Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Photovoice as a Pedagogical Tool: Student Engagement in Undergraduate Introductory Chemistry for Nonscience Majors

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Photovoice as a Pedagogical Tool: Student Engagement in Undergraduate Introductory Chemistry for Nonscience Majors

Article excerpt

Photovoice is a qualitative mode of inquiry in education research that has been historically linked to community-based participatory action research (PAR). It is an approach that uses the power of both imagery and narrative to convey perspectives of participants (Wang & Burris, 1997). As an outgrowth of PAR, Photovoice has been used in a variety of studies and projects investigating social issues and circumstance (Goodhart et al., 2006; Hussey, 2006; Oliffe, Bottorff, Kelly, & Halpin, 2008; Strack, Macgill, & McDonagh, 2004; Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997; Wang, Cash, & Powers, 2000; Wang & RedwoodJones, 2001). Through Photovoice, participants may be empowered, if not transformed, as they explore issues of relevance to them and their community (Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997).

Photovoice therefore possesses potential as a student-centered learning activity in courses where the influence of science in the community is explored and student engagement is needed. This study specifically examined the use of Photovoice as a pedagogical tool in two undergraduate introductory chemistry classes designed for nonscience majors. The use of Photovoice as a pedagogical approach in this setting represented a departure from the positivist, teacher-centered approaches often associated with the study of college chemistry.

Challenges in learning chemistry

Although a fundamental understanding of chemistry may be an important part of attaining scientific literacy (Holbrook & Rannikmae, 2009), for the average student enrolled in introductory courses, chemistry concepts may seem difficult to learn for several reasons. First, learning chemistry often requires the synthesis of conceptual relationships using unique and specialized language involving symbols, equations, and mathematical manipulations. Second, macroscopic properties and observations are often explained by models that assume occurrences at the atomic or molecular level (Treagust, 2003). Third, at the introductory level, the acquisition of chemistry knowledge characteristically involves the integration of multiple complex concepts; this proves challenging for many students (Evans, Leinhardt, Karabinos, & Yaron, 2006).

Difficulties associated with learning chemistry are further exacerbated by the continued use of teacher-centered rather than student-centered pedagogical approaches in introductory chemistry courses. Investigation in chemistry is decidedly empirical/analytical in nature, and the positivist/objectivist tradition of chemistry as a science is well-established (Coleman, 2003; Jonassen, 1991). Walczyk, Ramsey, and Zha (2007) found that learner-centered instruction is infrequently used in college science and mathematical classrooms. Instructional delivery via the objectivist (e.g., teacher lecture/ student note taking) format is typically used in chemistry (Walczyk et al., 2007).

As an extension of lecturing, traditional teacher-centered chemistry instruction often uses an explain/apply pedagogy; students are primarily required to read, listen, watch, and then memorize disembodied facts, procedures, and principles in preparation for future chemistry study. Walczyk et al. (2007) found that the lecture/ note-taking format typically used in general chemistry courses is limited in its ability to keep students fully engaged in learning. Therefore otherwise capable students may be inadvertently marginalized by strict, unwavering adherence to lecture-based modes of instruction.

Logically, then, instructors of introductory chemistry core courses or issues-focused chemistry courses at the undergraduate level should consider moving beyond traditional lecture and teacher-focused approaches in order to improve instructional effectiveness for a greater number of students. Beyers (2009) proposed that the learning process should extend beyond the normal confines of core curriculum and beyond the walls of the classroom to encompass multiple dimensions of learning. …

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