An Inquiry into Inquiry-based Experiments

A review of the inquiry-based experimental literature shows that experimental protocols are much the same whether the experiment is expository, inquiry-driven or discovery-based. Indeed, two recent articles promoting Organic Chemistry laboratory reform propose that traditional verification experiments may be “recast” or “transformed” into inquiry-driven or discovery-based experiments. [mohrig2007_JCE_84_992_inquiry-driven, gaddis2007_JCE_84_848_guided-inquiry]. Herein lies the fertile ground for informal knowledge to drive educational reform. The fact is, organic chemistry instructors have been tweaking published experiments for years to adapt them to their particular laboratories and to make them more interesting for the students. The path from cookbook to reformed experiment is determined on how the experiment is set-up for the student. In discovery-based experiments, the student is given little in the way of preparatory knowledge to predict the outcome of following a particular experimental protocol. The emphasis in discovery-based experiments is on interpretationinquiry3 and explanation of the experimental results. For problem-based experiments, the problem is defined (such as a desired outcome) but not the experimental protocol. However, the experimental protocols used to solve the problem will certainly resemble those already available in the chemical literature. Inquiry-driven experiments encompass several different of pedagogical techniques and approaches to increase student engagement in the experimental process. The figure shows that different reformed instruction styles may emphasize the student involvement in experimental design and interpretation of results to different degrees but they all share a similar experimental procedure.

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