to participate in a roundtable discussion. Prior to attending this meeting, they were emailed a survey. Due to scheduling difficulties, only four of six of the original consultants were able to gather at one time. A fifth came for an individual interview. The sixth only completed the survey. Because these six participants act as advising consultants to our project, they are paid for their professional time.
To find participants, in 2003 fliers were mailed to chemistry departments throughout New England using a mailing list provided by the New England Board of Higher Education. Respondents were screened by the project members. Criteria for selection included that the applicant taught a general chemistry course and had the technology support necessary to use the project’s software. While the project is being conducted at a research university, all of the selected participants are either instructors at small liberal arts, community, or professional degree colleges.
As a result of the initial flier, this group of participants is self-selected to be interested and open-minded about the teaching of quantum concepts. However, none of them felt an obligation to change their mode of instruction in order to collaborate with us, nor to adopt our software. At least one of the participants made it clear from the outset that he was skeptical about teaching quantum concepts to his students, and has frequently played devil’s advocate. At the same time, he has piloted materials with his students. Our impression is that his attitude is typical of the other participants, albeit more forthright.
It is known that the use of web based visualization tools improves students’ understanding of chemistry, but that there can be an initial barrier with instructors for adoption of such methods (Dori & Barak, 2003). Perhaps because of self-selection as consultants on a software project, the participating instructors offered no objections to the use of software with their students. Indeed, three of them used our materials in the following year with their students, and two of them provided us with surveys of their students’ response.
Surveys and topics for roundtable discussion were designed by the project team in consultation with the project evaluator. The team consists of two chemistry professors, two chemistry laboratory instructors, and a professor of science education with a doctorate in theoretical physics. The evaluator is a retired chemistry professor.
Data reduction of the surveys and transcription of the roundtable discussion was performed by team members with the project evaluator. Coding of responses followed the survey responses in a close manner.
The study reported here centers on the instructors’ attitudes toward teaching quantum concepts to their students. Although the chemistry education research literature is rich in studies of students’ difficulties with chemistry, there is little directly referring to instructors’ selection of material based on their attitudes as to their students’ abilities to master the subject material. Kirkwood and Symington (1996) interviewed chemistry instructors to investigate the difficulties that they perceived in their courses. While the responses in this research related as much to course structure as to concepts with which students have difficulty, it is perhaps not coincidental that the instructor who focused on the difficulty of chemistry concepts selected quantum concepts in particular.
There is no doubt that quantum concepts require abstract thought on the part of students. Are freshman students concrete thinkers in the Piagetian sense, or are they prepared to reason about theoretical models and apply them? Several of the participants in our study voiced the view that
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