Tertiary Chemistry Education

Research into Tertiary Chemistry Education at the University of Pretoria




Our vision is to build a strong research group that produces a sustained body of research into Chemistry Education at the tertiary level, informing best practice to meet the needs of our diverse student body in South Africa.  As such, we will serve the chemistry departments in the country as we train researchers for other institutions and then continue to support them in their research careers as academics.  Chemical industry in Africa is limited and many who train as chemists end up teaching chemistry.  We will serve their needs by becoming the institute of choice for post-graduate research degrees in Chemistry Education.  We intend to form a strong association with our Chemistry colleagues in the Faculty of Education to improve chemistry education at both secondary and tertiary levels and the translation between them.

Research Awards and Recognition

Prof. Marietjie Potgieter
  • C1 rated scientist by the NRF (2021 - 2026).
  • Titular member of the CCE of IUPAC (2018 to present)
  • National representative on the Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE) of IUPAC (2016 to present)
  • Member of ASSAf STEM Education standing committee (Feb 2015 to May 2021)
  • National HELTASA commendation award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (2011).
  • Chemical Education medal of the South African Chemical Institute (2008).
  • RC Fuson merit award for research in organic chemistry (University of Illinois, 1983).
  • International Fellowship of AAUW (American Association of University Women) (1981).
Prof. Lynne Pilcher
  • Best lecturer in the Physical Sciences cluster of the Faculty (2019)
  • C2 rated by the NRF since 2019
  • SACI chemistry education medal (2017)
  • Teaching Advancement at University (TAU) Fellowship (2016)
  • University of Pretoria Laureate Award for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (2014)
Dr Kgadi Mathabathe
  • Y2 rated by the NRF in 2021
  • SACI chemistry education medal (2018)
  • University of Pretoria Laureate Award for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (2014)
  • Top 200 Mail and Guardian, Education category (2014)
Dr Reeh Tekane
  • Tuks Young Research Leader Programme (2017)
Dr Christine Mundy
  • University of Pretoria Laureate Award for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (2020)


Quick Links

Group Members, Associates and Collaborators

Current postgraduate students

List of publications

Current Interests and Research Projects

Postgraduate studies and Requirements for Admission

Outreach and Capacity Building


Group Members, Associates and Collaborators


Prof Marietjie Potgieter (e-mail: [email protected])

Emeritus Professor in the Department of Chemistry

PhD in Organic Chemistry – University of Illinois, USA, 1983

Active in Chemistry Education (tertiary) research from 2002


Prof. Lynne Pilcher (e-mail: [email protected])

Associate Professor and Chair of Teaching Committee of the Department of Chemistry

PhD in Organic Chemistry – University of Cambridge, UK, (2000)

Participating in Chemistry Education (tertiary) research from 2015


Dr Kgadi Mathabathe (e-mail: [email protected])

Deputy Director: Academic Development, Department for Education Innovation

PhD in Science Education (Chemistry) – University of Pretoria 2017

MSc in Science Education (Chemistry) – University of Pretoria 2011

Active in Chemistry Education (tertiary and school) from 2002


Dr Christine Mundy (e-mail: [email protected])

Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry (Focus on the bridging programme at Mamelodi campus)

PhD in Science Education (Chemistry)

MSc in Science Education (Chemistry) with distinction – University of Pretoria 2017


Dr Reeh Tekane (e-mail: [email protected])

Chemistry Lecturer, ENGAGE Programme, Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology

PhD in Chemistry Education – Purdue University, USA 2016

MSc in Biochemistry Education with distinction – University of Kwazulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg, 2011


Dr Dorine Masiangoako (e-mail: [email protected])

1st year chemistry lecturer and course coordinator in the Department of chemistry

PhD in Polymer Chemistry - University of the Free State

MSc in Polymer chemistry - University of the Free State


Prof Marissa Rollnick (add associations, links to pages and email addresses)

Dr Ina Louw, Education Consultant

Dr Angelique Kritzinger, Plant Science Education

Dr Lizelle Fletcher, Statistician


Prof Mike Seery, University of Edinburgh and Editor of the journal Chemistry Education: Research and Practice

Emeritus Prof Bette Davidowitz, University of Cape Town


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Current postgraduate students

Ms Langanani Rakhunwana (e-mail: [email protected])

Completing an MSc in Science Education (Chemistry)

Project: Self-regulated Learning (SRL) strategies for first-year chemistry

BSc (Hons) in Chemistry – University of Pretoria 2019

BSc in Chemistry – University of Pretoria 2018


Mrs Micke Reynders (e-mail: [email protected])

Completing an MSc in Science education (Chemistry)

Project: Teaching systems thinking in first year chemistry through the topic of surfactants

BSc (Hons) in Chemistry – University of Pretoria 2020

BSc in Chemistry – University of Pretoria 2018


 Mrs Cathrine Chimude (e-mail: [email protected])

Completing an MSc in Science Education (Chemistry)

Project: Aspirin Synthesis from a systems thinking perspective

Bachelor of Science Education Honours Degree in Chemistry, Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe, 2010


Ntji Shabangu (e-mail: [email protected])

Completing a PhD in Science Education

Project: Investigating the effectiveness of an educational data mining correlation model for academic success

MSc in Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria




Selected publications


  1. Mundy, C. (2021). The value of integrating the UN SDGs with a microscale experiment for chemistry students. In M. Qhobela, M. M. Ntsohi, & L. G. Mohafa (Eds.), Book of Proceedings of the 29th Annual Conference of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (pp. 259-270). Lesotho: SAARMSTE
  2. Rethabile Tekane and Marietjie Potgieter, Insights from training a blind student in biological sciences, South African Journal of Science, 2021, 117(5/6), Art #8607. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2021/8607.
  3. Gledhill, Irvy; Okeke, Francisca; Ouedraogo, Marie Francoise; Potgieter, Maria, The Gender Gap among scientists in Africa, Pure and Applied Chemistry, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1515/pac-2020-1208.
  4. Christine Mundy and Marietjie Potgieter, Hands-On Spectroscopy: Inside and Outside the First-Year Laboratory, J Chem Educ, 2020, 97(6), 1549-1555. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b01050.
  5. Tekane, R.; Pilcher, L. A.; Potgieter, M. “Blended learning in a second year organic chemistry class: students’ perceptions and preferences of the learning support.” Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 2020, 21, 24-36. DOI: 10.1039/c9rp00099b.
  6. Mundy, C.E and Potgieter, M. Refining Process-oriented Guided Inquiry Learning for Chemistry Students in an Academic Development Programme, African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 2019, in press, DOI: 10.1080/18117295.2019.1622223.
  7. Kgadi Mathabathe, Factors underlying metacognitive judgements in foundation chemistry, EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 2019, 15(5), DOI: https://doi.org/10.29333/ejmste/105868
  8. Potgieter, M.; Pilcher, L.A.; Tekane, R.R.; Louw, I.; Fletcher, L. “Chapter 6: Lessons learnt from teaching and learning during disruptions in Research and Practice in Chemistry Education, Ed Schultz, M, Schmid, S, Lawrie, G.A., Springer, 2019, DOI: 10.1007/978-981-13-6998-8_6
  9. Rethabile Tekane, Ina Louw and Marietjie Potgieter, #FEESMUSTFALL: Science Teaching during Student Unrest, Alternation, 2018, 25 (2), 161 – 180. Electronic ISSN: 2519-5476; DOI: 10.29086/2519-5476/2018/v25n2a7.
  10. Angelique Kritzinger, Juan-Claude Lemmens and Marietjie Potgieter, Learning strategies for first year biology: Towards moving the ‘murky middle’, CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2018, 17:ar42, 1-13. DOI: 10.1187/cbe.17-10-0211.
  11. Kgadi Mathabathe and Marietjie Potgieter, Manifestations of Metacognitive Activity during the Collaborative Planning of Chemistry Practical Investigations, International Journal of Science Education, 2017, 1465-1484, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2017.1336808.
  12. Bette Davidowitz and Marietjie Potgieter, Use of the Rasch measurement model to explore the relationship between content knowledge and topic-specific pedagogical content knowledge for organic chemistry, International Journal of Science Education, 2016, 38 (9), 1483-1503. DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2016.1196843.
  13. Pilcher, L. A.; Riley, D. L.; Mathabathe, K. C.; Potgieter, M. “An inquiry-based practical curriculum for organic chemistry as preparation for industry and postgraduate research” South African Journal of Chemistry, 2015, 68, 236-244 DOI:10.17159/0379-4350/2015/v68a32
  14. Marietjie Potgieter, Ansie Harding, Quenton Kritzinger, Charity Somo and Johann Engelbrecht, Reflections of science students on their experiences of an academic development programme in South Africa, South African Journal of Higher Education, 2015, 29(1), 108-131.
  15. Johann Engelbrecht, Ansie Harding and Marietjie Potgieter, Evaluating the success of a science academic development programme at a research-intensive university, African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 2014, 18, 287–298. DOI:10.1080/10288457.2014.962726.
  16. KC Mathabathe and M Potgieter, Metacognitive monitoring and learning gain in foundation chemistry, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 2014, 15, 94-104.


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Current Interests and Research Projects


Self-regulated learning strategies used in first year chemistry

Self-regulated learning (SRL), also defined as metacognitive, motivational, and behavioural active participation of students in their own learning process, has an influence on their academic success. We are exploring the SRL strategies used in a first-year chemistry course delivered completely online due to Covid-19 lockdown.  We are also interested in the barriers that lockdown presented, how these constraints limited strategies available to students, and to what extent they could be overcome by teaching interventions and increased familiarity with online learning. (Langanani Rakhunwana, Bernice Currie, Reeh Tekane, Marietjie Potgieter, Angelique Kritzinger, Lynne Pilcher)


Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education

In 2016, a group of “Chemists for Sustainability” in the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD) proposed that chemistry teaching needs to be reoriented as a science for the benefit of society, tackling global challenges and contributing to sustainable development. To do so, they argued that chemistry needs to incorporate systems thinking into the curriculum. This means that in addition to teaching the principles and practice of chemistry, it was necessary to include the way chemistry interconnects with other disciplines in a way that fosters the growth of skills needed to understand, explain and tackle the problems in the physical and biological domains of the world around us. While ground work has been done internationally for general chemistry, we have started projects to introduce systems thinking in introductory organic chemistry using the topics of surfactants and pharmaceuticals. (Micke Reynders, Cathrine Chimude, Dorine Dikobe, Marietjie Potgieter, Lynne Pilcher)


Identifying barriers and supporting understanding for novice students in spectroscopy

The aim of this PhD study is to introduce a spectroscopic laboratory experiment that focuses on reducing the cognitive load experienced by first-year extended programme students while promoting understanding in spectroscopy.  In terms of Cognitive Load Theory, the information processing capacity of students will be influenced by the high inherent difficulty of spectroscopy, their unfamiliarity with spectroscopy i.e. poor existing schema, and, the mental load added by language translation (as the medium of instruction does not coincide with the first language for large proportion of students).  This study has undergone multiple iterations as the barriers have been peeled back and supported.  Currently three primary barriers have been identified and are in various stages of support:  Demands of the task, Technical and Non-technical terminology and Conceptual difficulties. (Mundy, C.E, Potgieter, M. and Seery, M.)


Social regulation and the development of metacognitive skills in chemistry education, inquiry-based learning strategies in chemistry education, science teacher metacognition. (Kgadi Mathabathe)


Towards the integration of immersive and engaging Virtual Chemistry Laboratories for effective conceptual understanding and attitude improvement (Reeh Tekane)


Blended Learning in First Year introductory organic chemistry

At a 2016 ACS symposium on organic chemistry education it was acknowledged that there is and has always been a crisis in organic chemistry education.  Although educational publishers offer more and more online learning systems to help struggling students, these extra resources overload students the university educators concluded.  We are researching a blended approach to support learning in first year organic chemistry.   Increasing student numbers in first year at the University of Pretoria meant that students could be accommodated in a face-to-face tutorial every second week.  In the alternate weeks, they attended a practical training session in the laboratory and had to complete an online tutorial assignment.  We implemented blended learning using a cross-over course design.  This course design provided an opportunity to explore the associations between tutorial modality (F2F or OL), student learning preferences and student performance for each topic in the organic chemistry syllabus for the whole group and students at risk.  In addition, we explored the affordances and hindrances of the different learning modalities for supporting learning in organic chemistry.  Peer learning, tutor assistance, guidance in using hand held model sets and providing a space for students to ask their own questions were affordances of F2F, while affordances of OL were optimal use of time, electronic feedback, training in Chemdraw and development of independent learning.  These suggest that online resources can be blended into face-to-face courses optimally using online exercises to support procedural learning and face-to-face to support conceptual learning. (Lynne Pilcher, Marietjie Potgieter, Lizelle Fletcher, Ina Louw)


Research in metacognition particularly social regulation in laboratory contexts, science teacher metacognition, collaborative teaching strategies such as Cooperative learning, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning.

A study conducted in 2014/2015 showed that a collaborative guided inquiry organic chemistry laboratory project at third year level elicits metacognitive activity. Metacognition simply means thinking about thinking. Metacognitive activity was inferred from instances when students regulated their thinking and that of their peers to achieve successful task execution as they planned practical investigations. However, the study was limited to the impact of metacognitive activity and patterns of student engagements during the planning session. We will explore whether the patterns of metacognitive activity and engagement observed during the planning session are transferable to a laboratory environment. Data collection will consist of observations and video or voice recordings in the laboratory and interviews with students, demonstrators and lecturers.  (Kgadi Mathabathe)

Meaningful learning in chemistry

Meaningful learning encompasses cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains (Novak, 1993), that is, thinking, feeling and doing. The lecture hall, tutorial venue and practical laboratory can all be home to meaningful learning. There is also potential to enrich all topics and levels of chemistry to promote meaningful learning. For example, Chemorganisers are being developed and used in first and second year in the challenging topic of electrochemistry. By shining a green light on learning in the laboratory, practicals can also provide meaningful learning experiences by integrating sustainable development goals and systems thinking approaches. (Christine Mundy)

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Postgraduate studies Requirements for Admission

MSc (Science Education)


Postgraduate degree programmes are offered by the Centre for Science, Mathematics and Technology Education. Students specializing in Chemistry education are registered in the Department of Chemistry. The MSc (Science Education) degree is designed for those who wish to pursue their postgraduate studies in both a scientific discipline and in science education. Science, in this context, is interpreted in its broadest sense, and includes the physical, biological and earth sciences, as well as mathematics and technology.

https://www.up.ac.za/yearbooks/2021/home  > year > Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences > Masters

Direct Yearbook description: https://www.up.ac.za/yearbooks/2021/programmes/view/02250445

Plan description:

MSc (Science Education) 

Plan code:


Minimum duration of study

2 years 


Centre for Science Education

Closing dates:

SA citizens and International students:   30 September

Minimum admission requirements:

  1. Relevant BScHons degree (For specialization in Chemistry Education, a BScHons in Chemistry is required) 

Selection process:

No selection, considered on application, number of spaces available (if applicable)  


Some additional ideas for project topics:

Below are some ideas for project topics in addition to the ongoing projects described above.  The list is not exhaustive and other topics could be suggested where they fit with research expertise within the group.

The use of Blended learning in South African institutions of Higher Education (Pilcher & Tekane)

We are interested in optimizing the blend of face-to-face and online learning in Chemistry with a focus on first year and second year organic chemistry and expanding to other disciplines.

Growing a safety culture during practical training (Pilcher)

We want to explore how best to move from rule based safety to building a safety culture with a focus on the RAMP paradigm (Recognizing hazards, Assessing risks, Managing safety, Planning for emergencies / Protecting the environment).  In particular, we want to explore growing engagement with MSDS through the practical training component of the degree.

Improving conceptual learning in electrochemistry (Mundy)

This study seeks to explore the TSPCK requirements of electrochemistry at first year and second year level.  The TSPCK factors of students' prior knowledge, curricular saliency, difficulties, representations and teaching strategies will be assessed at both levels.  A Chemorganiser, or a set of Chemorganisers, will be developed to support student learning in this challenging topic.  Chemorganisers scaffold the student learning and supply worked examples to aid our students in the journey from novice to expert chemists.

Transfer of metacognitive activity from a collaborative planning session to the laboratory in an industry-simulated practical investigation (Mathabathe & Pilcher)

A study conducted in 2014/2015 showed that a collaborative guided inquiry organic chemistry laboratory project for CMY 384 elicits metacognitive activity. During the planning session metacognitive activity was inferred from instances when students regulated their own thinking and that of their peers as they successfully planned their practical tasks. The MSc project will follow up with one or two student groups to see if the patterns of metacognitive activity and engagement observed during the planning session are transferable to a laboratory environment.

Bench-marking and digital badging for first-year chemistry and beyond (Mundy)

There are two parts to this potential project, firstly an opportunity to benchmark our first year assessment against other international institutions via the use of specifically designed anchor questions.  This has specific advantages in a South African context where students may transfer between institutions during their tertiary studies.  Additionally, there is a growing interest in awarding students digital badges for mastery of practical skills or the mastery of concepts.  This is shown to boost student confidence and well as give clearer guidelines in terms of the skills our chemistry graduates should have.  The incorporation of digital badges would also allow for the streamlining of the first year curriculum to fully serve both the later modules in a chemistry degree and students for whom first year chemistry is a “once off”.

Optimizing feedback for learning in second year organic chemistry (Pilcher & Potgieter)

There are so many possibilities for feedback through formative assessment, continuous assessment, returned assignments, online platforms with automated feedback mechanisms, videos and personal interactions.  In exploring how students experience the different feedback options, their acceptance or rejection of feedback, we would gain information as to where lecturers with limited time should pay most attention.

Designing microscale experiments relevant to the 21st century (Mundy)

Microscale chemistry practicals are greener, safer and more cost effective.  The UN sustainable development goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. In this project we seek to embed the UN SDGs in first-year microscale laboratory practicals.  This is a creative project that gives the opportunity to impact on the lives of students by incorporating cultural, economic and environmental concerns.

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Outreach and Capacity Building


SCIBER Space is a Science Based Education Research Group that was formed in August 2017 with the intention of providing a forum where lecturers/scientists that are passionate about teaching, could meet and have interactive talks related to various research informed teaching practices they could use in their courses; learning theories relevant to science education, theoretical and methodological frameworks; and also necessities that one has to address when wanting to publish in discipline based education research journals. The group is open for anybody with this aim in mind. In essence we are the people who “undertake research into the teaching of our disciplines with the aim of developing our teaching and research capacity and improving student learning”


FLY@NAS is an initiative from the Deputy Dean’s office in collaboration with Education Innovation to build capacity by providing a platform to showcase teaching innovation within the faculty, and through a website provide resources for professional development in teaching and teaching and learning resources to equip academic staff.

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- Author Prof Lynne Pilcher

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