Book review, Chemistry, Context, Laboratory, Pedagogy

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.
Laboratory

A Framework for Learning in the Chemistry Laboratory

What is the key literature on chemistry laboratory education? What kinds of factors should be considered when designing laboratory curricula? An invite for a journal special issue gave me the final push to write something I’ve wanted to write for a long time addressing these questions. When writing it, I have in mind “typical academics”, who may be doing learning and teaching courses or people interested in broadening their reading about chemistry education. This special issue was a good place for it because it is a special issue in a “normal” chemistry journal, with the theme of chemistry education. Therefore the expected audience of the issue is the general body chemistry faculty. It was too good a chance to miss!

The article is now published. We set out our stall early with some guiding principles that we adhere to:

  1. The overarching purpose of laboratory learning is to teach learners how to ‘do’ science.
  2. Preparing students for learning in the laboratory is beneficial.
  3. Explicit consideration needs to be given to teaching experimental techniques.
  4. Consideration of learners’ emotions, motivations, and expectations is imperative in laboratory settings.

While I think this is helpful (obvs), it does expose the difficulty with considering changes to our laboratory curricula – there is a lot to think about! (We give a lot of things to think about in Table 1 of the paper). And after thinking, it takes a lot of work to implement change. I really think this is why laboratory curricula in chemistry are so resistant to change.

After explaining the four principles listed above with key references, we propose a framework, shown in the figure, which in our case at Edinburgh is oriented towards developing independence, skills, and capability to experiment (as in really experiment). Our way of doing this is to consider the progressive development of skills and competencies over the curriculum, and how each stage builds on the previous one.

framework for learning in the chemistry laboratory

We talk about each stage, with some suggestions. Initially I was reluctant to do this and indeed our original submission did not have these examples. There is so much in the literature that can be described as “good ideas in the lab” and I wanted to focus minds on prompting people to think about a model for their curriculum and not individual practicals they could add to their course without thinking about an overall framework. The reviewers and special issue editors came back with requests to add in some examples. I confess I first resisted – I really wanted to emphasise a curricular perspective. But the editors (patiently) argued that by showing some examples, we could illustrate how people might take existing published experiments and consider how to fit them into their pre-determined framework. I’m glad I was convinced that I was wrong and I think the paper is stronger because of it.

If you would like to read the paper in its full glory, head on over to:

Seery, M.K., Agustian, H.Y. and Zhang, X., 2018. A Framework for Learning in the Chemistry Laboratory. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ijch.201800093

Of course I am happy to provide pre-prints to anyone who does not have access.

Laboratory

Harmony in the Chemistry Lab

One of the difficulties students often raise is that the lab report they are required to produce is different for one section (not looking at anyone…) than it is for others. I think it is a fair comment. In Scotland and Ireland, students complete four year undergraduate Bachelor courses, and the first year in these courses is usually a highly organised, well-oiled machine which is consistent in format across the year (it would be similar in nature to the “Gen Chem” courses internationally). So when a student enters Year 2, I think it must be quite a shock to find out about different sections, and that different sections have their own cultures.

Chemistry 2 Laboratory Web

One thing we have done this year is to agree on a common report template for reports. Yes, I know Physical like to do it this way and Organic like it that way (Inorganic chemists don’t seem too fussy).  Our agreed template tries to accommodate these differences by mentioning particular emphases in each component of the report, although not without compromise. The intention is that as students move from one section to another through their year, feedback they get on a particular component of the report in one section in November is useful to them when they are doing a report for another section in March. Or rather, the clarity about the value of that feedback is better.

Once we had this in the bag, other things fall into place. The poster shows what is now in every Chemistry 2 laboratory manual and outside the laboratory. As well as the report assessment, we’ve harmonised how we treat pre-labs, what the expectations are in the lab. But we’ve also made clear (I hope!) how the current programme builds on Year 1 work, as well as outlining what is next. A key point is that each section (Inorganic, Physical, Organic) in the year is described in terms of the main focus (outcomes), showing students what the similarities and differences are. I think that this kind of information, which is often implicit, is useful to extend to students. More importantly, it keeps staff focussed on considering the practical course as one course rather than three courses.

As I begin to think about next year’s manuals, I’ll happily hear any comments or suggestions!

 

Laboratory

A model for the (chemistry) practical curriculum

Yesterday’s post discussed our recent work in thinking about how to build experimental design into the teaching laboratory. This post is related, but aims to think about the overall laboratory teaching curriculum.

I’ve been thinking about this and have Tina Overton’s mantra ringing in my head: what do we want the students to be at the end of it? So, what do we want students to be at the end of a practical curriculum? I think many of us will have varying answers, but there’s a couple of broad themes, which we can assemble thanks to the likes of Tamir (1976), Kirschner and Meester (1992), and Carnduff and Reid (2003, or Reid and Shah, 2007, more accessible).

Tamir considers the is of practical work should include –take a deep breath: skills (e.g., manipulative, inquiry, investigative, organizational, communicative), concepts (e.g., data, hypothesis, theoretical model, taxonomic category), cognitive abilities (e.g., critical thinking, problem solving, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, decision making, creativity), understanding the nature of science (e.g., the scientific enterprise, the scientists and how they work, the existence of a multiplicity of scientific methods, the interrelationships between science and technology and among various disciplines of science) and attitudes (e.g., curiosity, interest, risk taking, objectivity, precision, perseverance, satisfaction, responsibility, consensus and collaboration, confidence in scientific knowledge, self-reliance, liking science.)1

Kirschner and Meester list the aims as being: to formulate hypotheses, to solve problems, to use knowledge and skills in unfamiliar situations, to design simple experiments to test hypotheses, to use laboratory skills in performing (simple) experiments, to interpret experimental data, to describe clearly the experiment and to remember the central idea of an experiment over a significantly long period of time.2

And Reid presents the desired outcomes in terms of four skill types: skills relating to learning chemistry, practical skills, scientific skills, and general (meaning transferable) skills.3

So we can see some commonalities, but each have a slightly different perspective. In trying to grapple with the aims of practical work, and think about how they are introduced across a curriculum, I came up with the diagram below a few years ago, recently modified for the Scottish system (we have 5 years instead of 4). This model especially focuses on the concept of “nature of science”, which I consider is the overarching desire for practical work, encompassing the concept of “syntactical knowledge” described in yesterday’s post.

5 year curriculum overview

The intention is that each year of the curriculum adds on a new layer. Each year incorporates the year below, but includes a new dimension. So students in Year 3 will become exposed to Experimental Design (Familiar), but they’ll still be developing skills and exploring models/hypotheses.

I’ve shown this model to students at various stages, and they seem to like it. The sense of progression is obvious, and it is clear what the additional demand will be. In fact their reaction this year was so positive that it struck me that we should really share our curriculum design model (whatever it may be) with students, so there is clarity about expectation and demand. So I will include this model in lab manuals in future years. That way, it’s not just that each year is “harder” (or as is often the case, not harder at all, just longer experiments) but the exact focus is identified. They can see (their) ultimate target of final year project, although I think that perhaps we should, with Tina in mind again, have something on the top platform, stating the desired attributes on graduation.

I’d be interested in opinions on this model. One challenge it raises is how to make labs in the earlier years more interesting, and I think the intentional incorporation of interesting chemistry, decision making, and documenting skill development will help in that regard. Thoughts?!

References

  1. Tamir, P. The role of the laboratory in science teaching; University of Iowa: 1976.
  2. Kirschner, P. A.; Meester, M. A. M., The laboratory in higher science education: Problems, premises and objectives. Higher Education 1988, 17 (1), 81-98.
  3. (a) Carnduff, J.; Reid, N., Enhancing undergraduate chemistry laboratories: pre-laboratory and post-laboratory exercises. Royal Society of Chemistry: 2003; (b) Reid, N.; Shah, I., The role of laboratory work in university chemistry. Chemistry Education Research and Practice 2007, 8 (2), 172-185.