Organic Chemistry: Intensive Format or Traditional Format

Article excerpt


As a result of the recent movement on increasing students' performance in organic chemistry using different learning tools, Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) (1-6, 8), has seen the greatest impact on students' achievement in this area. I wish to put forward an argument in favor of another learning style (Intensive Format) being an alternative method of achieving better success in organic chemistry.

Peer-Led Team Learning is a workshop model where students work together in small groups of 6-8 persons, in weekly two-hour sessions. The main objective of this model is creating a community of learners who are actively engaged with the material and fellow students. The model uses facilitators who are former students who have previously taken the course and performed well in it. The workshop materials were obtained from PLTL Organic Chemistry Book Series (7) and In-house. Students in this workshop are our traditional students.

In the Summer Institute in Science and Mathematics (SISM), the traditional twenty-eight week, two semester sequence is condensed into two four week terms in the summer. Classes meet five days a week (Monday-Friday), and three hours each day. This is the intensive format. Until now, there has been only one study (9) that compares learning of organic chemistry in semester or quarter format vs intensive format.

Sometimes, the terms intensive and accelerated are used interchangeable when it comes to course formats. I would like to make the distinction for the purpose of the study presented here. The intensive learning format is different from an accelerated learning format. The difference is that, accelerated courses are often structured in condensed formats that use weekend and evening classes, workplace programs, and distance learning. These courses are designed for students to do more work (to learn material) independently outside of class. In the intensive format, a semester course is condensed into a shorter time. Nothing is sacrificed with respect to the course material and students are not expected to do more independent learning. The objectives of the courses are the same as those of the traditional formats. In order to understand how effective intensive courses in organic chemistry are as learning format, a four year study was conducted involving two institutions, Summer Institute in Science and Mathematics (intensive format) at Capital University and a nearby anonymous university (traditional format) in central Ohio (9).

After eight years of teaching organic chemistry in both the traditional format as well as the intensive format of the Summer Institute in Science and Mathematics at Capital University, it is time for me to share what I have learned with other educators in this field. This study compares two types of learning approach: Intensive learning/study groups and Traditional learning/Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL). A previous study comparing intensive format with traditional format without any additional aid points to the fact that organic chemistry is better learned using the intensive format. The purpose and design of the study is the same as the previous study (9).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to examine: (1) the effectiveness of intensive course format for student learning, (2) the impact of this format on students motivation for learning, and (3) content mastery.

Design for Comparing Formats

In this study the same instructor taught organic chemistry in the traditional/PLTL format (late August-May) at one university and the intensive/study group format (June-August) at Summer Institute in Science and Mathematics (Capital University), using the same text (11), the same syllabus (the same objectives), and the same exams. The study compares the final grades of students as well as anonymous course evaluation surveys.

Major Findings

How Effective (Content Mastery) is the Intensive Format? …