Methods in Chemistry Education Research 2017 was last week. I didn’t make it down to London for it but did submit a poster (https://micerportal.wordpress.com/2017/04/24/poster-methods-of-investigating-alternative-conceptions-in-nmr/) and followed along a bit on twitter.
I’ve been to a few of these style of events, initially as ‘Getting Started in Pedagogic Research 2012, I missed one in 2013, showed up in 2014 (http://www.possibilitiesendless.com/2014/04/getting-started-in-pedagogic-research-chempedr/) then attended MICER 2016 last year. I’ve not yet made my way fully through the Storify of MICER 2017 or the other reflective posts (available here: https://micerportal.wordpress.com/) but I have a few thoughts on the necessity of such meetings.
The Chemistry Education Research community is amazing and the Variety in Chemistry Education (and PHEC) conference each year is a great source of inspiration and ideas spanning innovative teaching through to pedagogic research. It is, however, a ‘typical’ conference where people share end products or work in progress results. There is usually a fair bit of practice work presented, where a teaching innovation is described and a degree of evaluation is presented. This is vital in disseminating good ideas but speaks little to why or how they are effective (and don’t get me started on people who think something works simply because the students appear to like it or appear to be focussing on the task – show me something concrete to show a teaching innovation is as good or better than what it replaces). And there are some pedagogic research papers that help us all steer in a better direction, towards the why/how things work related to how people learn. What is missing in this, and what is utterly vital within our community is a place to discuss the methods used to evaluate our teaching and make the leap from a solid practice paper to a decent research paper when publishing. And that’s where MICER comes in.
Consider this: the majority of chemistry education research researchers (ooops) were trained as bench scientists. And the majority of those researchers would probably never dream of moving into another ‘academic’ discipline only on the basis of those skills. Would I, as a bench chemist, shift into english literature? And yet when it comes to evaluation of our teaching and developing it further, we feel able to do just that. Perhaps it’s an example of overconfidence when you don’t know that much.* I’m not trying to discourage or criticise people doing this, I’m one of them. Basic research skills, curiosity, ability to dig through literature, and to think critically about ‘stuff’ is broadly transferrable. The day-to-day practicalities of conducting research and acquiring valid and valuable results is another matter.
And that’s where MICER comes in. By creating an event to discuss the methods we can use, share experiences of using them and guide people away from common pitfalls, the chem ed community has a means of fast-tracking our skills in pedagogic research. Fast-tracking isn’t a bad thing, being able to listen to people with direct experience of the method you need to use and ask questions is how it should work. It also allows for the fact that most of us are doing this as part of the day job (or in addition to the day job).
So my thanks to Prof. Tina Overton who initiated the first ‘Getting Started’ meetings, and Dr Michael Seery for championing MICER, and to the sponsors and participants that make the meeting so worthwhile.
*There was a graph or a post I saw on this a while ago, can’t quite find it. It showed that as you know more about a subject, you realise how little you know about the subject! More than just the intense focus on a small area that PhD study brings, an awareness of how much there is left to know/learn/discover, but that we might well believe we know far more about areas in which we are comparatively ignorant.
UPDATE: Dunning-Kruger Effect is the effect that was described by the graph. (Thanks Michael!). Let me be like some students and post a link to the google image search: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=dunning+kruger+effect+graph&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjcybjYjYjUAhWBF8AKHVjmDbMQ_AUIBigB&biw=1150&bih=730