“How do we know what we know?” sounds like a trivial question but it is not. To differentiate between justified belief and opinion has never been more important in the sciences, and especially in the public perception of science in general. This epistemology is one of the pillars upon which science and all rational action and reasoning is built upon. As the title Student Reasoning in Organic Chemistry reveals, the present book edited by Nicole Graulich and Ginger Shultz analyses the teaching of organic chemistry with the goal to improve chemistry instruction. It therefore fills a long apparent, but never systematically addressed, knowledge gap regarding the outcome of our instructional efforts by highlighting current advances in chemistry education research.
From a very personal perspective, I realize that when I draw an organic reaction mechanism, I hope the students will follow my drawings and my words and it all makes sense. Sometimes I realize that I am not quite sure whether the things I draw are simply memorised to understand the outcome of a reaction—sort of a mnemonic trick—or, if I have reasons to believe that this particular mechanistic hypothesis is close to some “scientific reality”. How hard is it to accept that an electron pair is a curved arrow from which most of the action originates? Can the students visualize chemical structures in three dimensions from some simple stick drawings that are in all honesty quite a leap of faith? Will different representation styles add to the students’ comprehension or confusion? There are many more questions of this sort that are highly relevant but often not discussed. I am pleased to see that the present book picks up where these questions leave me.
I’ve spoken to colleagues about this and many feel similarly. Still, there are no systematic efforts to determine whether the applied teaching methods, the language, or the pictorial framework ultimately leads to a deep understanding of organic reaction mechanisms that would allow the students to reason rationally about the outcome of a reaction that they have not yet seen before. I am quite impressed that the present book tackles these issues with a very fresh look, often including very modern assessment tools of students as well as teacher habits and performances. As I teach organic reaction mechanisms myself, this book comes quite handy, and I complement the Editors on their efforts to put such a valuable resource together. I am sure you will benefit from this collection of excellent articles just as much and hope you enjoy the reading!
Dr Peter R. Schreiner
Liebig-Chair and Professor of Organic Chemistry
Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany
President, German Chemical Society (GDCh, 2020 & 2021)