A new book on teaching chemistry in higher education

Cover webThis summer I published a very special book on teaching chemistry in higher education. Each chapter in the book contains some approach on teaching chemistry, written by someone who has implemented that approach more than once in their own setting. Chapters explain how the approaches are grounded in the literature, explain the rationale for the approach, and then go on to give some detail on the implementation and outcomes of the approach. Thus the book intends to be useful to those new or reconsidering approaches to teaching chemistry in higher education, as well as those involved in education development. While the approaches are situated in chemistry, most chapters will be relevant to many other disciplines. The book contains 30 chapters, with 452 pages. There is something for everyone!

Festschrift tweet compilationThe book is dedicated to Professor Tina Overton, and carries the subtitle of a Festschrift in her honour. Festschrift is a German word for a writing celebration in honour of a scholar, and those invited to contribute a chapter wished to celebrate her influence on their career and/or pedagogical approaches they were describing. The book idea came about when I was in Australia visiting Tina and attending an Australian chemistry conference. It was clear from the education strand of the conference that Tina’s influence in Australia was as strong as it had been in the UK and Ireland – no mean feat given she was only there three years at the time. I decided that we needed to celebrate Tina’s contribution to chemistry education in some way, and following her general lead regarding pragmatism, decided that a book describing useful approaches to teaching chemistry would be the best way to do it. Together with my co-editor Claire Mc Donnell, we invited a range of educators from Ireland, UK, and Australia to contribute chapters. The book is available on Amazon by searching for its title (UK and Ireland Amazon here).

Chapter Details

Foreword: Overton, T. L. (2019), “Foreword from Prof Tina Overton, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 1-4.

  1. Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (2019), “Introduction to the Festschrift, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 5-8.
  2. Turner, K. L. (2019), “A framework to evaluate the transition to undergraduate studies in chemistry”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 9-22.
  3. Read, D., Barnes, S. M., Hyde, J., and Wright, J. S. (2019), “Nurturing reflection in science foundation year undergraduate students, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 23-38.
  4. Ryan, B. J. (2019), “Integration of technology in the chemistry classroom and laboratory, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 39-54.
  5. Yuriev, E., Basal, S. and Vo, K. (2019), “Developing problem-solving skills in physical chemistry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 55-76.
  6. Shallcross, D. E. (2019), “A pre-arrival summer school to solve the maths problem in chemistry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 77-88.
  7. Lancaster, S. J., Cook, D. F. and Massingberd-Mundy, W. J. (2019), “Peer instruction as a flexible, scalable, active learning approach in higher education, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 89-104.
  8. Lawrie, G., Matthews, K. E. and Gahan, L. (2019), “Collaborative, scenario-based, open-ended, problem-solving tasks in chemistry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 105-122.
  9. Williams, D. P. (2019), “Context- and problem-based learning in chemistry in higher education, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 123-136.
  10. O’Connor, C. M. (2019), “Approaches to context-based learning in higher education chemistry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 137-150.
  11. Rowley, N. M. (2019), “Developing inquiring minds through learning chemistry”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 151-164.
  12. Mistry, N. (2019), “Diagnosing and addressing the issues faced when students learn stereochemistry”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 165-180.
  13. Fergus, S. (2019), “Using PeerWise to support the transition to higher education, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 181-194.
  14. Gaynor, J. W. (2019), “Student-led interviews to develop employability skills, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 195-208.
  15. Mc Donnell, C. and Murphy, V. L. (2019), “Implementing community engaged learning with chemistry undergraduates, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 209-224.
  16. Essex, J. (2019), “Implementing inquiry-based learning activities in chemistry education, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 225-236.
  17. Sedghi, G. (2019), “A sustainable peer assisted learning model for chemistry undergraduates, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 237-248.
  18. Pask, C. M. and Pugh, S. L. (2019), “Developing business and employability skills for undergraduate chemists, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 249-264.
  19. Haxton, K. J. (2019), “Undergraduate screencast presentations with self-, peer-, and tutor-assessment, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 265-282.
  20. Southam, D. C. and Rohl, B. M. (2019), “Computational thinking in the chemical sciences curriculum, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 283-300.
  21. Slaughter, J. L. and Bianchi, L. (2019), “Student-led research groups for supporting education research projects, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 301-314.
  22. Spagnoli, D., Rummey, C., Man, N. Y. T., Wills, S. S. and Clemons, T. D. (2019), “Designing online pre-laboratory activities for chemistry undergraduate laboratories, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 315-332.
  23. Capel, N. J., Hancock, L. M., Haxton, K. J., Hollamby, M. J., Jones, R. H., Plana, D. and McGarvey, D. J. (2019), “Developing scientific reporting skills of early undergraduate chemistry students, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 333-348.
  24. Seery, M. K., Agustian, H. Y. and Lambert, T. O. (2019), “Teaching and assessing technical competency in the chemistry laboratory, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 349-362.
  25. Ziebell, A., George-Williams, S. R., Danczak, S. M., Ogunde, J. C., Hill, M. A., Fernandez, K., Sarkar, M., Thompson, C. D. and Overton, T. L. (2019), “Overturning a laboratory course to develop 21st century skills, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 363-376.
  26. Thomson, P. I. T., McShannon, L. and Owens, S. (2019), “Introducing elements of inquiry in to undergraduate chemistry laboratories, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 377-390.
  27. Burnham, J. A. J. (2019), “Developing student expertise in scientific inquiry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 391-404.
  28. Hyde, J. (2019), “Design of a three year laboratory programme for international delivery, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 405-420.
  29. Flaherty, A, Overton, T. L., O’Dwyer, A, Mannix-McNamara, P. and Leahy, J. J. (2019), “Working with chemistry graduate teaching assistants to enhance how they teach in the chemistry laboratory”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 421-434.
  30. Randles, C. A. (2019), “Developing reflective practice with graduate teaching assistants”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 435-451.

A view from Down Under

Melbourne Seventh City of Empire, part of the Australia 1930s Exhibition at National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Seventh City of Empire, part of the “Brave New World: Australia 1930s” Exhibition at National Gallery of Victoria

I’ve spent the last two week in Australia thanks to a trip to the Royal Australian Chemical Institute 100th Annual Congress in Melbourne. I attended the Chemistry Education symposium.

So what is keeping chemistry educators busy around this part of the world? There are a lot of similarities, but some differences. While we wrestle with the ripples of TEF and the totalitarian threat of learning gains, around here the acronym of fear is TLO: threshold learning outcomes.  As I understand it, these are legally binding statements stating that university courses will ensure students will graduate with the stated outcomes. Institutions are required to demonstrate that these learning outcomes are part of their programmes and identify the level to which they are assessed. This all sounds very good, except individuals on the ground are now focussing on identifying where these outcomes are being addressed. Given that they are quite granular, this appears to be a huge undertaking and is raising questions like: where and to what extent is teamwork assessed in a programme?

Melbourne from the Shrine
Melbourne from the Shrine

This process does appear to have promoted a big interest in broader learning outcomes, with lots of talks on how to incorporate transferable skills into the curriculum, and some very nice research into students’ awareness of their skills. Badges are of interest here and may be a useful way to document these learning outcomes in a way that doesn’t need a specific mark. Labs were often promoted as a way of addressing these learning outcomes, but I do wonder how much we can use labs for learning beyond their surely core purpose of teaching practical chemistry.

Speaking of labs, there was some nice work on preparing for laboratory work and on incorporating context into laboratory work. There was (to me) a contentious proposal that there be a certain number of laboratory activities (such as titrations) that are considered core to a chemist’s repertoire, and that graduation should not be allowed until competence in those core activities be demonstrated. Personally I think chemistry is a broader church than that, and it will be interesting to watch that one progress. A round-table discussion spent a good bit of time talking about labs in light of future pressures of funding and space; and it does seem that we are still not quite clear about what the purpose of labs are. Distance education – which Australia has a well-established head start in – was also discussed, and I was really glad to hear someone with a lot of experience in this say that it is possible to generate a community with online learners, but that it takes a substantial personal effort. The lab discussion continued to the end, with a nice talk on incorporating computational thinking into chemistry education, with suggestions on how already reported lab activities might be used to achieve this.

Gwen Lawrie delivers her Award Address
Gwen Lawrie delivers her Award Address

Of course it is the personal dimension that is the real benefit of these meetings, and it was great to meet some faces old and new. Gwen Lawrie wasn’t on the program as the announcement of her award of Education Division Medal was kept secret for as long as possible. I could listen to Gwen all day, and her talk had the theme “Chasing Rainbows”, which captured so eloquently what it means to be a teacher-researcher in chemistry education, and in a landscape that continues to change. [Gwen’s publications are worth trawling] Gwen’s collaborator Madeline Schultz (a Division Citation Winner) spoke about both TLOs and on reflections on respected practitioners on their approaches to teaching chemistry – an interesting study using a lens of pedagogical content knowledge. From Curtin, I (re-)met Mauro Mocerino (who I heard speak in Europe an age ago on clickers) who spoke here of his long standing work on training demonstrators. Also from that parish, it was a pleasure to finally meet Dan Southam. I knew Dan only through others; a man “who gets things done” so it was lovely to meet him in his capacity as Chair of the Division and this symposium, and to see that his appellation rang true. And it was nice to meet Elizabeth Yuriev, who does lovely work exploring how students approach physical chemistry problem and on helping students with problem solving strategies.

Dinner Date
Dinner Date

There were lots of other good conversations and friendly meetings, demonstrating that chemistry educators are a nice bunch regardless of location. I wasn’t the only international interloper; Aishling Flaherty from University of Limerick was there to spread her good work on demonstrator training – an impressive programme she has developed and is now trialling in a different university and a different country. And George Bodner spoke of much of his work in studying how students learn organic chemistry, and in particular the case of “What to do about Parker”. The memory of Prof Bodner sitting at the back of my talk looking at my slides through a telescopic eye piece is a happy one that will stay with me for a long time. Talk of organic chemistry reminds me of a presentation about the app Chirality – 2 which was described – it covers lots of aspects about revising organic chemistry, and looked really great.

The Pioneer, National Gallery of Victoria
The Pioneer, National Gallery of Victoria

My slightly extended trip was because I had the good fortune to visit the research group of Prof Tina Overton, who moved to Melbourne a few years ago, joining native Chris Thompson in growing the chemistry education group at Monash. It was an amazing experience immersing in a vibrant and active research group, who are working on things ranging from student critical thinking, chemists’ career aspirations, awareness of transferable skills, and the process and effect of transforming an entire laboratory curriculum. I learned a lot as I always do from Tina and am extremely grateful for her very generous hosting. I leave Australia now, wondering if I can plan a journey in 2018 for ICCE in Sydney.

From Hokusai exhibition, NGV
From Hokusai exhibition, NGV. My interpretation of students managing in a complex learning environment

Mayer’s Principles: Using multimedia for e-learning (updated 2017)

Anyone involved in e-learning will know of the cognitive theory of multimedia learning, which draws together information processing model (dual coding), cognitive load theory (working memory), and the notion of active processing. You can read a little more of this in this (old) post.

Anyway, for most of us who don’t do full on e-learning, Mayer’s principles have value when we make things like videos or multimedia that we wish the students to interact with outside of their time with us. As such, Mayer’s principles, as reported in The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning are well cited. Mayer has just published an update (HT to the wonderful new Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/CogSciLearning), and because I have nothing better to do than twiddle my thumbs for the summer (thank you Adonis), I made a graphic summarising the 12 principles he describes. Many seem obvious but that is probably no bad thing; as well as thinking about videos, there might be some lessons about PowerPointing here too. Click on the image to embiggen.

Mayer’s Principles: Using multimedia for e-learning (from Mayer, R. E. (2017) Using multimedia for e-learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, doi: 10.1111/jcal.12197)
Mayer’s Principles: Using multimedia for e-learning (from Mayer, R. E. (2017) Using multimedia for e-learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, doi: 10.1111/jcal.12197)

Revising functional groups with lightbulb feedback

I’m always a little envious when people tell me they were students of chemistry at Glasgow during Alex Johnstone’s time there. A recent read from the Education in Chemistry back-catalogue has turned me a shade greener. Let me tell you about something wonderful.

The concept of working memory is based on the notion that we can process a finite number of new bits in one instance, originally thought to be about 7, now about 4.  What these ‘bits’ are depend on what we know. So a person who only knows a little chemistry will look at a complex organic molecule and see lots of carbons, hydrogens, etc joined together. Remembering it (or even discussing its structure/reactivity) would be very difficult – there are too many bits. A more advanced learner may be able to identify functional groups, where a group is an assembly or atoms in a particular pattern; ketones for example being an assembly of three carbons and an oxygen, with particular bonding arrangements. This reduces the number of bits.

Functional groups are important for organic chemists as they will determine the reactivity of the molecule, and a challenge for novices to be able to do this is to first be able to identify the functional groups. In order to help students practise this, Johnstone developed an innovative approach (this was 1982): an electronic circuit board.

Functional Group Board: Black dots represent points were students needed to wire from name to example of functional group
Functional Group Board: Black dots represent points were students needed to wire from name to example of functional group

The board was designed so that it was covered with a piece of paper listing all functional groups of interest on either side, and then an array of molecules in the middle, with functional groups circled. Students were asked to connect a lead from the functional group name to a matching functional group, and if they were correct, a lightbulb would flash.

A lightbulb would flash. Can you imagine the joy?!

Amide backup card
Amide backup card

If not, “back-up cards” were available so that students could review any that they connected incorrectly, and were then directed back to the board.

The board was made available to students in laboratory sessions, and they were just directed to play with it in groups to stimulate discussion (and so as “not to frighten them away with yet another test”). Thus students were able to test out their knowledge, and if incorrect they had resources to review and re-test. Needless to say the board was very popular with students, such that more complex sheets were developed for medical students.

Because this is 1982 and pre-… well, everything, Johnstone offers instructions for building the board, developed with the departmental electrician. Circuit instructions for 50 x 60 cm board were given, along with details of mounting various plans of functional groups onto the pegboard for assembly. I want one!

 

Reference

A. H. Johnstone, K. M. Letton, J. C. Speakman, Recognising functional groups, Education in Chemistry, 1982, 19, 16-19. RSC members can view archives of Education in Chemistry via the Historical Collection.

Why do academics use technology in teaching?

This week is All Aboard week in Ireland, essayed at “Building Confidence in Digital Skills for Learning”. I am speaking today in the gorgeous city of Galway on this topic, and came across this paper in a recent BJET which gives some useful context. It summarises interviews with 33 Australian academics from various disciplines, on the topic of why they used technology in assessment. While the particular lens is on assessment, I think there are some useful things to note for those espousing the incorporation of technology generally.

Four themes emerge from the interviews

The first is that there is a perceived cost-benefit analysis at play; the cost of establishing an assessment process (e.g. quizzes) was perceived to be offset by the benefit that it would offer, such as reducing workload in the long-run. However, some responses suggest that this economic bet didn’t pay off, and that lack of time meant that academics often took quick solutions or those they knew about, such as multiple choice quizzes.

The second theme is that technology was adopted because it is considered contemporary and innovative; this suggests a sense of inevitability of using tools as they are there. A (mildly upsetting) quote from an interview is given:

“It would have been nice if we could have brainstormed what we wanted students to achieve, rather than just saying “well how can ICT be integrated within a subject?”

The third theme was one around the intention to shape students’ behaviour – providing activities to guide them through learning. There was a sense that this was expected and welcomed by students.

Finally, at the point of implementation, significant support was required, which often wasn’t forthcoming, and because of this, and other factors, intentions had to be compromised.

The authors use these themes to make some points about the process of advocating and supporting those integrating technology. I like their point about “formative development” – rolling out things over multiple iterations and thus lowering the stakes. Certainly my own experience (in hindsight!) reflects the benefit of this.

One other aspect of advocacy that isn’t mentioned but I think could be is to provide a framework upon which you hang your approaches. Giving students quizzes “coz it helps them revise” probably isn’t a sufficient framework, and nor is “lecture capture coz we can”. I try to use the framework of cognitive load theory as a basis for a lot of what I do, so that I have some justification for when things are supported or not, depending on where I expect students to be at in their progression. It’s a tricky balance, but I think such a framework at least prompts consideration of an overall approach rather than a piecemeal one.

There’s a lovely graphic from All Aboard showing lots of technologies, and as an awareness tool it is great. But there is probably a huge amount to be done in terms of digital literacy, regarding both the how, but also the why, of integrating technology into our teaching approaches.

map2
Click link to go to All Aboard webpage