MICER17 Reflection 1: Suzanne Fergus

This is a reflection on a specific MICER17 conference session; for an overview of the conference, start reading here.

Dr Suzanne Fergus lead a discussion around the need to conduct rigorous, quantitative research – putting me rather in mind of several editorials from Keith Taber, around what constitutes chemistry education research and how to spot quality in such. You can test an innovation in your local context, and find that it works – but is this truly research? An account of this development will be a valuable resource for the community, but does it merit publication specifically as research, and if not, was it ethical to deprive a control group of the innovation?

Before the conference, we shared our thoughts on what prevent us from conducting educational research – while time was a factor, the confidence and lack of social science grounding was perhaps the main cause for concern. In my own journey, this is because I received many years of formal and informal training as a chemist but virtually none as an education researcher, and the difference in the challenges is even larger for this lack of grounding.

We looked at the importance of writing a good research question, and ways in which people get it wrong. We all tried our hand at writing a research question, and I realised that any question I could come up with would be answered by exploring gaps in my knowledge of the literature – am I cut out to be a researcher yet? At best, I came up with a fusion of my two interests, Peer Instruction and the laboratory – but rather than a research question, it prompted me to look for literature around student-student interactions in the laboratory.

Suzanne then shared some of her own research, including one looking into assessing competency in the laboratory. It rather puts me in mind of Keele’s practical exams and digital badging – things I’m keen to adopt in my own practice. But, do my specific challenges require research? All the areas for improvement I’ve identified so far in the courses I’ve taken over are crying out for better application of existing good practice, rather than novel research.

For a far more elegant summary of the talk, Dr Kristy Turner was also at the conference and sketched several of the talks; her tweet is embedded below with permission, gratefully received!

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