A support programme for first-year chemistry students: a campus case study
Moji, Rantooa Goodchild
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Chemistry is often regarded as a difficult subject, which is reflected in the high failure rates of university first-year students. These students are faced by diverse challenges such as the difficult and abstract nature of the subject, lack of interest in and motivation for this subject, irrelevant prior knowledge or misconceptions, large classes, and the application in the world of work. The success rate of first-year Chemistry students at the UFS (Qwaqwa campus) has also been unsatisfactory for some years and that adversely affected the through-put rates of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. This made it necessary to embark on a study to establish what could be the root causes of this problem and propose a possible way to remedy the situation. In order to address this problem, this study was designed to address the following main research question: What are first-year students’ and lecturers’ experiences of the teaching, learning and assessment employed in the Chemistry subject (i.e. CEM104) and how can possible shortcomings be addressed? This study used an adapted explanatory mixed methods design to address the main research question, using qualitative findings (from focus groups and semi-structured interviews) to explain the quantitative findings from the self-constructed questionnaire. Hundred and thirteen first-year Chemistry students (UFS, QwaQwa campus) participated in the questionnaire survey, while two focus groups were conducted and two lecturers were interviewed. In essence, the data revealed that both first-year Chemistry students and lecturers at the UFS (QwaQwa campus) perceived learning, teaching and assessment deficiencies, but the determinant factors/reasons for these were diverse. The participants, however, recognised the need for a support programme as well as various additional facilities (e.g. computers, e-mail, internet, library services and textbooks, academic support and a departmental manual) to improve the academic performance of first-year Chemistry students.