Reflections on MICER19
Methods in Chemistry Education 2019 (MICER19) was held in Edinburgh on May 17th. It was a 1-day conference aimed at developing the skills of the ChemEd community.
It is hard to convey how grateful I am for the chance to engage with something like MICER. I trained as a synthetic Chemist, but I am now expected to engage with SoTL instead of making molecules. Jumping into a new field has been really hard; unlike a traditional PostDoc I haven’t been able to join an established research group in my department to scaffold this training (though I am unusually lucky to have had access to Hull’s STEM Ed group). MICER offers introductions to some of the key capacity items (nuts-and-bolts ‘how tos’), but also a day among people who ‘get it’. I think my progress is quite interesting against this backdrop: I started out with good pedagogic questions (Y1), spent a long time grappling with methods (Y2-3), and am now kind of expanding into methodologies while narrowing my investigative scope.
To prepare, I did my pre-reading, made a list of people I needed to talk to (I find it socially very hard to network), and thought about what I want to research next year. This last one marks a real development in my thinking. It’s taken me three years to decide how I want to spend my Scholarship time. This focus (articulating student misconceptions in ‘inorganic’ NMR - message me if you want to collaborate, yeah?) helped me engage with all the presentations more strategically. Here’s the core messages I took from each speaker for my specific agenda.
Speaker 1: Renee Cole
A discourse model allows you to grapple systematically with discourse data. Researching your teaching can help you improve that teaching in ways you might not yet recognise. ??Thermodynamics is a finalist topic in the USA??
Speaker 2: Maria Gallardo-Williams
I found this really interesting, but feel that it spoke more to my teaching practice than my EdRes ambitions. The way that this (clearly excellent) teaching has led to publications is something I will think over carefully, but I didn’t see much alignment with my own specific EdRes goal for this year.
Speaker 3: Sam Pazicni
I kind of imagined that surveys *were* EdRes a few years ago. I have since come to realise a few things:
they are not;
They are hard to design, and I should have engaged more deeply with already-validated surveys as a fledgling EdRes person;
My Chemistry degree did not teach me how to do statistics. Like, At All.
The talk was really clear about the process of making a survey; I just want to take a more qualitative approach for my NMR misconceptions work. The discussion about defining the construct with reference to the literature was still very helpful.
Speaker 4: Aishling Flaherty
The discussion of assumptions, broadly conceived, was really stimulating. I felt the group discussion of a passage from Dr Flaherty’s own research was a very successful (and enjoyable) way of making the persistently mysterious terms ‘ontology’ and ‘epistemology’ comprehensible. The conclusion - about how assumptions are inevitable but can be excavated - spoke to a lot of my experiences over the last few years.
I was a little washed out, so took a break. This was the right move for me. Fortuitously bumped into Katharine Haxton on my return, striking her off my ‘must meet’ list (which, sadly, did not get completed).
Speaker 5: Nicole Graulich
This is the talk I was most excited for, given that it seemed to align best with my NMR misconceptions angle. We were walked through a qualitative paper about student reasoning in organic mechanisms, and given the chance to code student excerpts.
This was so useful for me. Seeing how the paper slotted together and the way that the coding was authentically disciplinary gave me such a reasonable sort of hope for carrying out my own work. The structure of the research instrument was also interesting - using a small number of deep examples to probe *exactly* the issue of interest led to really rich data.
Speaker 6: Christina Ianelli
MICER has a guest non-Chemist each year. This year’s led us through a discussion of a policy-aligned discussion of school-level subject choice and employment outcomes. I have developed some personal interest in this specific topic, but was impressed with how the methodological discussion led to some sophisticated generalised points about descriptive/predictive stats, ‘operationalising’ a concept to make it measurable, and the limitations imposed by the data set.
Speaker 7: Michael Seery
This talk was framed by the speaker’s opening agenda as the new editor of CERP. I found the use of an objectively terrible piece of Chemical writing a really generous ‘way in’ to a discussion of publication standards. Pointed to the recent editorial on this very theme, we were then treated to a focused description of a common weakness in submissions: theoretical frameworks.
This was an unexpected delight. I have always been extremely unclear about what these were and why they were important. We were given a study setting and descriptions of some important frameworks, and then challenged to articulate how each framework altered the research questions we might ask as answer. This more instrumentalist discussion made it all much less scary.
In the small-group discussions, I was forced to think of Cognitive Load theory as a research tool. This was obvious in retrospect - the same frameworks I use in my teaching should *of course* speak to my research. Looking at the Resource Framework in this light will change the way I teach; helping students to activate old knowledge in new situations is a large part of my job.
This final presentation drew together a lot of the day’s themes. The link between perspective and analysis is such a hard thing to convey in a compact way, and I wonder if my big take-home of the day was that I can deepen my work by reflecting on how both I and my research questions relate to the *general* education literature.
MICER: was great; would recommend. I got a lot more out of it now that I am less bewildered by every new thing that’s going on, and benefitted greatly from listing a few specific things I wanted to get out of the day. I am lucky to be able to attend a conference so exquisitely tailored to my needs. My thanks to the speakers and organisers - this was a real highlight of my year.