Why “chem ed” and not just “ed”?

imageFor 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

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4 thoughts on “Why “chem ed” and not just “ed”?

  1. I agree and can’t add much more to points 1, 2, 3. There are specifics about learning chemistry, just as there are about economics and history. That doesn’t mean we isolate from overarching education philosophy/psychology; rather work within these frameworks as pertinent to chemistry education.

    Point 2 is especially important in pragmatic terms.

    Re Point 3; a tiny, pedantic point: CERP is free to access rather than open access. Free to access means you come to my house for a party where I let you in and give you food and drink. Open access is where I leave everything out on the lawn and you can take what you want once you tell everyone you got it from me.

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    1. Thanks Michael, I will add a note to the blog on OA.

      My initial thought on this was maybe I was wrong and the reason I thought Chem Ed was better than Ed was for sentimental reasons. Point 2 is most pertinent though, for most of us Ed research is an add on to our busy daily lives and often pursued outside of our usual teaching schedule.

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  2. I find the peculiarities of teaching chemistry, especially the tricky concepts and practical practicalities, of most interest when thinking about research and ultimately adding to the collective knowledge. While I recognise and strongly advocate the importance of broader T&L issues (e.g. literacy, numeracy, oracy etc), I think the limited time I have to engage in research is best placed on areas that I find particularly interesting and that I am ‘uniquely’ placed to have an impact for my students (at least while I teach them… they all move on at some point). Their ultimate end point from my time with them before moving on will be an assessment of their Chemistry ‘abilities’. As I am the only one teaching them Chemistry, I need to do the best job of that that I can. Spending time thinking about and improving my practice then seems a good use of my time. Could I spend time thinking about how to improve wider aspects of teaching of all (science) subjects? Yes, and indeed that was a large part of my previous time in managing departments, perhaps at the expense of being the best (Chemistry) teacher I could be.

    I think the time issue is particularly pertinent for those solely in secondary education, where whole school issues can weigh heavily on ‘free time’. It makes me recall a conversation with a former Geography colleague a few years back. He noted that when he was my age, CPD was having the time to read the equivalent of EiC and talking about it with his colleagues, something he no longer had time to do. I like to read the primary articles from J Chem Ed and CERP, but the digestible more immediately applicable EiC articles are a boon for our cohort of teachers. Long may the quality output from these continue!

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  3. But why is chemistry singled out? Yes we are chemists and chemistry teachers. But is it because chemistry is a “holistic” branch of science. Oh dear I going to get into trouble here but, hey I’m old. My future does not depend on this.
    In biology there is a very strong “chemistry strand” that would make use of all the “chem ed” research. But there are other areas which do not delve into sub-micro area. In physics there are divisions, certainly in education. Do mechanics and optics really mix? I decided to get my pass in A level Physics by missing out most of AC current/motors/dynamo and magnetic field sections and concentrate on optics, DC current, heat, mechanics sections. I can not quite do that in chemistry. You can see pennies drop by the hundred when after disastrous mock A level results by even the brightest students, the revision time makes links between descriptive chemistry of the elements and physical chemistry. (This is why I though term A-l exams were a bad thing)
    I am concentrating my microchemistry ideas on by relating them to the Johnstone triangle and cognitive load because I think they have the highest impact on teaching. I was a presentation of a Finnish Chem Ed researcher, who had a questionnaire for students on nano-chemistry (that was colloidal chemistry in my day) and found they knew nothing. He then produced a teaching package and tested them again and found the results improved. Well they would, it is called teaching. I could do the same for you with the game of Bridge. I asked if nano-chemistry was in the syllabus and he said no. I am even more horrified when students in countries use Health & Safety in this way. To paraphrase Father Ted, “That would be a management matter”.

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