First Year Chemistry Group

In 2011, the La Trobe chemistry department saw its best first year results in ten years, without any compromises made to the difficulty of assessment. First-year coordinators Dr Carmel Abrahams and Dr David Wilson say this dramatic improvement is the result of the first year team’s efforts to enrich student learning in lectures and labs, and to enhance the way students study.

One of these improvements was the introduction of an online learning tool that allows students to explore the course at their own pace and regularly test their understanding. Students can re-take the quizzes as many times as they wish, and this ensures everyone in the course has a chance to fully understand what is being taught in the lectures.

Recognising that some students begin university with a limited background in mathematics, the first year chemistry team also created basic maths resources and set up voluntary tutorials to cover essential concepts. These have been overwhelmingly popular with students keen to update their skills.

Carmel and David add that the entire chemistry team – from the laboratory technicians to the head of department – has energy and enthusiasm along with a desire to make sure students leave the course with a solid understanding of the subject matter. These qualities have been recognised with a number of teaching awards, including a University Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning in 2010.

Above all, the first year chemistry team aims to make sure their students understand how chemistry relates to other subjects and how it can be useful in real-world terms. The team says the most satisfying result is when students who might have found chemistry challenging at first sign up to continue studying it beyond the basic requirements of their course.

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