Authors: Paulette Vincent-Ruz, Tara Meyer, Sean G. Roe, and Christian D. Schunn
First author’s institution: University of Michigan
Journal: Journal of Chemical Education (2020)
Introductory chemistry classes including General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry often have large enrollments which can make teaching strategies that were developed for small or medium sized classes challenging to integrate. A recent study published in the Journal of Chemical Education tested whether POGIL style instruction worked in improving student’s academic performance as well as their feelings of belonging in chemistry.
POGIL is a method for teaching science that aims to have students work to construct their own understanding of concepts with the help of their instructor and peers rather than simply having a concept explained to students. It involves an initial exploration phase, where students are given some questions that prompt them to work in teams and make observations about a phenomenon. This is followed by a concept invention phase where students generalize their observations and a final application phase where student teams take their generalization and apply it to new problems. In small and medium classes, this method has been found to decrease student failure rates. However, the outcomes were heavily dependent on the teacher’s facilitation techniques and the knowledge students brought into the class.
This paper looked at students enrolled in the first semester of General Chemistry at a large research university. 981 students enrolled in a course using POGIL while 620 students attended traditional General Chemistry lectures. Each section had between 95 and 258 students, and students did not know which teaching style their section used before they enrolled. The instructors of both experimental groups had similar amounts of experience and course materials were jointly designed by the professors teaching the course. To allow better facilitation of the student teams in the POGIL group, a group of graduate student and undergraduate teaching assistants were trained in that teaching strategy.
The researchers found that while both the POGIL and the traditional group had similar performance coming into the class, as measured by AP chemistry exam participation and scores, high school GPA, and standardized test math scores, the POGIL students finished General Chemistry 1 with significantly higher grades. They were also significantly more likely to take General Chemistry 2 the following semester. When looking about how students felt about chemistry after taking General Chemistry 1, students from both the POGIL group and the traditional class sections were similarly likely to express that they were fascinated in chemistry (measured by a standardized survey of student interest and desire to master the concepts taught in class) and students in the POGIL group were only slightly more likely to feel that they felt they could do well in chemistry. However, students in the POGIL group were much more likely to express a belief that they were chemistry people
Figure 1: Students in the POGIL group had better General Chemistry grades and feelings of belonging in chemistry (Identity) compared to their traditionally taught peers.
The paper also looked at how students from both experimental General Chemistry 1 conditions performed in General Chemistry 2. All students who decided to enroll in General Chemistry 2 (69% of students who had taken General Chemistry 1) were taught in the traditional style. Students who had previously been in the General Chemistry 1 POGIL sections received slightly higher grades than students who were in the traditionally taught course their first semester. Students were also still more likely to express that they felt a sense of belonging and competence in Chemistry if they had previously been in one of the POGIL sections. The authors note that this difference was likely significantly mediated by the fact that the POGIL group entered General Chemistry 2 with higher average grades in General Chemistry 1.
Image 2: The students taught using the POGIL methodology in General Chemistry 1 maintained higher GPAs and feelings of identity through traditionally taught General Chemistry 2
The authors conclude that the POGIL style pedagogy worked well in large research university General Chemistry sequences even during the first iteration of using this teaching strategy. Students in the experimental group seemed to gain advantages in both academic outcomes as well in their personal sense of comfort and belonging in chemistry, and these advantages seemed to translate into higher performance in the subsequent General Chemistry 2 course.