The Importance of Chemistry Labs in Florida National University
Florida National University is one of the leading universities in the region. While it is replete with many facilities, it glaringly lacks a chemistry lab. Online laboratory exercises are no substitute to the actual experiential learning in a chemistry lab.
Reid and Shah argue that the absence of the laboratory experience may leave students with perceptions of chemistry that would be very ‘abstract and theoretical’. While students might perceive that the theoretical understanding is gained at a relatively slow pace through lab work, it is undoubtedly true that the knowledge gained would stand in good stead in future professional lives of the students. Chemistry lab work would enable students with the tools to formulate hypotheses, solve problems, use knowledge in unfamiliar situations, perform experiments, interpret experimental data, describe experiments, and most importantly, remember the critical idea of the experiment over a significantly long period of time (Reid and Shah). While many of these goals are mentioned in the brochures of the University, they would not gain traction without the actual establishment of a chemistry lab.
According to Carndruff and Reid, laboratory work in chemistry in higher education is required to provide students with an appreciation of practical skills required to assess safety, hazards, risk, procedures, instruments and observations of methods. Students would have the opportunity to appreciate the place of the empirical as a source of evidence in enquiry. The students would also gain essential transferable skills to include team working, organization, time management, communication, presentation, information retrieval, data processing, numeracy, designing strategies and problem solving. The students would also find intellectual stimulation that would provide connections with the real world, raising the enthusiasm with chemistry.
It is the last facet that has important takeaways for Florida National University. Every year, there are hundreds of eager candidates who join the University as undergraduates wishing to major in chemistry. These students require intellectual stimulation and means to keep their curiosity about the material world alive through their course. The development of the powers of observation, measurement, prediction, interpretation and designing of experiments are all dependent on laboratory work. The absence of a chemistry lab acts as a dampener to the spirit of inquiry and intellectual growth of many students. I have found many students to resign themselves to merely accepting the theory given out in books without a spirit of questioning the rationale of the theory. The moment the mind does not question, there is a decline in intellectual growth. Therefore, the absence of a chemistry lab in many ways creates an intellectual bottleneck in the growth of students, and this in turn hampers the growth of the University in the long term.
In conclusion, I can only reiterate that it is critical for the University to invest in a chemistry lab. While there may be naysayers opposing the investment of the lab on grounds of the substantial monetary outlay involved, it goes without saying that the enthusiasm unleashed in the student community and the progress made in future professional lives of the students would more than make up for the capital invested in the lab. In the current dispensation, students may clear the theory papers and the online lab and get high grades, but such grades would be potentially worthless in the real world as they would not be backed up by the rich experience of the chemistry lab, where the practical aspects of the science would have grounded the theoretical aspects learnt in the books. I am sure that once Florida National University takes the plunge to creating a world class chemistry lab, its ranking in the comity of American Universities would further rise.
Carnduff, J. and Norman Reid. Enhancing Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratories, Pre-Laboratory and Post-Laboratory Exercise, Examples and Advice. Education Department, Royal Society of Chemistry. Burlington House: London. n.d.
Reid, Norman, and Iqbal Shah. “ The Role of Laboratory Work in University Chemistry.” Chemistry Education Research and Practice 8/2 (2007): 172-185. Print.