CERN North reflections part 2 – Tina Overton

I recently attended the second CERNN, a chem ed conference on my doorstep organised by some great colleagues from Chemistry and Education. I wrote up my thoughts on most of the sessions earlier but ended up needing a separate post for Tina Overton’s talk.

Tina’s talk was titled “That won’t work with my students! The role of research evidence in changing practice”. It’s heady and evocative, speaking deeply to all those of us who’ve tried to propose an innovation to teaching and been rebuffed. Going into the session I was put in mind of Terry McGlynn’s excellent blog from a few years ago on Education Research Denialism – exploring quite pointedly the way that some scientists may be sceptical of research conducted outwith their discipline. Terry’s blog was full of the zeal I had when younger, and it was really fascinating to get the counterpoint from the very top.

Tina started by laying out the context – we live in an educational landscape of deeply traditional practices, with islands of throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks innovation. When we try to evaluate these innovations, the Hawthorne effect and happy-sheets conspire to tell us that “students liked it”. But even when we do the work to turn evaluation into research, there’s resistance from colleagues when it comes to changing practice as a result.

Lots of different factors can drive this resistance. Some that seem less rational, like “that won’t work here”, but some may be harder to challenge. Lack of time. Lack of reward and recognition. And pastoral concern: “what if it goes wrong and it hurts my students?”. Harking back to Keith Taber’s session at MICER17, educators have a moral responsibility to innovate carefully: putting students through a change, on a hunch or a whim, isn’t good for anyone.

But even with rigorous Chemical Education Research evidence in hand, barriers persist – well-known and well-explored. Telling over and over, presenting research over and over, doesn’t work. By example, active learning has been well-evidenced for almost as long as I’ve been alive and yet uptake is patchy at best.

To better understand our colleagues, Tina categorises teacher expertise. We are familiar with the journey from novice to expert – from content delivery to pedagogical literacy, from me to Tina. But there’s a third apex: the postulant. Postulants are academics with a deep and rich subject knowledge, but little or no pedagogical training, pedagogical knowledge, or willingness to engage with pedagogy as a discipline. Whereas novices seek to learn, and experts are receptive to pedagogical ideas, postulants are much harder to influence.

Postulants are not a new concept, but most articles or leadership courses get to the point of pathologising resistance to change and then stop, doing an injustice to our colleagues by turning them into problems – “if you can’t get them onside, go around them”. But, Tina did something very exciting: a closer look at the philosophy of knowledge and the science of changing minds.

We like to think that scientists are purely evidence-driven, but when we inspect our own resistances (slim though we might think them to be) we find that that the way we accept or reject change is fundamentally tied to our identity in a way that’s hard to shift. We all have a personal epistemology. An individual theoretical framework, influenced and shaped by experience, history, and evidence. By way of example, Tina talked about her own influential early experiences that shaped her personal theoretical framework, such as the information processing model of cognitive psychology, Johnstone’s triangle, and cognitive load theory. And when theoretical frameworks clash, sparks fly. “all this engagement is pandering, they just need to work hard!”

When change uptake is studied formally as an anthropological issue (Herckis and Smith), we find that resistance to change is very deeply rooted. Folks will have an inherited view of good teaching, a fondness for ones own ideas, a scepticism of literature from “other disciplines”, and caring about students! There’s also the memory of past failures, and lack of institutional support to try something new. If a colleague tried to innovate in the past, but timorously and without support, it may well have failed and put them off for life.

To actually bring about significant and worthwhile change in teaching practice, things need to be in place. There needs to be organisational support, colleague support, administrative support, institutional support, and incentivisation support. No one of these things on their own can create an environment in which teaching innovation flourishes productively. Important to this is institutional culture. Top-down institution-led change can remove blame from academics and create openings for academic developers or colleagues. “You’ve been told to flip this class, let me help you” – pivoting our role from change agents to personal support in the face of change. But this can backfire in a number of ways, such as academics feeling a threat to their own empowerment.

So, how do we influence people on the ground, given all of this? We need to recognise that the resistance comes from a good place – concerns over student welfare, deeply-held beliefs about teaching as an answer to “who am I?”– and be careful not to directly challenge these. Give context to the evidence you present; a JCE or CERP article will not be accessible to the average academic. Translate your research findings into understandable language, for novices and postulants alike. And sell the concrete solutions. Recognise that everyone has a personal theoretical framework –  and that people can be quick to dismiss alternative theoretical frameworks, so sell with results, outcomes. If/when colleagues are keen to try something, provide mentoring, support, and training to put evidence into practice.

Tina also advocated some quite shrewd tactics, such as students-as-advocates. Do you have a killer student quote from a qualitative study? Use it as evidence! Engage with systems of peer observation – get someone into the back of one of your lectures, not necessarily for the up-front reason that they might end up liking some active techniques and using them themselves. Emphasise the rewards. For example, Tina sold flipped learning to postulant colleagues on the basis that it released research time. And finally, tie SoTL into reward & recognition structures as much as you can.

My take-home from the session was that translating research into the classroom is vital – it may as well have not happened otherwise. A lot of good research gets lost otherwise, and those of us who think we could be champions for innovation have a responsibility to promote uptake. Simply emailing around an educational paper isn’t helpful in the slightest, and I wish I’d told myself that four years ago.


Towards CER, part 1: blogs and microblogging

This post is part of a series about the things I’ve found helpful in raising confidence as I progress towards becoming a chemistry education scholar; the main article can be found here.

Blogging or microblogging is an excellent way to start talking about chemistry education. Even before I became a chemistry educator, twitter was a big part of my professional identity: I participated in an open-source science research project on antimalarials, on the basis of a single twitter exchange with a research group on the other side of the world I’d never met. It was a pretty cool project to get involved in, and it even gave me my first experience of independent research supervision with project students. And if you’re reading this, you probably already have a twitter account.

Although twitter (like other forms of social media) can be empowering for disenfranchised or maginalised people, I have to acknowledge the abuse problem. As someone who is neither prominent nor a target of abuse, it feels ignorant for me to call twitter welcoming when it isn’t always, to everyone in our community. But at least as a way of supporting a professional network it can be a useful tool. And I personally love the informality – I’ve learned a lot about gin, indian politics, adoption, ME/CFS, and how busy Fraser Stoddart still is. Personal tweets, from professional contacts. A virtual staffroom, Zumba and pedagogy coexisting peacefully.

So I’d encourage you to talk about your work! Tweet about the successes and failures of your “just trying it out”. In the last six months, I’ve shared photos of indicators, partaken in the shared lament of term-time pressures, and interacted directly with the people that invented half the innovations I teach with every day. Twitter isn’t, in itself, a route to undue influence or opportunity, but it’s a way to quickly and accessibly grow and maintain professional connections. Who is on your own “I tweet and would like to meet” list?

Sometimes 280 characters won’t cut it and I just need to write about something. In this regard, I’m not very successful: the back archives here are a consistent two posts a year about conference reflections and some drivel about toothpaste. But others are much more productive, with excellent blogs (or blog carnivals) from Katherine Haxton, Kristy Turner, Michael Seery, and Michael O’Neill to name just a few. And some of my most heavily-used literature references are to blogs on MCQ design or the validity of pedagogical research.

I mostly engage with blogs as “here’s a giant tweet”, a polyp of content that extrudes from a timeline or a passing email. But, this is only my experience. How do you find blogs? How did you get here?

Getting started in chemistry education scholarship

At a recent conference, Michael Seery gave a great plenary on publishing your chemistry education research. To set the context of the presentation, Michael made the point that many things count as scholarship – this blog mentioned as one of them. But at least in our discipline, publications are taken as the core of our body of scholarship – and within that, rigorous pedagogical research.

A common theme from chemistry education colleagues is a desire to contribute to this body of scholarship, but feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared – as is the case for me. So many things in chemistry education research (CER) are different from our disciplinary background: publishing ethics, survey design, statistical validation, the distinction between accounts of practice and CER itself.

What I’m hoping to do in this new series is to encourage you to get started, to take that first step, to put something of your work out there, or to help you recognise your existing body of scholarship. Scholarship can be many things other than conducting and publishing research, and engaging with a fair few of them have boosted my confidence as a scholarly teacher. I’m still not there (I’ve never published CER) but it’s just barely starting to seem achievable.

Although the focus of this post series will be on building writing confidence towards publishing, I can’t untangle it from the things we actually do, that we then may write about. At the most basic level, anyone who tries out something new and keeps an eye on the results is participating in “action research”. Certainly for me, there’s an initial and ongoing sense that action research isn’t “real” CER, that dabbling, tinkering, trying-it-out doesn’t count. But what I’m just starting to see is that this distinction is artificial, and that the “things we actually do” evolve on a process, in the same way as our dissemination. But, this is a much bigger topic than I can tackle!

What I’m going to do is publish a series of reflections and encouragements on specific topics, each of which is a step in becoming a person who conducts Scholarship of Teaching & Learning. Links will appear below. If you have a suggestion for an area, just tweet me!


  1. Blogs and microblogging
  2. RSC_EDU twitter poster conference
  3. Youtube and outreach
  4. Poster and talk submissions to conferences
  5. Publishing small-scale studies and good practice within your own institution
  6. Writing for professional development and accreditation
  7. Publishing accounts of practice
  8. Opinion pieces and review articles
  9. Replication studies
  10. Chemical Education Research

MICER19 Reflections

I recently attended MICER19, Methods in Chemistry Education Research. Like previous conferences, it was challenging and affirming: challenging when I see how big of a gulf exists between what I do and “proper” CER, and affirming to see a roadmap for getting there. I sadly missed the first two sessions, and was really looking forward to Maria Gallardo-Williams talking about supervising student CER projects: I’ve done my best work in collaboration with Strathclyde undergraduates, but it has its own challenges (as illustrated by Katherine Haxton in an excellent MICER19 online poster)

First up (for me) was Sam Pazicni, talking about surveys. He illustrated the importance of surveys by asking us, in two minutes, to pick a research problem then come up with questions. Under such a compressed timescale, flaws were starkly highlighted – and Sam spent the rest of the talk laying out a 7-point manifesto for developing a useful survey.

Before we even write a single question, check the literature (#1): Who’s looked at your area of interest before? Is there something you can use? Then, do interviews or focus groups (#2) and combine this with your literature (#3) to find out what language your students actually use. Groundwork laid, write your questions! (#4).

There were some “frequently ignored best practices” such as avoiding double-barrelled questions, negatively worded questions, and “agreement response anchors” – questions that presuppose an outcome and invite the student to dare to avoid endorsing your words. Personally challenging was the good practice of avoiding statements/agree-disagree and phrasing items as questions instead. I do (did) this a lot!

Questions in hand, conduct expert validation (#5): have an experienced CER person check it over for representativeness, clarity, relevance, and distribution (designing the survey-survey was left as an exercise for the reader, mostly…). Checking distribution in particular reminded me of a technique (name escapes me) where student confidence could be quantified by asking the same question, but with varying degrees of difficulty (“could you 100% the exam?” vs “could you pass the exam?”). If you don’t want to do this, try to query an appropriate level of difficulty!

Finally, conduct cognitive interviews (#6) and pilot studies (#7). Put the survey in front of a real student and have them talk through their thought process as they engage with the questions for the first time. Like in video game playtesting, the temptation to step in and correct should be squashed: this is a rare and valuable insight into what’ll happen when you’re not there, so don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board! There’s also lots you can do with your results to measure validity. We closed off with a mention of timing: responses fluctuate with time and with historicity, so survey judiciously and consider experience sampling.

Next, Aishling Flaherty talked about our assumptions in qualitative research, and she took a really deep look at three areas where we make assumptions.

Firstly, the complexities of teacher-as-researcher and the impact our student relationships have on the research we conduct with them (Hawthorne effect anyone?). It put me in mind of two sessions from a previous MICER, on interviews and research ethics.

Secondly, the scholarly community itself has an impact on your work. What does the community want, need, or recognise? What gets cited, what gets published, and what gets taken up by others. This hit close to home – so much of what I do are low-value replication studies because the existing scholarship is a lifeline, a model that I cling to pavlovially.

The third point of the triangle was our own assumptions as a researcher. Where do they come from? What are they? What is our epistemology and our ontology, the rawest philosophical assumptions we make about our research? Being a positivist is often the default position of physical scientists; you can conduct quantitative educational research with some success from this position, but it becomes trickier to do qualitative work.

We closed off by looking at (and generating) examples of research questions with assumptions in them, and talking about how assumptions affect the uptake of your work. If someone has a different personal philosophical framework, they may never engage with your output!

Nicole Graulich took us through her recent paper on organic mechanistic reasoning and I loved getting my teeth into some examples of student answers – coding their problem-solving approaches into themes and complexities of their own approaches. Do they analyse a problem in terms of structure or electrons? Do they talk about change processes, or just the static structures? When interviewing students on the same subject, we need very clear prompting – “what do you mean by resonance?” that puts me in mind of the hard work of 1:1 tuition – digging to the core of someone’s understanding so you can build it back up again. This was a great talk that mostly soared over my head, but definitely one to revisit if/when I ever research mechanistic understanding.

Christine Ianelli gave a fascinating talk about choosing appropriate statistical methods, framed through her own work of understanding social stratification. She started by addressing the many criticisms of statistics, then took us through descriptive versus inferential statistics and the pros, cons, and uses of each.

Michael Seery finished his own conference with a talk from some authority as the new editor of CERP, framed around a recent editorial on Publishing your Chemistry Education Research. True to form as a winner of the RSC inspirational member 2019, he inspired us to think about our own scholarship. Though many things count as scholarship (including this blog), the talk focused on the components of a good CER publication. The barriers to this in each of us? Time and confidence.

We dissected a hilariously-bad paragraph of a dodgy experimental procedure, missing almost every vital detail but written in a way strangely reminiscent of some education work. The discussion then centred on theoretical frameworks – what they are and why they’re important. If you, like me, hadn’t given it much thought, you may well have been constructivist by default – simply by inheritance from the literature. And in your own literature you may well write a paragraph or two about the importance of scaffolding knowledge on what’s come before. But a theoretical framework should be more than just a paragraph of introduction – it should infuse your work, like the lemon in a drizzle cake. As in previous talks, your theoretical framework profoundly influences your worldview and epistemology and it does your readers (and the framework itself) a disservice to omit.

We then ran an activity where we looked at some short descriptions of theoretical frameworks and chose our own. This blew my mind because I think I’m a human constructivist (flavoured with cognitive load theory). I care deeply about affective characteristics, and the student experience as it relates to the willingness to engage with learning. My only quasi-research publication, due out soon, centres on a series of enhancements profoundly grounded in the human constructivist work of Bretz and Towns. The more I’ve thought on this the more I realise how strong this theoretical DNA is in my approach to everything – from my weakness to “happy sheets” to meaningful learning to my obsession with making things “engaging”. And it also explains issues I have getting behaviourists or constructivists on-side.

We finished off by looking at how this would frame our subsequent research, and I’ve got a lot to think about here.

Probably the connecting theme of the conference for me runs between Michael and Sam’s talks: They both not only showed me where my approach was lacking, and what good practice actually looks like, but they both gave a clear achievable structure for getting there. Perhaps this is more a function of my own professional development than the conference itself – but for whatever reason, it’s very welcome!

The chemistry of the chompers

I had my first filling in January 2018, and there’s a lot of chemistry in dentistry: X-ray sources , local and general anaesthetics, UV-cured polymer fillings or the older mercury-amalgam. But I’m not interested in any of these: my tooth woes didn’t stop when the benzocaine wore off. After the filling settled in, I developed temperature sensitivity that put the brakes on my three favourite things in the world: eating mini twisters, drinking tea, and breathing cold air on the right side of my face.

A quick checkup (and more x-rays) later, and the filling integrity verified, I left my dentist with a smear of orange-flavoured fluoride gloop and a recommendation to massage my tooth with regular poultices of “sensitive toothpaste”. Toothpaste duly purchased, the active ingredients caught my eye: arginine and calcium carbonate.

The calcium I understand, in a vague way, but arginine? As developed, it seems that people simply tried it and it worked (though with some dubious study ethics). But what’s the mechanism of action? Why that amino acid? These, these are the interesting questions. And to answer these, I wondered: Why do teeth get thermally-sensitive in the first place?

I had initially assumed that the thermal conductivity of my filling was to blame. A tooth is not a warm-blooded mammal, but a cold-blooded lizard – so when the ambient temperature changes, teeth follow (I shied away from a metal filling partly for this reason). But polymer dental filling materials are even less thermally conductive than teeth. If all of them chill out, and at the same rate, then why does this filling-bearing one complain?

At this point, I had no time for research and this post languished as a draft for a year. The tooth slowly got more and more heat-sensitive, culminating in a sleepless weekend followed by a root canal treatment. No infection, just a nerve that had “had enough” from being roommates with a chunk of plastic. Nerve removed, tooth filled in, the arginine and calcium carbonate toothpaste had no further use. But, I developed a taste for it, so it stayed. 

The source of thermal pain in teeth is surprisingly complex, not well understood, and a problem more biomechanical in nature. Less interested in the cause of the sensitivity, attention turned back to the chemistry to address it.

I found an excellent summary of the research from the BSDHT – sister society to the BDA?. Teeth are shot through with microporous tubules that connect nerve to environment, running through the dentine layer of the tooth. The tubule walls are made of dentine, and the positively-charged guanidinium of the arginine will bind the phosphates of the calcium phosphate in the hydroxyapatite. Forming some kind of complex with calcium, phosphate, and salivary glycoproteins, this blocks the tubules. The exact structure of the complex doesn’t yield to a cursory literature search, so if you have any ideas tweet at me!

Not only structural, the arginine raises the pH when digested by bacteria. Oral bacteria will rapidly metabolise free arginine to ammonia, counteracting the acidifying effects of said bacteria. Warfare rages on a microscopic level: battening the hatches against the ravages of a post-paleolithic (arguably) diet, the arginine plugs hold fast, for a time. Succumbing at last to digestion, they thwart the acidic dissolution of the natural tooth by turning the invading bacteria against themselves.

So it seems not only should we brush, it’s quite important what we brush with!


CERN North Reflections (part 1)

I recently attended the second CERNN, a chem ed conference on my doorstep organised by some great colleagues from Chemistry and Education. It was a full program of longer sessions, each with time reserved for interactive elements. This was a particularly notable meeting for me as it was my first time meeting Tina Overton. I long since knew of Tina and her influence as one of the founders of the UK Chemistry Education community, and I’ve even been writing a chapter for a book celebrating her career. But, she had been working in Australia since before I got into HE teaching. Again, I’ve tried to pull out some themes and have even split talks up before grouping them. I can’t do justice to Tina’s session in a single post so it will follow shortly.

David Read and David McGarvey shared a theme on approaches to assessment and feedback. David Read told us about his neat-looking system of “talking mark schemes”, where students self-assess work by following a real-time video of pen (and face) capture of an expert solving the assigned problem. The capture of the writing as it unfolds in real-time immediately puts me in mind of some of the principles of multimedia learning, and I would really encourage trying this out if you have suitable videography tools available. David McGarvey talked about Keele’s use of purple pen marking sessions, where students self-mark during a whole-class feedback session. This session was great as it addressed some of my own concerns and preconceptions around the QA angle of student self-assessment.

David Read went on to spend the bulk of his session talking us through the use of Thematic Analysis to interpret data from the evaluation of his work – using the excellent resource by CERG and Ronan Bree from just a few weeks ago. We got our hands on some real data, developing and refining codes and having a really good discussion about the role of question prompting. This, along with Barry Ryan’s MICER18 workshop, has really helped me less afraid of working with qualitative data in future (although I did say the same thing a year ago…)

There were a nice pair of talks from Sue Pope and Lynda Dunlop, on Scottish and English secondary school assessment. Sue’s presentation had a great deal of fascinating information about how Higher exams are set, marked, boundaried, and quality assured and it really put me in mind of Jacquie and Kristy’s workshop on A-Level assessment at ViCE/PHEC18 last August. Lynda’s talk was on a project looking at the recent literature around chemistry assessment that could be suitable for use in schools. Both sessions had really fascinating hands-on exercises, dissecting examples of assessment and marking in schools and looking at the oft-dreaded “open-ended questions”. Lynda’s research also touched on the concept of Comparative Judgement. I’ve tested it out before but got bogged down in the tension between CJ’s high reliability low ability to provide specific formative feedback – in this sense, could CJ be the pure essence of summative assessment?

David McGarvey, Pamela Allan, and Alison Nordon all spoke on the implementation and assessment of various educational enhancements – the latter two are colleagues at Strathclyde, implementing structural changes to courses (some of which I teach on). One such project was a shift of class tests from paper to online – we saw some compelling statistics that indicate no significant difference in attainment that might indicate wide-scale collusion as a result. As well as the aforementioned student self-assessment, David also presented on his upcoming Overtonfestschrift chapter on laboratory writing skills, and I can scarce do it justice – read the chapter when it’s available! Students spend longer on a single piece of work, with multiple cycles of iteration, and learn far more about writing this way.

Linda Thomson has been doing some work with the Open University of sense of belong in distance students, and how it affects academic success. It really put me in mind of some of Gilly Salmon’s work on the five stages of building online communities. “here’s the VLE exercises, there’s the forum, post if you have questions” just doesn’t cut it as a replacement for in-person activity and belonging can’t be shoehorned in at the end, it has to be baked in from the start. The session really got me thinking about the implicit barriers to success that arise from a lack of sense of belonging, especially for my own context where a lot of students commute from home. One of the things to build community is “closing the loop” – having past students communicate with current and future ones. It really reminded me of a metaphor from a very different context:

“The pilot would radio to a plane that was en route an hour or so ahead of us and get a report on what kind of turbulence they were experiencing; then, he would turn and radio the plane that had just taken off in Chicago to explain what sort of air we were flying through at that moment… It occurred to me… how much this was like life.”

In his book, To Own A Dragon, Don writes about the experience of tuning in to the cockpit radio channel while flying coast-to-coast in the USA. Most of the chatter was about weather, as the pilots were doing what mentors do: telling each other what sort of turbulence was ahead, and what it was like navigating them.

I’ve already written too many words, so part 2 (featuring Tina Overton) to come shortly! As always, it’s very likely that I’ve missed, misconstrued, or just plain overlooked the point of a session so please do get in touch!

ViCE/PHEC18 Reflections

Last week marked my fourth visit to ViCE/PHEC, and as usual I’ve ended up writing multiple essays to try and capture my thoughts and some of the ideas I want to try over the next year. Then binning 90% of it.

Our first plenary was from Professor Murdoch-Eaton, Dean of Medical Education at Sheffield. In the first talk was mention of an “Educational Alliance”, a paradigm that’s grown out of the idea of the Theraputic Alliance: In a therapeutic alliance, patient and doctor work together to establish limits, milestones, and progression to a healing process – with the patient on-side, the biggest battle is won. Translating this to education is a standout example of a signature pedagogy being influenced by features of the profession doing the signature-ing. It also reminded me of the trajectory of ASIST training, where it’s not sufficient to lead a person to safety, but to find and feed within them a desire to become safe themselves. Chemistry as a whole doesn’t tend to focus on affective characteristics of learning, but get the student on-side and everything else will follow.

I picked up a dangerous idea for the back-burner: using peer and self-assessment more widely. To incentivise student engagement with self-assessment: If the self-assessment and a tutor assessment are within 5%, award the higher of the two marks. Even harder to sell on a quality assurance standpoint but deliciously-elegant, a final element of trust used in medical teaching: have longer assignments double-peer-assessed and self-assessed. If all marks are close enough, an academic never even sees the work.

Woven through the conference from the aforementioned plenary, and in one of the talks from Chris Armstrong, was the idea of feedback literacy in students. Armstrong asks students in a pre-lab to identify areas of improvement, based on previous feedback – and Murdoch-Eaton asks students “what do you want feedback on” when submitting assignments. In both cases, the responses may initially be somewhat shallow due to low assessment literacy, but it really helps set and establish a culture of engagement.

Chris also presented some really nice work on reducing cognitive load in the laboratory with shorter, visually-enhanced lab manuals, putting a lot of the supportive information into pre-labs – an idea I’ve been tinkering with since the Seery review last year. The lab manual is left as a short procedural checklist, flowchart, and hazard info – developed by former students, who are well experienced in interpreting our manuals. My first instinct, to worry about reducing the lab to a cookery class, betrays the reason why labs often have an unmanageably high cognitive load: people like me refusing to simplify the instruction. Johnstone was advocating for the removal of superfluous details decades ago – students don’t need to know the name or structure of a pH indicator at the exact moment they use it, only its function and purpose.

Sticking with the theme of student empowerment and laboratory support, I also got some assurances from Sweta Ladwa, who’s been giving students space in the lab to produce technique videos. She made the case that the correct technical terminology is less important than accessibility – using the language of the students themselves. This, I realise, was my major internal stumbling block to student video production.

Mossy Kelly talked about the ways students handle and use various visualisations and representations from electrodynamics. The physics was busy sailing over my head, but then an astute question pointed out that the multiple visualisations of electrodynamics are analogous to Johnstone’s Triangle, and a common theme sprung to life: the definition of an expert is someone who can interconvert between different representations unconsciously. This is the most beautiful conceptual link between chemistry teaching and physics teaching I’ve ever seen, and the perfect reason for why the alliance of conferences is greater than the sum of its parts.

There was a good report from Annabell Cartwright about lecture capture, confirming what some of us know already: attendance at recorded lectures only goes down when the lecturer’s style  incorporates no elements of active learning. Chalk-n-talk or read-from-the-textbook tend to co-express with academic administrative clout – so the debate over lecture capture will doubtless rage on, well above the pay grade of those of us who already get great benefit from it. I’ve never given an uncaptured lecture, and while I currently have no access to things like heatmaps and viewing statistics, this sort of feedback is vital for iterative teaching improvement and I look forward to my own institution’s evolution on this front.

Andrea Sella finished us off with an exhortation to be better with our outreach. To reduce science into a series of bangs and flashes, with no interwoven narrative, is to sell ourselves short. Knitted through this was a narrative on air pollution, personal reflections on a broadcasting career, and a few choice exocharmic demonstrations – that is, a demonstration that increases the net joy in the room. This is what makes Andrea one of the ambassadors of chemistry, and I am convinced there must be some mistake it seems he has never given the RI Christmas lecture.