Variety in Chemistry #VCE11

Conferences like Variety in Chemistry Education are amazing. More than just people reporting back ideas and initiatives, they actually provide inspiration not simply to mimic the innovations of others, then to build, modify and adapt them to suit your own purpose. But the one thing that occurred to me is that there is no effective means of sharing this information more widely and throughout the year. In education, in a similar way to in research, there is a basic need for good practice and results to be shared in as rapid a manner as possible. Like research, peer-reviewed publications, while the currency of the job, lack the immediacy and may have been spun to present results in a positive manner (to the students, the teachers, the university etc). It may not be appropriate to share grade information in a publication for example.

What didn’t work particularly well is as important as what worked exactly as planned. We’ll hear about the stuff that worked better than planned regardless, but to save endless new staff (and those wishing to innovate or solve particular problems within courses) reinventing the wheel, it would be timely and appropriate to have a community hub where resources and information could be pooled. I don’t even mean in the sense of a pre-print server, I mean in the sense of a forum where you might write ‘I’m thinking about trying this initiative, does anyone have any tips?’. Or where you might search ‘screencasting in lectures’ and come back with information, peer-reviewed references and anecdotal stuff. The anecdotes are just as valid really, particularly when they might influence your choice of tool or programme, approach or evaluation strategy.

I’ve seen a few calls over the last few years for chemistry education to be approached in the same manner as chemistry research, and from the point of view of evidence based practice, this would seem to be a sensible approach. From the point of view of accelerating progress, nurturing innovation and blasting teaching methods well and truly into the 21st century, this is the one thing we must not do. We do not need endless journals, months long peer-review and disincentives to report results without spin or bias. We do not need editors and journals dictating content and setting prices. We need a community with openness at its heart, with sharing and helping one another out as its soul, and a pretty decent internet set-up at its brain. To an extent, such an online community would have to have a UK/Ireland/english language speaking focus – many of the issues of transition (high school to uni for example) are specific to our high school curriculum, but many of the issues are more broad and external (non-UK/Ireland) input could be extremely valuable.

Perhaps with the closure of the Physical Sciences Centre, various interested partners could come together and attempt to create an online space for the community who attends VCE conferences. It doesn’t have to be complicated, I’d rather it wasn’t, but it does have to be searchable. It could well be that a multi-user blog could serve the function, providing articles on initiatives and room to comment. Forums could work, provided space was available for file sharing. And I’m sure we’d all welcome a central point from which to locate open educational resources.

Research areas would benefit from the same approach, but various aspects of academia stand in the way of co-operation and sharing. Outreach and public engagement (or whatever we’re calling it these days) would also benefit. If something worked in Manchester, why shouldn’t folk in Aberdeen try it? I mean proper outreach, not university branded pseudo-recruitment stuff, the stuff we do because we love our subjects and want to stand and tell people all about it, and be all enthusiastic. I think the education community are the most likely candidates to come up with something like this, and probably self-reflective enough to come up with something likely to work.


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