V. Paideya

University of KwaZulu Natal (SOUTH AFRICA)
The school of Chemistry and Physics at the University of KwaZulu Natal has recognised that the relatively large intake of first year students (approximately one thousand) makes it virtually impossible to provide individual attention, regular practice and assessment opportunities to all of the first year students enrolled in the introductory chemistry module. These pro-active exercises are essential for the development of a student’s conceptual understanding of chemistry as a whole. Impediments to implementing such tasks to 1000 first year students can be attributed to factors such as lack of manpower, time required, and ‘law of diminishing returns’; specifically in terms of the requisite budget for the school and manpower investment to yield a positive outcome for the school as a whole and an improvement or an adequate outcome in students conceptual understanding of chemistry. In an attempt to overcome these hurdles, an online based learning, support and monitoring tool, Mastering Chemistry, was thus implemented with the first year chemistry module in 2012.

Modern first year students are technologically savvy individuals, or quickly adapt to information technological devices that may become newly available to them. This paper therefore reports on a case study of the 2012 cohort of first year chemistry students’ experiences in using the mastering chemistry programme. In order to examine the effectiveness of this academic support and monitoring tool a cohort of first year chemistry students ranging from three different categories were interviewed. Firstly those students who attempted all homework exercises and assignments given to students and performed well on final examination, secondly those students who attempted all exercises and assignments but performed poorly in final examination and lastly students who occasional attempted mastering chemistry tasks were observed and interviewed over a period one semester (duration of the chemistry module). The findings suggest that mastering chemistry has the potential to provide academic support through practice, immediate feedback, revision of concepts and reflection through hints and the availability of theoretical concepts when working with exercises or assignments. Further it offers lecturers opportunities for constant monitoring and support of concepts not adequately understood by students. It further suggests that constant use of the programme better prepares students for assessment however, students need to adapt to differing time constraints and assessment procedures between mastering chemistry assignments and the final examination. It is essential to take cognisance of such technologically advanced students, and an online tool such as mastering chemistry which takes advantage of the modern student’s predilection for such systems.