Simple Approach to Incorporating Experimental Design into a General Chemistry Lab

Elijah R. Farley, Victoria Fringer, Jacob W. Wainman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


In an idealized General Chemistry Laboratory curriculum, students would hone their experimental design ability with practice encouraged by laboratory exercises designed to be open-ended. However, traditional General Chemistry Laboratory courses often lack opportunities for students to design their own experiments, instead opting to provide students with predetermined protocols. In addition, introducing guided inquiry into a General Chemistry Laboratory is logistically challenging, often prohibiting implementation. Here, we present a method for converting a traditional "cookbook-style"laboratory curriculum into one that is more open-ended with opportunities for students to practice experimental design skills. Our approach involves developing clear learning objectives, evaluating the existing curriculum for alignment to those objectives and providing opportunities for incorporating experimental design, and revising existing protocols. These revisions adopted a two week model, following up a traditional cookbook-style exercise focused on teaching students a given technique with a second week where students designed their own experiments to answer an instructor-provided question situated in a real-world context. This design provided sufficient structure for students to learn basic chemistry laboratory techniques while also creating the opportunity for practicing science process skills such as experimental design. Students in a pilot group experiencing this revised curriculum reported greater increases in their confidence with experimental design than peers in the traditional curriculum. We propose that this model could be adopted by other institutions as a meaningful step toward fully open-ended laboratory courses while avoiding many of the associated challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)350-356
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 30 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:


  • First-Year Undergraduate/General
  • Inquiry-Based/Discovery Learning
  • Laboratory Instruction
  • Student-Centered Learning


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