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Origins of the APCELL Project

Thirty-five Australian universities teach physical chemistry and over 20,000 students per year pass through these courses. Physical Chemistry is highly conceptual and students find the subject difficult. Laboratory work, integral to all Australian chemistry curricula, can help make these concepts meaningful. Experiments in the laboratory can provide students with some of the most effective and valuable learning experiences of their courses. However, this is not always the case. 

Increasingly, students are telling us that their laboratory courses are not always interesting or motivating and that, as learning experiences, they could be improved. Academics throughout Australia and elsewhere have recognised that students studying physical chemistry are not learning as well as they should (or could). It appears that Australian physical chemistry laboratory courses are not really meeting the learning needs of their students. Individual institutions have attempted to improve learning in the laboratory. However, no single institution can overcome the multiple barriers to learning which are imposed by limited physical resources, limited specialist expertise, limited pedagogical expertise and limited active student involvement.

The Australian Physical Chemistry Enhanced Laboratory Learning (APCELL) Project has been designed to solve the problems in student learning in chemistry laboratories across all Australian universities. APCELL seeks to bring together diverse physical chemistry educational expertise and resources from across all Australian universities  to develop a suite of experiments which will facilitate improved student learning, taking into account the widely varying backgrounds and needs of students from different institutions. In effect, we will overcome the resource constraints of individual university chemistry departments by treating the participants as if they belong to one big department.

The experiments developed under the APCELL project will be based on sound pedagogy in the form of an educational template which will ensure that the experiments will be student-directed, of high topical relevance, applied, project based, interactive, and with a focus on problem solving rather than following a recipe to achieve a predetermined outcome. Once developed, evaluated and refined, experiments (including intended learning outcomes, sample data, analysis and demonstrator notes) will be made publicly available via a national electronic database.