Chemistry Education Research and Practice

I still remember the pleasant surprise of discovering that there was a journal dedicated to the teaching of chemistry in higher education. Sometime in late 2005, I Googled something about assessment in chemistry, and out came a result: “Assessment in Chemistry and the Role of Examinations“, a great paper questioning the value of our assessment system.  The same issue had an article “Experimenting with Undergraduate Practicals“, which was hugely influential in my own consideration of the role lab education. My love affair with University Chemistry Education—which would later become Chemistry Education Research and Practice after a merger in 2005—began.

Early Themes

A Wordle of the titles of the papers published in U. Chem. Ed. from 1997 – 2004 is shown below. These show that the issues we are still tackling today—critical thinking, effective assessment, embedding transferable skills—have been around the block a few times in the chemistry education community!

Wordle of University Chemistry Education Titles Volumes 1 – 8.

The contents of the very first issue is telling in that regard. Among its articles are Alex Johnstone’s classic ‘…And some fell on good ground’, about prior knowledge and cognitive load in learning chemistry, the basis of my own research over the last three years. Tina Overton’s Creating Critical Chemists had themes of group work and discussion, which are interesting prelude to her hugely influential work on problem based learning in chemistry. The then editor of U. Chem. Ed., John Garratt, wrote a paper entitled Virtual investigations: ways to accelerate experience which discussed the use of pre-lab online exercises as a preparation to in-lab work which included a set of aims of practical work that informed the debate around laboratory education. More than twenty-five years later, these issues are still at the core of our discussions on chemistry education.

The new journal must have quickly gained an audience outside the UK. Apart from letters, Volume 3(1) in 1999 saw three non-UK-based submissions: Brian Murphy (IE), then of IT Sligo, on assessment of IT skills in chemistry (my 2012 CERP paper is on this topic!); Onno de Jong (NL) on how to go about researching chemical education (de Jong has done a lot of work on contextualising chemistry); and George Bodner (US) on an action research study of assessment. International submissions continued at a healthy pace.

Towards CERP

Soon after the establishment of University Chemistry Education in 1997 was the development of Chemical Education Research and Practice in Europe (CERAPIE), edited by Georgios Tsarpalis, in 2000. Like U. Chem. Ed., CERAPIE quickly attracted an international audience, and dropped “in Europe” from its title in 2003. In 2005, U. Chem. Ed. and CERP merged to form a new journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, co-edited by Stephen Breuer who was editor at U. Chem. Ed. since 2001 and Georgios Tsarpalis. From 2007, the journal was included in the ISI Citation Index, a hugely important step in the development of the journal.

According to ISI, 181 papers have been published in CERP since 2007. Among these, 61 (1/3) have been from US, 20 from England, 14 from Australia, 13 from Germany, 9 from Ireland and 7 from Scotland. The top 10 most cited articles are (note that these are biased by age!)

  1. Donald Treagust’s (AUS) excellent work on two-tier diagnostic assessment
  2. Norman Reid’s (SCO) seminal paper on the role of laboratory work in chemistry
  3. Lewis and Lewis’ (US) work on predicting at-risk students in General chemistry
  4. One of the early papers on clickers in chemistry by Loretta Jones (I have written about that here)
  5. One in Hofstein’s important series discussing laboratory education
  6. Absolutely ground breaking work done here at DIT :) on project based learning in the lab
  7. Cooper and Sandi-Urena’s work on metacognition in chemistry (check out last issue of 2011 for an update to this work)
  8. Mark Buntine and Justin Read’s work on undergraduate practical development ACELL
  9. Stolk and de Jongs’ paper on context based education in teacher training
  10. Domin’s work on conceptual development in a PBL laboratory setting

The Future

Issue 4, 2011 saw the retirement of both Stephen Breuer and Georgios Tsarpalis as editors of CERP. I think the chemistry education community has much to be grateful to them for, as they have provided a platform for practitioners and researchers in chemical education to share and debate ideas for more than a decade. For new and continuing lecturers, it is a great resource for stimulating a consideration of how we teach chemistry.

Interestingly, this last issue under their stewardship had themes which were very similar to those mentioned in the first issue of U. Chem. Ed.—technology in education, including laboratory education; conceptualising chemical concepts; and developing critical thinking through enquiry. The new editor, Keith Taber, has a big task ahead of him continuing on the work of this great journal. His own association goes back to 2000, when he wrote an article on teaching chemistry with a consideration of prior knowledge.

I am planning a follow-up article to consider some of the themes highlighted in CERP in more detail. If you’d like to be involved, or have any particular favourites, let me know!

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