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21st-Century Education Goals

June 11, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 24

"New Education Tools" leaves readers with the impression that simply infusing a variety of "computer tools" into chemistry instruction, especially at the beginning high school/college level, will somehow lead to meeting the major goals of this instruction (C&EN, April 23, page 44).

For the 21st century, these goals should be to develop a true understanding of the chemistry enterprise and its impact on all aspects of societal activity; to gain experience in inquiring about and discovering answers to students' own concerns related to chemistry; and to develop the desire of more students to pursue further study that will lead to a successful career in the field of chemistry or in related scientific endeavors.

It comes through loud and clear that the presenters at the ACS national meeting in Chicago are placing all of their academic bets on technology as the means of meeting the goals stated above. Research conducted through Temple University by me and my doctoral students indicates that computer technology alone is not able to effectively address these three goals. Perhaps this is the case because computer resources designed for use in chemistry instruction are too prescriptive and do not offer students the opportunity to think things through and to question.

This is the same difficulty apparent in most chemistry instruction that is labeled as "traditional," with laboratory and lecture sessions that are unrelated and based on misinterpretation of the meaning of "inquiry" in instruction. This term is interpreted by most teachers of chemistry to mean that the teacher asks the questions; its meaning should be to design instruction so that it causes students to ask or to inquire. Not until computer-driven instruction in chemistry is redesigned to encourage students to inquire and search for discoveries prompted by their own questions will technology transform chemistry instruction toward better meeting the goals indicated above.

To further this essential reform, in our work we substituted the phrase "student inquiry/discovery" for the misinterpreted label "inquiry." Only appropriately designed "student inquiry/discovery" chemistry instruction will lead to the improvement of learning outcomes based on the use of computers and other technology.

Francis X. Sutman
Linwood, N.J.



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