuilding, problem solving, decision making or communication ability. This particular activity encourages active and self-directed learning through the employment of problems with direct application on real life, which makes students participant on his own learning process. Although PBL is not a new concept in Higher Education and, particularly on chemistry, their implementation in full-theoretical subjects as Inorganic Chemistry is completely unusual.
Herein, we describe the excellent results obtained by applying this method on one of the more descriptive sections of the Inorganic Chemisty, entitled “Properties and reactivity of transition metals”. While students usually memorize theoretical concepts of metals with a classic teaching methodology, a problem-based learning activity on this issue provides the proper context not only for stimulating learning but also to develop their capacity to establish correct relationships and tendencies between the position of metals in the Periodic Table and their properties and further reactivity.
Initially, the PBL is presented to students who analyse the situation in groups and conduct their investigation to acquire relevant information to address this challenge. In this particular problem, students adopt the role of a new research director of an important Canadian company that works on pigment ceramics manufacture. The actual global crisis in the world has forced the dismissal of the previous director manager who conserved all instructions for a metal obtaining, an elemental component for that pigment. Supplementary material is provided to students with the resume of the extraction process from the ore, and characteristic chemical proofs conducted with all the metals separated on each stage. After the inspection of all processes described, students are requested to inform about the exact moment of the process where the metal is obtained, as well as the identification of the rest of metals that constitute the ore.
The correct resolution of the problem, students’ implication in their groups and a final exposition with the rest of students as audience, constitutes the base of the assessment of this activity. Students’ personal opinions were collected in a questionnaire about the activity. The high level of satisfaction is parallel to the high number of passed students in the module.