Peter Childs wrote an interesting article in Chemistry Education Research and Practice a few years ago on the topic of turning research into effective practice. In it he writes:
Much effort has gone into chemical education research over that period of 30+ years, with thousands of papers published... Some of the questions we have to ask are: Has chemical education been improved by this investment in research? ... Have the results of chemical education research affected the way chemistry is taught?
In my own thinking on this topic, I have often wondered where the responsibility for this translation lies. Discipline-based educational researchers have argued to me that their job is to research into various aspects of teaching and learning and present their findings as any other researcher would; publish in specialist journals and present at topic-specific conferences. Their own busy work means they don’t have time to train practitioners. Practitioners will argue that they are too busy just keeping going with the teaching workload, and they don’t have time to read up on education literature or see what new practice is currently in vogue. It is a perfect storm.
Ideally, there would be a meeting somewhere in the middle. Education researchers should include in their dissemination a discussion on the implementation for practice. Childs writes: “surely the purpose of research is to inform and change practice by showing better ways to do things.” I feel that this is often an aspect of articles poorly written or ignored completely, and journal editors should push much harder for a good detailed consideration of the use of the research to the practice of teaching and learning. David Read has a column in Education in Chemistry where he takes some journal articles and writes about them from a practitioner’s perspective — often not an easy task! This kind of commentary should be a feature of all articles as a matter of course. The British Journal of Educational Technology asks all contributors to open their articles with a set of “Practitioner Notes”. These are short bullet-point answers to the questions:
- what was known about this topic?
- what this paper adds?
- what are the implications for practice/policy?
Adopting such an approach more widely might mean that practitioners could engage more meaningfully with the research being presented.
Another aspect to consider regarding engagement with research is that much research, and perhaps too much research, is concerned with diagnostics. Research about what is wrong with particular approaches to teaching or on limitations of student understandings in various areas is important to know, but of much more use to practitioners is strategies to address these limitations. It can be an interesting exercise to peruse journals and see how many articles in an issue focus on diagnostics compared to applications. The latter are much more immediately useful to practitioners.
However, it’s not all gloom. In answering the original question on who translates the research, there is a healthy community of what I would call research-informed practitioners in chemistry, and indeed this has been formalised recently with the expansion of teaching fellows in a number of institutions in the UK, at least. I think the informed practitioner plays a hugely important role in the dissemination of good practice, as they can introduce new concepts into schools and departments, as well as work with interested colleagues who may not have time or desire to read the literature, but may wish to change their approach. There’s no doubt that conferences such as Variety in Chemistry Education have helped develop this community of interested and informed practitioners, and if you haven’t been to one before, I wholeheartedly recommend attending this year’s meeting, which is being held in Durham.
- You can read David Read’s column in each issue of EiC. The latest column looked at metacognition in stoichiometry calculations.
- The Royal Society of Chemistry publishes Chemistry Education Research and Practice, and the journal is free to access to all.
- P. E. Childs, “Improving chemical education: turning research into effective practice”, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 2009, 10, 189-203.
[Editor’s note: Chemical education conferences are a great place to gain access to educational research and become a research-informed practitioner. Look at our Chem dates, page 18, for dates and locations. In 2015, ChemEd 2015 will take place in Kennesaw, Georgia.]