oa South African Journal of Chemistry - An inquiry-based practical curriculum for organic chemistry as preparation for industry and postgraduate research : research article

Volume 68, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0379-4350



This paper describes the development of a new practical curriculum for third-year organic chemistry to replace the recipe-based approach typically used in undergraduate teaching laboratories. The new curriculum consists of an inquiry-based project set in a simulated industrial context preceded by two scaffolding experiments to prepare students for the task. The industrial project requires students to evaluate experimentally three multi-step synthetic routes to a given target based on cost, technical challenge and environmental impact in order to make a recommendation as to which route the 'company' should use to synthesize the compound. The project equips students with technical skills suitable for both postgraduate research and industry, and develops metacognition and understanding through the use of the jig-saw cooperative learning strategy and reflection. The students were found to engage with the practical work at a deep intellectual level, demonstrating that contextualized inquiry-based laboratory teaching afforded an improved quality of learning. In addition, the reported practical curriculum made a difficult subject accessible and even popular, to some measure grew the students' ability in all desired graduate attributes and resulted in the establishment of a professional identity for individual students.

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