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Let’s frame it differently – Analysis of instructors’ mechanistic explanations
J. Eckhard, M. Rodemer, A. Langner, S. Bernholt, N. Graulich

Let’s frame it differently – Analysis of instructors’ mechanistic explanations

Chemistry Education Research and Practice

Research in Organic Chemistry education has revealed students’ challenges in mechanistic reasoning. When solving mechanistic tasks, students tend to focus on explicit surface features, apply fragmented conceptual knowledge, rely on rote-memorization and, hence, often struggle to build well-grounded causal explanations. When taking a resource perspective as a lens, students’ difficulties may arise from either an unproductive or a missing activation of cognitive resources. Instructors’ explanations and their guidance in teaching situations could serve as a lynchpin to activate these resources. Compared to students’ challenges in building mechanistic explanations in Organic Chemistry, little is known about instructors’ explanations when solving mechanistic tasks and how they shape their targeted explanations for students in terms of the construction and embedding of cause–effect rationales. This qualitative study aims to contribute to the growing research on mechanistic reasoning by exploring instructors’ explanatory approaches. Therefore, we made use of the framing construct, intended to trigger certain frames with explicit instruction. Ten Organic Chemistry instructors (university professors and lecturers) were asked to solve case comparison tasks while being prompted in two scenarios: an expert frame and a teaching frame. Our analysis shows that there is a shift from instructors’ mechanistic explanations in the expert frame towards more elaborated explanations in the teaching frame. In the teaching frame, contrary to what might be expected, complete cause–effect relationships were not always established and instructors differed in how they shaped their explanations. Additional explanatory elements were identified in both frames and their shift in use is discussed. Comparing approaches between frames sheds light on how instructors communicate mechanistic explanations and allows us to derive implications for teaching Organic Chemistry.