I don’t know if I am missing something, but I have found it hard to locate past issues of University Chemistry Education, the predecessor to CERP. They are not linked on the RSC journal page. CERP arose out of a merger between U Chem Ed and CERAPIE, and it is the CERAPIE articles that are hosted in the CERP back issues. Confused? Yes. (More on all of this here)
Anyway in searching and hunting old U Chem Ed articles, I have cracked the code of links and compiled links to back issues below. They are full of goodness. (The very last article published in UCE was the very first chemistry education paper I read – David McGarvey’s “Experimenting with Undergraduate Practicals“.)
Physicists learned a lot about curly arrows at this conference. Nick Greeves‘ opening keynote spoke about the development of ChemTube3D – a stunning achievement – over 1000 HTML pages, mostly developed by UG students. News for those who know the site are that 3D curly arrow mechanisms are now part of the reaction mechanism visualisations, really beautiful visualisation of changing orbitals as a reaction proceeds for 30+ reactions, lovely visualisations of MOFs, direct links to/from various textbooks, and an app at the prototype stage. Nick explained that this has all been developed with small amounts of money from various agencies, including the HEA Physical Sciences Centre.
Mike Casey from UCD spoke about a resource at a much earlier stage of development; an interactive mechanism tutor. Students can choose a reaction type and then answer the question by drawing the mechanism – based on their answer they receive feedback. Version 2 is on the way with improved feedback, but I wondered if this feedback might include a link to the appropriate place in Chemtube3D, so that students could watch the associated visualisation as part of the feedback.
In the same session Robert Campbell spoke about his research on how A-level students answer organic chemistry questions. My understanding is that students tend to use rules of mechanisms (e.g. primary alkyl halides means it’s always SN2) without understanding the reason why; hence promoting rote learning. In a nice project situated in the context of cognitive load theory, Rob used Livescribe technology to investigate students reasoning. Looking forward to seeing this research in print.
Rob’s future work alluded to considering the video worked answers described by Stephen Barnes, also for A-level students. These demonstrated a simple but clever approach; using questions resembling A-level standard, asking students to complete them, providing video worked examples so students could self-assess, and then getting them to reflect on how they can improve. David Read mentioned that this model aligned with the work of Sadler, worth a read.
Selfishly, I was really happy to see lots of talks about labs on the programme. Ian Bearden was the physics keynote, and he spoke about opening the laboratory course – meaning the removal of prescriptive and allowing students to develop their own procedures. Moving away from pure recipe is of course music to this audience’s ears and the talk was very well received. But you can’t please everyone – I would have loved to hear much more about what was done and the data involved, rather than the opening half of the talk about the rationale for doing so. A short discussion prompted this tweet from Felix Janeway, something we can agree on! But I will definitely be exploring this work more. Ian also mentioned that this approach is also part of physics modules taught to trainee teachers, which sounded a very good idea.
Jennifer Evans spoke about the prevalence of pre-labs in UK institutions following on from the Carnduff and Reid study in 2003. Surprisingly many don’t have any form of pre-lab work. It will be interesting to get a sense of what pre-lab work involves – is it theory or practice? Theory and practice were mentioned in a study from Oxford presented by Ruiqi Yu, an undergraduate student. This showed mixed messages on the purpose of practical work, surely something the academy need to agree on once and for all. There was also quite a nice poster from Oxford involving a simulation designed to teach experimental design, accessible at this link. This was also built by an undergraduate student. Cate Cropper from Liverpool gave a really useful talk on tablets in labs – exploring the nitty gritty of how they might work. Finally on labs, Jenny Slaughter gave an overview of the Bristol ChemLabs, which is neatly summarised in this EiC article, although the link to the HEA document has broken.
Kristy Turner gave an overview of the School Teacher Fellow model at Manchester, allowing her to work both at school and university with obvious benefits for both. Kristy looked forward to an army of Kristy’s, which would indeed be formidable, albeit quite scary. Even without that, the conference undoubtedly benefits from the presence of school teachers, as Rob’s talk, mentioned above, demonstrates.
Rachel Koramoah gave a really great workshop on qualitative data analysis. Proving the interest in chemistry education research, this workshop filled up quickly. The post-it note method was demonstrated, which was interesting and will certainly explore more, but I hope to tease out a bit more detail on the data reduction step. This is the benefit of this model – the participants reduce the data for you – but I worry that this might in turn lead to loss of valuable data.
Matthew Mears gave a great byte on the value of explicit signposting to textbooks using the R-D-L approach: Read (assign a reading); Do (Assign questions to try); Learn (assign questions to confirm understanding). Matt said setting it up takes about 30 minutes and he has seen marked improvements in student performance in comparison to other sections of the course.
David Nutt won the best poster prize. His poster showed the results of eye-tracking experiments to demonstrate the value or not of an in-screen presenter. Very interesting results which I look forward to seeing in print.
I couldn’t attend everything, and other perspectives on the meeting with links etc can be found at links below. From Twitter, Barry Ryan’s presenation on NearPod seemed popular, along with the continuing amazingness of my colleagues in the Edinburgh Physics Education Research Group. One of their talks, by Anna Wood, is available online.
Contracts have been signed so I am happy to say that I am writing a book on chemistry laboratory education as part of the RSC’s new Advances in Chemistry Education series due for publication mid 2017.
I’ve long had an interest in lab education, since stumbling across David McGarvey’s “Experimenting with Undergraduate Practicals” in University Chemistry Education (now CERP). Soon after, I met Stuart Bennett, now retired, from Open University at a European summer school. Stuart spoke about lab education and its potential affordances in the curriculum. He was an enormous influence on my thinking in chemistry education, and in practical work in particular. We’d later co-author a chapter on lab education for a book for new lecturers in chemistry published by the RSC (itself a good example on the benefits of European collaboration). My first piece of published education research was based on laboratory work; a report in CERP on the implementation of mini-projects in chemistry curriculum, completed with good friends and colleagues Claire Mc Donnell and Christine O’Connor. So I’ve been thinking about laboratory work for a long time.
Why a book?
A question I will likely be asking with increasing despair over the coming months is: why am I writing a book? To reaffirm to myself as much as anything else, and to remind me if I get lost on the way, the reasons are pretty straightforward.
My career decisions and personal interests over the last few years have meant that I have moved my focus entirely to chemistry education. Initially this involved sneaking in some reading between the covers of J. Mat. Chem. when I was meant to be catching up on metal oxide photocatalysis. But as time went on and thanks to the support of others involved in chemistry education, this interest became stronger. I eventually decided to make a break with chemistry and move into chemistry education research. (One of the nicest things for me personally about joining Edinburgh was that this interest was ultimately validated.)
So while my knowledge of latest chemistry research is limited mainly to Chemistry World reports, one thing I do know well is the chemistry education research literature. And there is a lot of literature on laboratory education. But as I read it and try to keep on top of it, it is apparent that much of the literature on laboratory education falls into themes, and by a bit of rethinking of these themes and by taking a curriculum design approach, some guiding principles for laboratory education can be drawn up. And that a compilation of such principles, within the context of offering a roadmap or plan for laboratory education might be useful to others.
And this is what I hope to offer. The book will be purposefully targeted at anyone responsible for taking a traditional university level chemistry laboratory course and looking to change it. In reality, such change is an enormous task, and being pragmatic, needs to happen in phases. It’s tempting then to tweak bits and change bits based on some innovation presented at a conference or seen in a paper. But there needs to be an overall design for the entire student experience, so that incremental changes sum up to an overall consistent whole piece. Furthermore, by offering a roadmap or overall design, I hope to empower members of staff who may be responsible for such change by giving the evidence they may need to rationalise changes to colleagues. Everyone has an opinion on laboratory education! The aim is to provide evidence-based design approaches.
My bookshelves are groaning with excellent books on laboratory education. I first came across Teaching in Laboratories by Boud Dunn and Hegarty-Hazel back in the days when I stumbled across McGarvey’s article. I still refer to it, as even though it was published in 1986, it still carries a lot of useful material. Woolnough and Allsop’s Practical Work in Science is also excellent; crystal clear on the role and value of laboratory education and its distinction from lecture based curriculum. Hegarty-Hazel also edited The Student Laboratory and the Science Curriculum. Roger Anderson’s book The Experience of Science was published before I was born.
I have bought these now out of print books and several more second hand for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. I have learned lots from them, but am mindful that (justifiably) well-known and comprehensive as they are, they are now out of print and our university laboratories have not seen much change in the forty years since Anderson.
I am very conscious of this as I structure my own book. I can speculate that books about science laboratories at both secondary and tertiary level may be too broad. So the book is focussing exclusively on chemistry and higher education.
Secondly, the book is very clearly directed at those implementing a new approach, those involved in change. Ultimately it is their drive and energy and input that decides the direction of changes that will occur. I hope that by speaking directly to them with a clear rationale and approach based on an up-to-date literature, that it may ease the workload somewhat for those looking to rethink laboratory education in their curricula. Now I just need to actually write it.
Several years ago at the Variety in Chemistry Education conference, there was a rather sombre after-dinner conversation on whether the meeting would continue on in subsequent years. Attendance numbers were low and the age profile was favouring the upper half of the bell-curve.
Last year at Variety I registered before the deadline and got, what I think was the last space, and worried about whether my abstract would be considered. The meeting was packed full of energetic participants interested in teaching from all over UK and Ireland, at various stages of their careers. A swell in numbers is of course expected from the merging with the Physics Higher Education Conference, but the combination of the two is definitely (from this chemist’s perspective) greater than the sum of its parts.
What happened in the mean time would be worthy of a PhD study. How did the fragile strings that were just holding people together in this disparate, struggling community, not snap, but instead strengthen to bring in many newcomers? A complex web of new connections has grown. While I watched it happen I am not sure how it happened. I suspect it is a confluence of many factors: the efforts of the RSC at a time when chemistry was at a low-point. The determination of the regular attendees to keep supporting it, knowing its inherent value. The ongoing support of people like Stuart Bennett, Dave McGarvey, Stephen Breuer, Bill Byers, and others. And of course the endless energy of Tina Overton and the crew at the Physical Sciences Centre at Hull.
Whatever the process, we are very lucky to have a vibrant community of people willing to push and challenge and innovate in our teaching of chemistry. And that community is willing and is expected to play a vital role in the development of teaching approaches. This requires design and evaluation of these approaches; a consideration of how they work in our educational context. And this requires the knowledge of how to design these research studies and complete these evaluations. Readers will note that Variety now particularly welcome evidence-based approaches.
Most of us in this community are chemists, and the language of education research can be new, and difficult to navigate. Thus a meeting such as MICER held last week aimed to introduce and/or develop approaches in education research. The speakers were excellent, but having selected them I knew they would be! Participants left, from what I could see and saw on social media, energised and enthused about the summer ahead and possible projects.
But we will all return to our individual departments, with the rest of the job to do, and soon enthusiasm gives way to pragmatism, as other things get in the way. It can be difficult to continue to develop expertise and competence in chemistry education research without a focus. The community needs to continue to support itself, and seek support from elsewhere.
How might this happen?
Support from within the community can happen by contacting someone you met at a conference and asking them to be a “critical friend”. Claire Mc Donnell introduced me to this term and indeed was my critical friend. This is someone whom you trust to talk about your work with, share ideas and approaches, read drafts of work. It is a mutual relationship, and I have found it extremely beneficial, both from the perspective of having someone sensible to talk to, but also from a metacognitive perspective. Talking it out makes me think about it more.
The community can organise informal and formal journal clubs. Is there a particular paper you liked – how did the authors complete a study and what did they draw from it? Why not discuss it with someone, or better still in the open?
Over the next while I am hoping to crystallise these ideas and continue the conversations on how we do chemistry education research. I very much hope you can join me and be an active participant; indeed a proactive participant. So that there is an independent platform, I have set up the website http://micerportal.wordpress.com/ and welcome anyone interested in being involved to get in touch about how we might plan activities or even a series of activities. I hope to see you there.
A new book “Chemistry Education : Best Practices, Opportunities and Trends” has just been made available online. It covers a range of current topics in chemistry teaching including a chapter on human activity by Peter Mahaffy, context based learning by Ilka Parchmann and flipped lectures by Eric Mazur. In addition, there are some chapters on aspects of chemistry teaching, such as that one on problem solving by George Bodner, laboratory teaching by Avi Hofstein and conceptual integration by Keith Taber. In fact the table of contents reads like a who’s-who of chemical education (some notable exceptions acknowledged).
I’m looking forward to getting the physical copy. The problem with many books of this nature is that their cost is prohibitive and therefore many people who would find it valuable can’t access it. It’s worth seeing whether pre-prints are available from individual authors or very often publications covering similar themes might be available. I wrote a survey of e-learning and blended learning for chemistry in the HEA New Directions journal recently (free to access), which covers some of the topics mentioned in our chapter.
Education in Chemistry (EiC) is a bi-monthly periodical covering news and features relevant to the teaching of chemistry at secondary and tertiary level. It has just launched a new app, and is making the magazines free to view for 2015.
I had a preview of the app in development as I’m a member of the editorial board, but got a proper chance to play with it when I downloaded it from iTunes to iPhone and iPad. This bias noted, I have to say I really love it. EiC was one of the few periodicals I still enjoyed reading in print form, and while I’ll still enjoy its physical presence, the app does a very good job at allowing the reader to navigate as easily as possible, mimicking the “scanning through” approach you take with the physical copy. A lot of features of the New Yorker magazine – which for me is the premier example of online magazine interface – have appeared in this app.
As well as reading it in page turn, the app has a side table of contents which means you can jump straight to an article. My favourite though is ability to scan through the pages visually using the first pages menu option on the right of the menu bar. This gives as close a representation as possible of “flicking through” a magazine. I love it, because you can capture the visual element of each article too. After a sideways swipe, you can, New Yorker style, just begin to read the article with a vertical one. It’s easily read on phone and tablet.
Finally, the pièce de resistance is the scrapbook – you can favourite articles from any of your issues and keep them all stored in one place. Love it!
Will it replace the physical copy? I do have an enjoyable ritual with the physical copy (involves tea) but certainly something so easy to access will mean that I can grab an article on the go.
You can find out more about how to get the app at the EiC website.
Education in Chemistry launched their new blog earlier this year and the editorial staff there were good (brave?) enough to give me a platform to post articles on the theme of chemistry education. There are at least three posts per month and today I posted my 10th article—see links below. If you haven’t seen the blog yet, do have a look—there are guest articles by others including Dr Kristy Turner’s “Do subject specialist teachers matter?” and Dr Keith Taber’s “Ignoring the research and getting the science wrong“—both of which should be of interest to Irish educators as we discuss what and how we do things at secondary level. There’s a healthy discussion both in the blog comments and in the Education in ChemistryLinkedIn group.
Registration for the Irish Variety in Chemistry Education (#iViCE14) is now open. [Link to Conference Webpage] The conference is being held on Tuesday 6th May 2014 and aims to bring together practitioners and others interested in higher education chemistry teaching. It is a popular meeting allowing for the sharing of ideas and discussion of interesting practice.
This year, the conference themes are Technology in Chemistry Education and Transition from 2nd to 3rd Level. Abstracts for talks relating to these topics are especially welcome.
The meeting is sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry (Republic of Ireland Local Section), and attendance is free.
The 9th Irish Variety in Chemistry Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 6th May 2014 at DIT. This meeting is always a popular event with 3rd level chemistry practitioners from around the country and beyond sharing good practice in their chemistry teaching. The meeting is supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry Republic of Ireland Local Section.
If you are a Primary School teacher in Ireland, you can obtain a free DVD which illustrates how to include chemistry in the primary syllabus. The DVD is free of charge, and is available by emailing John Daly, CChem MRSC at the address: email@example.com
Please see details below of events supported by the RSC in November in the Ireland Region, along with a funding call for events in the Republic of Ireland Local Section.
DNA in Food and Forensics: 6th November, Queens University Belfast, McClay Library.
The Role of Women in Chemistry: 8th November, 2- 6 pm, Large Lecture Theatre, School of Chemistry, Trinity College Dublin.
A Magical Science Show: 9th November, University of Ulster, Newtownabbey.
Chemistry at Work Events: 6th November, University of Ulster (Coleraine); 9th November University of Ulster (Jordanstown); 12th and 13th November, Queen’s University; 13th November, Limerick Institute of Technology.
In addition, members in the Republic of Ireland Local Section are invited to submit calls for support of events or activities promoting the chemical sciences, subject to availability of funds. The application should consist of a short (200 words) description of the proposed activity. The terms and conditions of the funding are as follows:
RSC Republic of Ireland Local Section Event Grant
Terms and Conditions
1 Projects should fulfil the RSC Charter by being both charitable and advancing the chemical sciences.
2 Only one grant per applicant will be awarded in any 12 month period.
3 If awarded the applicant will be asked to log the event on the RSC website at least six weeks in advance so that it appears in Chemistry World Events Listings. The applicant will be also asked to provide a one-page report on completion of the project including a breakdown of the use of the grant. Payment of the grant can only be made on provision of receipts and a completed reimbursement form to the Honorary Treasurer.
4 All publicity material advertising the event/initiative must exhibit the RSC logo.