A Study of Faculty Approaches to Teaching Undergraduate Physical Chemistry Courses

Michael Ryan Mack, Purdue University


Chemistry education researchers have not adequately studied teaching and learning experiences at all levels in the undergraduate chemistry curriculum leaving gaps in discipline-based STEM education communities understanding about how the upper- division curricula works (National Research Council, 2012b; Towns, 2013). This study explored faculty approaches to teaching in upper-division physical chemistry course settings using an interview-based methodology. Two conceptualizations of approaches to teaching emerged from a phenomenographic analysis of interview transcripts: (1) faculty beliefs about the purposes for teaching physical chemistry and (2) their conceptions of their role as an instructor in these course settings. Faculty who reported beliefs predominantly centered on helping students develop conceptual knowledge and problem-solving skills in physical chemistry often worked with didactic models of teaching, which emphasized the transfer of expert knowledge to students. When faculty expressed beliefs that were more inclusive of conceptual, epistemic, and social learning goals in science education they often described more student-centered models of teaching and learning, which put more responsibilities on them to facilitate students’ interactive engagement with the material and peers during regularly scheduled class time. Knowledge of faculty thinking, as evinced in a rich description of their accounts of their experience, provides researchers and professional developers with useful information about the potential opportunities or barriers that exist for helping faculty align their beliefs and goals for teaching with research-based instructional strategies.




Towns, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Chemistry|Science education

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