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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume 14 Issue 2 (2009) pp 45-48

Effect of a Dynamic Learning Tutorial on Undergraduate Studentsí Understanding of Heat and the First Law of Thermodynamics

Jack Barbera* and Carl E. Wieman

JILA, University of Colorado and National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Department of Chemistry, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309,
Received February 25, 2008. Accepted November 30, 2008

Published online: 1 April 2009

Abstract. We present gains in student conceptual understanding of heat and the First Law of Thermodynamics after use of an active-learning tutorial. We have developed a learning tutorial that addresses common conceptual difficulties about thermodynamics that occurred during an undergraduate physical chemistry course. Our tutorial is interactive, in that it uses a hands-on physical model designed to engage students and allow them to experience various aspects of the concepts being addressed. Students used our tutorial just after completion of a standard semesterís coverage of the First Law material. After the tutorial, we measure a normalized gain of 0.70 for studentsí understanding of internal energy changes associated with changes in heat and/or work. In addition, the percentage of studentsí possessing a robust understanding of thermal energy exchange (heat) is shown to increase from 69%, after course instruction, to 100% on measures after tutorial use. We also report comparisons between test and control groups on common exam questions pertaining to the First Law of Thermodynamics. Our results show that the two groups performed the same on a standard calculation problem, but the test group who used the tutorial scored substantially higher on the conceptual problem, showing a stronger conceptual understanding of the First Law. This work shows that the learning associated with a single in-class tutorial greatly outweighs any learning that has taken place over a semesters worth of lecture and homework on the given topic.

Key Words: In the Classroom; general chemistry, thermodynamics

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Issue date: April 1, 2009

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