A co-curricular inquiry-based approach to developing technical and transferrable laboratory skills in science graduates

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 42: Next Generation, Higher Education: Challenges, Changes and Opportunities

March, 2020, 125 pages
Published by
Eva Heinrich & Roseanna Bourke

Laboratory-based learning experiences are critically important to develop the cognitive and technical capabilities we expect to see in our future scientists and STEM professionals. Despite the key role this environment plays in learning science, many current activities fall short in terms of providing an experience which connects the ‘doing’ with the ‘learning’. Laboratory practicals are expensive to resource (materials, staff time, laboratory space, etc), and therefore are typically constrained and assessment focused. In addition, these activities are often ‘cookbook’ or predetermined in their outcomes and students are typically not allowed to explore outside of the very narrow context of the prescribed activity. Given this current model of laboratory training, it is a concern that universities are producing graduates who may not have well developed technical or transferable skills to work effectively in a laboratory environment. The Kitchen Chemistry program aims to address this training deficit in undergraduate sciences. Kitchen Chemistry is a series of inquiry based co-curricular workshops for science, health science, and education students that aims to positively influence student learning, confidence and persistence in the sciences. The workshops differ from traditional laboratory environments because they are not assessment driven and are designed as a ‘safe place to fail’, where failure is an opportunity to learn. The curriculum for Kitchen Chemistry was developed in partnership with academics, student support services, technical staff, and students. Here we discuss the affordances and challenges to implementing this initiative, which is grounded in the provision of timely and relevant support for learning to develop technical proficiency for STEM undergraduates, in the co-curricular space.

Keywords: inquiry-based learning, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), co-curricular