Designing curriculum and assessment to promote
effective learning in chemistry in higher education
Chemistry is regarded as a difficult subject and many of the concepts
are inexplicable without the use of analogies or models. Reviews
of misconceptions over the past 16 years will affirm this (Andersson
1990; Gabel and Bunce 1994; Nakhleh 1992). Recent modifications
in chemistry education have seen the introduction of modularisation.
The introduction of the modular system has been a quick transformation
and perhaps with little time for forward planning and inadequate
prior knowledge of the importance of programme learning outcomes.
Planning for learning means that designing the forms of instruction
which support learning becomes as important as preparing the content
Many of the programmes currently modularised are a dissected version
of the ‘unmodularised’ course with all the content,
and less delivery time and formative assessment due to semesterisation.
If we look closely at the current curricula of our programmes, are
they ‘The planned and guided learning experiences and intended
learning outcomes, formulated through the systematic reconstruction
of knowledge and experiences, for the learners’ continuous
and wilful growth in personal social competence’ as defined
by Tanner and Tanner (1980)?
An example of a curriculum design model is given in Figure
1 which gives a simplistic overview of where to start. The level
of award which the programme is to achieve can be selected in accordance
to the NQAI. Level 7 is a B.Sc. (Ord), level 8 is a B.Sc. (Hons)
and level 9 is M.Sc., and so on. The next step is to decide on the
programme aims and objectives in the form of learning outcomes specific
(i) to the programme and (ii) to the individual modules.
The learning outcomes should reflect the skills and competences
required of the graduate from this programme. Learning and teaching
activities should be selected that are suitable to the delivery
of the module (Bucat 2004).
Activities is the ‘key’ word as ‘Learning takes
place through the active behaviour of the student: it is what he/she
does that he/she learns, not what the teacher does’ (Tyler
1949). In an integrated system where assessment is constructively
aligned to drive the learning (Biggs
2002), this approach to curriculum design optimises the conditions
for quality learning.
When designing a new programme a curriculum planning model may
be used to oversee the programme design as shown in Figure
2 . This gives the programme manager and committee a prospective
view of the programme as a whole and the criteria that must be fulfilled
in order to implement it successfully. Fink (1999)
has outlined five principles to ensure good course design. These
include criteria such as:
- challenging students to higher level learning;
- using active forms of learning;
- giving frequent and immediate feedback to students on the quality
of their learning;
- using a structured sequence of different learning activities;
- having a fair system for assessing and grading students.
The last criterion is an important one, as the increased diversity
of learners has changed from the traditional students of the past,
and this diversity must be catered for within the programme design.