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Learners who enter undergraduate science courses without having studied chemistry at second level often struggle to deal with the amount of new terminology, symbolism and concepts they are presented with. One of the strategies used to address the problem of a first year student cohort with a diverse range of prior chemistry knowledge is to provide learning materials in advance of a lecture. The aim is to reduce the cognitive load (i.e. the burden on working memory) experienced by novice chemistry learners during their lecture. Originally, these pre-lecture resources were paper-based but, more recently, online implementation has taken place. Although they are often used with first year undergraduates, the approach can be applied with other years also.
Pre-lecture resources encompass any activity a student might undertake in preparation for your lecture. This might involve reading a webpage or section of an online textbook, listening to a podcast, watching a video or completing a quiz or other online activity. An important aspect is that the pre-lecture material is referred to and built upon within the lecture as this reinforces its value. It is helpful if a short online quiz is incorporated as part of the pre-lecture preparation. This can be used by the lecturer to identify misconceptions and difficulties that can then be addressed during the face-to-face session. A quiz also allows learners to gauge their own understanding and identifies areas that they need to focus on which can provide reassurance, particularly for first year students who are adjusting to a new environment. In situations where the prior chemistry knowledge of learners varies, the pre-lecture materials have still been useful to those who have studied some chemistry previously, both as revision tools and in identifying areas where misconceptions remain.
The pre-lecture activities can been classified into Preparatory and Content-covering, although these two categories can be considered to represent ends of a spectrum (for further information, see table 1 in the article by Seery (2012)). The Content-covering approach requires a greater portion of the lecture material to be reviewed by the learner in advance and has similarities to the model of ‘flipping’ or inverting lectures.
In general, pre-lecture activities have been introduced in one subject on a degree programme. An issue to consider is that the adoption of pre-lecture activities across all subjects could prove to be quite demanding on students and would need to be managed. Reports in the literature usually remark on changes occurring during the face-to-face session as a result of implementing pre-lecture activities. Learners are able to ask questions on concepts they had struggled with and this leads to greater interaction and discussion and active learning.