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…

Going for PFHEA

I woke up in the middle of the night this week and decided I was going to finally do my PFHEA. I remembered a lovely letter I received from a head of department at Cambridge acknowledging guidance I had shared that had been helpful, and in the clarity that Middle Of The Night thoughts bring, I quickly framed an application around this letter of note. I drifted off composing the tweet that I would be pleased to announce. Dawn broke and I downloaded the forms and guidance (again). This time I actually opened them all: the application form, guidance notes, additional guidance…

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…