A new PhD graduand in chemistry education

Congratulations to Xinchi Zhang for passing her PhD viva this week. Xinchi’s work explored the student voice in laboratory learning; looking at their experiences in relation to learning as well as their concepts of lab goals. Her work furthered current literature by placing these findings within a theoretical framework, and she brought in Maslow’s hierarchy in an innovative way to do this. Xinchi is a thoughtful and innovative scholar. I still remember meeting her before she undertook her research when she made a strong case for incorporating student needs into the conversation regarding lab design, and her scholarship has heavily…

Describing different types of virtual labs

Recently I spoke in Dublin at the 2nd DCU Virtual Labs Seminar Series. DCU and others are working in a project led by Chemistry at Maynooth University, funded by the Irish Government’s Human Capital Initiative. The focus of the presentation was on design of virtual settings – in particular bringing together (1) what we know about learning in complex settings such as labs, (2) what we know about learning in general, and (3) what we know about good e-learning design, and in the talk I ran through a prototype case study of designing a virtual HPLC experiment with these three…

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…

How has your chemistry assessment changed as a result of COVID?

A working group of the RSC Education Division Council is completing an analysis of the assessment landscape and how it changed as a result of COVID. The task is to: survey the changes that occurred in assessment of chemistry in post-secondary education, to identify commentary on implementation from these in practice, and to share this practice back with the community, with the (explicit) intention of encouraging a broader assessment profile in chemistry. All educators involved in post-secondary teaching are invited to complete the survey, which can be accessed at the link below. The deadline for completion is 23rd April 2021….

Passing on the Editor’s pen at CERP

From the start of this month I began my slow fading away as Editor of Chemistry Education Research and Practice and I am delighted to say that involved handing over the reins to Professor Gwen Lawrie, who has taken up the position as Editor in Chief of the journal. It was a very difficult decision to stand down from the journal that I have been working closely with for five years, but the right one for me at this time. On taking up a position like this, you make mad plans and generate lots of “great ideas”, but in reality…

Micro-structuring students’ learning with SMARTS

Much of our interaction with students involves structuring their work as they move through a curriculum. The very presence of a timetable is a headline structure, telling students when they will hear content on particular topics, when they will discuss it in class, and when they will work in labs. Much of my own work is focussed on micro-structuring – that is to say structuring at School level but with consideration of individual student actions. For example, in labs and tutorials, we’ve had a lot of success with structuring students work before, during, and after contact time. This means students…