For teaching and scholarship focused academics the end is in sight. Semester 2 is over and the final hurdle of marking is just hitting. Just over that hurdle there may be time to breathe, and to think, and to meet others and share ideas. The chemistry education meeting and conference season got underway recently with the Methods in Chemistry Education Research meeting at Burlington House in London. There are others to look forward to including Variety in Chemistry Education/Physics Higher Education Conference (ViCEPHEC) in August.
It is always great to connect with colleagues and friends in the chem ed (and physics ed) community at such meetings, providing a regular forum for healthy debate and discussion. I find the meetings to be very welcoming, it is not such a long time ago that I was an outsider and now I feel well and truly part of the community (though the discussion in whether chem ed was a clique did jolt us last year).
In a recent discussion with a colleague I was challenged about the whole idea of ‘chem ed’ existing and it was suggested that the whole concept was too inward looking and there shouldn’t really be a ‘chem ed’ only an ‘ed’. So why is there such a thing as the ‘chem ed’ community and does it fit within or entirely outside of the education research community?
I don’t claim to know all the answers so here are a few of my initial thoughts in it…
1. Science education is pretty unique. Outside of the sciences my teaching colleagues don’t have to manage the competing demands of practical and theoretical learning. Just the logistics of laboratory environments alone are tricky and interesting before you even start to get any equipment out and do any practical science. Even within science the different disciplines have their own uniqueness although there is of course some (sometimes quite significant) overlap. Chem ed celebrates the uniqueness of chemistry education whilst acknowledging overlap with other sciences and also with other education theories (for example cognitive load theory from general education and psychological research features large in papers in chem ed).
2. ‘Ed’ is vast and ‘chem ed’ makes it more manageable. Most chem ed researchers are also chem ed practitioners (teachers in schools or HE) for much of their working time and because of this we are quite limited in time. We’re not out for a quick fix but it is much more appealing to read the literature and find something that is obviously translatable to your own setting than it is to read a more general review (or something completely outside your field of expertise) and seek to disassemble it and apply it in chemistry.
3. Chem ed is well served by journals. To a certain extent we are a little spoilt in chem ed. There are a number of excellent journals in the field. I primarily use J.Chem.Ed (ACS, £) and CERP (RSC, Open Access) alongside a few other science education journals. We also have publications like Education in Chemistry which can provide a distillation of current chem ed research alongside discussions and debates, particularly useful to those new to reading chem ed journals.
I would be interested to hear from others on their views of ‘chem ed’ as a thing within or even outside of ‘ed’!
Addendum: CERP is free to access rather then open access, the generous support of the RSC’s education division