2: What do out want to find out? Defining your research question*

This section covers a major aspect of thinking about your research project – your research question. It is a long section and has a lot of detail. You will likely use this section several times; at first to get a general overview of the research approach, and again throughout your project as you define your question, think about your methods, and reflect on your research approach. In the first reading your aim is to get a general sense of what a research question is and why we use them in education research. At the heart of the research process is…

1. What is chemistry education research?

An overview of education research Education research is an academic discipline which focusses on exploring all aspects of education. This includes finding out about what students know, how students learn, and investigating teaching approaches. Its focus can range from one student’s learning to a national education system, to a teaching approach across many different contexts. The assumed rationale for completing education research is to find out more, and hence improve teaching and learning at all levels of education. Based in theory Education research has some particular characteristics. As an academic discipline, it builds on educational theory. This means that an…

Introducing “A guide to completing your undergraduate chemistry education research project”

I have been lucky to supervise many undergraduate students as they complete their final year education research projects. It’s an exciting time as students bring their enthusiasm, interest, and knowledge to a fresh project each year. It is also a challenging task; students who are expert in their own discipline such as chemistry have to learn new terminology and new ways of approaching research, that may seem unfamiliar. The time constraints of a final year undergraduate study adds to the challenge: completing a research project in a new area that is the basis of an academic thesis in 6 –…

Managing undergraduate education research groups

At MICER21, I spoke on the process of managing an undergrad education research programme at Edinburgh with a former student, Lee Ferguson. Each year I had 10 undergrad students taking projects and so a system of management evolved. After giving some context and details about recruitment approaches and timelines, Lee then shared his experiences and reflections as a student on the programme. I then looked at four project categories that have emerged over the years (themes and project choice usually student driven): Projects on teaching and learning of chemistry Projects under a more general SoTL banner Projects associated with more…

Lab Education: Past, Present and Future Discussion

Yesterday I was a panellist on an ACS Chem Ed Research Committee discussion on laboratory education. It was a very interesting and wide ranging discussion on teaching laboratories moderated by Nikita Burrows, with panellists Brittland DeKorver, Joi Walker and me. There was a large and active audience, testamant to the enduring popularity of talking about laboratory education. Some thoughts below, but it is worth flagging the quality of the panel and what they bring to the discussion. I suggest anyone interested read: Brittland: DeKorver, B. K., & Towns, M. H. (2016).Upper‐level undergraduate chemistry students’ goals for their laboratory coursework. Journal…

Moving a (physical) chemistry lab online

The last post discussed some epistemological considerations (roll with it) on moving chemistry labs online, sharing some concerns about trying to teach technique via fancy swipey-wipe interactions (roll with it).This one aims to be a bit more grounded. If we were to move a lab online, what might it look like? I am going to go through my first draft of thinking for moving a physical chemistry lab online below. The headline considerations for me are: (1) not to create busy work for the student for the sake of it; (2) some bits of lab work aren’t really that great,…

What is an “online chemistry lab”?

Prelude The massive shift to online teaching and learning for us in Edinburgh focussed on lectures and tutorials, as we were comparatively lucky in timing – our semester starts and ends very early in the calendar year, which meant that our students were able to complete the majority of their labs. Knowing what I have lived through over the last weeks, I empathise with educators from the other side of the world who are just beginning their teaching year, and those teaching summer semesters: I realise how lucky I am! I mention this as a prelude as I want to…

Inaugural Lecture: Supporting student learning in complex environments

In February I gave my Inaugural Lecture to celebrate the awarding of the Chair in Chemistry Education. The lecture was recorded, and I am grateful to the folks at Academic Audio Transcription who have undertaken the very tough task of transcribing my very strange accent, so that I can now share the lecture with subtitles. As well as introduction (~4 mins) the lecture is in three parts – learning in the lab, a bit about me, and work around student inclusion. If you are interested in some of the aspects mentioned in this lecture, some follow-up links are below, which themselves…

Looking back on ten years of Chemistry Education Research and Practice

Over the last 10 years from 2010 – 2019, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, a free-to-access journal published by the RSC (of which I am currently Editor) has published 631 articles, which have been cited 5246 times (data from Web of Science). So what has been “hot” this last decade? It seems whatever way you cut it, it was flipped learning and organic chemistry… Below I’ve cut the citation statistics a few ways – these comments are based on citations rather than judgement on the work itself. In terms of number of citations, Keith Taber’s perspective on the chemistry triplet tops the…

A new book on teaching chemistry in higher education

This 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…