Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2023 Proceedings
Publication year: 2023
Pages: 266-275
ISBN: 978-84-09-49026-4
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2023.0101
Conference name: 17th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 6-8 March, 2023
Location: Valencia, Spain
Promoting active learning in the classroom through the employment of context-based learning approaches has been proved as an efficient pedagogical methodology in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines. Significantly, when these strategies are applied within a problem scenario, students are challenged to practice and develop higher-order thinking and solving skills resulting in deeper learning outcomes. By facing context-rich problems, students can link concepts with their everyday environment, enhancing their motivation for learning and promoting their solving-problem skills. Implementing these pedagogies in a field so grounded in experimentation as Chemistry represents an excellent opportunity for stimulating learning by making the subject more meaningful to students.

This article explores the effectiveness of designing and implementing original context-rich problems as a supportive teaching strategy for improving student achievement in a General Chemistry course. The study was conducted with different profiles of first-year students enrolled in both science and engineering degrees during the current 2022-2023 academic year. The instructional design was based on a series of Multi-Concept Linked Problem (MCLP) activities where different relevant topics related to key concepts in chemistry were considered within a real scenario. Each MCLP’s context was conveniently adjusted to the content that had been previously taught in class. Therefore, as the academic course progressed, the level of difficulty of MCLPs increased due to the higher variety of intertwined issues included in the subject.

A significant level of success for MCLPs was observed in all degrees studied. An average score above 6.5 over 10 was obtained in the first problem proposed, decreasing slightly this mark to 5.75 for the following MCLP according to the high amount of content covered on it. Remarkedly, the last MCLP launched containing all the contents covered in the course almost retained the same score showing only a small reduction to 5.5. The success in the employment of the MCLPs was also reinforced by the enhancement in the number of passed students in the midterm exam for all studied cases, moving from an average of 60-80 % of failed students in the previous 2021/2022 academic year to a 30-50 % in the current 2022/2023 course. Lastly, a final questionnaire has been specifically designed and distributed online to measure students’ perceptions of their problem-solving ability after completing this new instructional approach. Responses revealed a stronger confidence for solving problems for engineers than that in learners of science degrees. Reliability and consistency of the instrument was confirmed with the high Cronbach’s alpha values obtained (0.70-0.76) for each dimension.

In summary, the design and the implementation of an original type of problem (MCLP) based on connecting multiple concepts within a real scenario context, has resulted highly efficient for enhancing students learning in chemistry. Contextualization in problems has facilitated engagement and motivation to learn among students. The ill-defined structure of these problems also helped learners to train high-level critical thinking and argumentative reasoning skills. Students’ performance was almost conserved along each MCLP launched despite problems gradually becoming harder. Notably, the strategy helped to reduce the number of failed students in the subject.
Problem-solving skills, context-based learning, active learning, First-Year Undergraduate.