Historically, Instrumental Methods of Chemical Analysis has been taught from the perspective of having a set of defined experiments that allow students hands-on access to various instruments. The pedagogical rationale for this approach is that students learn the instrumentation by using it. While students sometimes get to operate the instrumentation, they are often not truly challenged and maybe not fully aware of the chemical basis behind the different experimental steps that are involved in actually measuring the components of a sample. All practicing analysts know the instrumental step is among the last steps performed for sample chemical analysis. Preceding the analysis step are the sampling steps, dissolution steps, perhaps treatment with specific reagents, extractions, and sometimes sample preconcentration. These steps all require a much greater chemistry understanding than simply using the instrument to analyze a pre-made sample. Therefore, this approach to teaching the instrumental laboratory gives students a mechanical introduction to instrumentation for chemical analysis rather than forcing them to consider the many options available to solve a particular chemical analysis problem. Additionally, the complexities of the chemistry involved with sample preparation processes prior to instrumental analysis are not fully appreciated. For this reason and for other pedagogical reasons, e.g., using real world samples, many instructors have turned to the project-based learning approach for content delivery in the instrumental laboratory course.
The NSF has held a symposium aimed to integrate analytical sciences across college chemistry curricula. In addition to this symposium, there have been many researchers at four-year colleges as well as research universities, who have developed innovative analytical chemistry curricula focused on the chemical analysis of real world samples since the 1980s . Among these different examples, increased student enthusiasm levels as well as a greater appreciation for the problem-solving process have been communicated . However, It has been noted by others at the University of Kansas, which has used this PBL approach in their courses for many years, that students often do not realize is how much work it really takes to perform a real chemical analysis .