Michael Seery talks about being part of the chemistry education research community in the UK and Ireland

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It would be hard to go to a meeting like the annual Variety in Chemistry Education conference and not feel a sense of community, a sense of shared interest. Educators from institutions across the UK and Ireland share their experiences of what they have tried in teaching chemistry – what went well, what didn’t go well. There are new ideas and innovative twists on old approaches. Every year I leave with a notepad full of ideas to explore in my classes.

We are lucky to have this culture in chemistry education, which must reach into most chemistry departments across the British Isles. This culture emerged from the work of people like Alex Johnstone, Tina Overton and those behind the development of the journal University Chemistry Education (the forerunner of Chemistry Education Research and Practice).

So, where are we now? There is no shortage of enthusiasm or people with good ideas. The Variety conference is oversubscribed each year. We see a lot of innovation, but the bar is being set higher. 

As universities focus more on teaching approaches and teaching quality, we need to make the case that the practices we propose are fit for purpose. To do that, we need evidence. And we know how to gather evidence. 

A community of practice

But research requires funding, and there is very little money available. It’s different for our colleagues in the US, where chemistry education research is recognised by the National Science Foundation. Until we arrive at a similar position here, we need to work together to grow and develop our enthusiastic community. 

I like the model of a community of practice described by Lave and Wenger. Communities of practice are ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’. 

Our community is bound by a shared interest in chemistry education research. But, crucially, there needs to be practice. Members share experiences, resources, ways of doing things. This doesn’t mean there is a shared view among the community, more a shared understanding of what informs particular, even differing, views. 

So, to continue to grow our community of practice, we are holding a one day meeting to consider methods in chemistry education research, on 20 May at Burlington House, London, UK. It’s free to attend, thanks to sponsorship from Chemistry Education Research and Practice and the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Tertiary Education and Chemistry Education Research interest groups. 

If you’d like to come along, information and registration is available at the website.

Michael Seery is a reader in chemistry education at the University of Edinburgh

Updated 07/03/2016 – the date of the event has been corrected to 20 May