Chemistry education

Chemistry education

Chemistry education (or chemical education) is a comprehensive term that refers to the study of the teaching and learning of chemistry in all schools, colleges and universities. Topics in chemistry education might include understanding how students learn chemistry, how best to teach chemistry, and how to improve learning outcomes by changing teaching methods and appropriate training of chemistry instructors, within many modes, including classroom lecture, demonstrations, and laboratory activities. There is a constant need to update the skills of teachers engaged in teaching chemistry, and so chemistry education speaks to this need.



There are at least four different philosophical perspectives that describe how the work in chemistry education is carried out. The first is what one might call a practitioner’s perspective, wherein the individuals who are responsible for teaching chemistry (teachers, instructors, professors) are the ones who ultimately define chemistry education by their actions.

A second perspective is defined by a self-identified group of chemical educators, faculty members and instructors who, as opposed to declaring their primary interest in a typical area of laboratory research (organic, inorganic, biochemistry, etc.), take on an interest in contributing suggestions, essays, observations, and other descriptive reports of practice into the public domain, through journal publications, books, and presentations. Dr. Robert L. Lichter, then-Executive Director of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, speaking in a plenary session at the 16th Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (recent BCCE meetings: [1],[2]), posed the question “why do terms like ‘chemical educator’ even exist in higher education, when there is a perfectly respectable term for this activity, namely, ‘chemistry professor.’ One criticism of this view is that few professors bring any formal preparation in or background about education to their jobs, and so lack any professional perspective on the teaching and learning enterprise, particularly discoveries made about effective teaching and how students learn.

A third perspective is chemical education research (CER). Following the example of physics education research (PER), CER tends to take the theories and methods developed in pre-college science education research, which generally takes place in Schools of Education, and applies them to understanding comparable problems in post-secondary settings (in addition to pre-college settings). Like science education researchers, CER practitioners tend to study the teaching practices of others as opposed to focusing on their own classroom practices. Chemical education research is typically carried out in situ using human subjects from secondary and post-secondary schools. Chemical education research utilizes both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods. Quantitative methods typically involve collecting data that can then be analyzed using various statistical methods. Qualitative methods include interviews, observations, journaling, and other methods common to social science research.[1]

Finally, there is an emergent perspective called The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).[2] Although there is debate on how to best define SoTL, one of the primary practices is for mainstream faculty members (organic, inorganic, biochemistry, etc.) to develop a more informed view of their practices, how to carry out research and reflection on their own teaching, and about what constitutes deep understanding in student learning.[3]

Work in chemistry education, then, derives from some combination of these perspectives.

Academic journals on chemistry education

There are many journals where papers related to chemistry education can be found or published. Historically, the circulation of many of these journals was limited to the country of publication. Some concentrate on chemistry at different education levels (schools vs. universities) while others cover all education levels. Most of these journals carry a mixture of articles that range from reports on classroom and laboratory practices to educational research.

Perhaps the most visible of these is the Journal of Chemical Education, which is a publication of the Chemical Education Division of the American Chemical Society. The first issue of this Journal was published in 1924.

For a more descriptive view of the content of following journals, please see the Journals of Chemistry Education entry.

Published by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and covering both School and University education.
Published by the Royal Society of Chemistry concerned with all aspects of chemical education.
Published by the Royal Society of Chemistry with a coverage of all areas of chemical education.
Published by the American Chemical Society and covering both School and University education.
Coverage of all areas of chemical education.
Such journals include Science Education, the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Research in Science Education, and the International Journal of Science Education.

A look at chemistry education around the world

Australia and New Zealand

An example of chemical education influencing the teaching of laboratory chemistry is the Australasian Chemistry Enhanced Laboratory Learning (ACELL) Project.

Postgraduate chemistry education in Germany

Berlin Graduate School of Natural Sciences and Engineering

The Berlin Graduate School of Natural Sciences and Engineering (BIG-NSE) is part of the Cluster of Excellence “Unifying Concepts in Catalysis” (UniCat) founded in November 2007 by the Technical University of Berlin and five further institutions in the Berlin area within the framework of the German government‘s “Excellence Initiative”.

The main research interest of the UniCat and BIG-NSE Faculty is Catalysis, in a broad sense. The research fields involved cover a broad range of topics, from natural sciences to engineering. The faculty consists of internationally renowned professors and junior researchers from 54 research groups at 6 participating institutions and active in 13 research fields, who will be intensively involved in the supervision and mentoring of the BIG-NSE students.

Postsecondary chemistry education in the United States

Using the National Science Foundation as a resource, one can find the 2003 top R&D Institutions in the U.S.[4][5] A survey of these departments is revealing:

University of California – Los Angeles

As part of the wider UCLA Science Challenge, The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is actively pursuing the development of new curricula and incorporation of technological tools such as distance learning and multimedia into curricula.[6] More specifically, Senior Lecturer Arlene A. Russell conducts research into the development of instructional materials, such as the web-based tool Calibrated Peer Review (CPR), and programs such as Preparing Future Faculty and the Science Teacher Education Program. Lecturer Eric Scerri has written extensively on questions of basic philosophy of chemistry and chemical education, with particular attention to the conceptualization of the Periodic System of Elements and the teaching of atomic and electronic structure. Finally, as of 2003, Lecturer Alfred Bacher was providing several positions for undergraduates interested in performing research related to the development of new experiments and teaching aids for his courses.

University of California - San Diego

The University of California at San Diego includes Chemical Education as one of its primary research areas within the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry [3]. The faculty members that devote their research to this area include: John Czworkowski, Barbara Sawrey and Haim Weizman. Dr. Czworkowski’s current focus is on the Science and Math Initiative (SMI)/California Teach program that was recently implemented at UCSD in order to attract undergraduates into the field of teaching. He is also currently studying problem-based learning and the use of computer multimedia for science instruction. Dr. Sawrey, the Vice-Chair for Education, directs her focus towards the development of computer-based multimedia to assist student learning of complex scientific processes and concepts. Dr. Weizman’s research involves improving the teaching of organic chemistry at the college level. Also, his program aims to develop laboratories that can better train chemistry majors.

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University does not have a listed Chemical Education division; however, it does include this area as a research interest amongst eight different faculty members in the chemistry department [4]. These members (whose positions range from senior lecturer to associate professor to professor) have varying degrees of involvement in the research of chemical education. Some focus on coordinating chemistry classes while others do research that includes topics such as developing more active learning techniques (i.e. multimedia), quantitatively assessing the success of teaching tools and the development of an integrated lecture and laboratory. Also, Texas A&M University offers a Masters (non-thesis) degree with an emphasis in Chemical Education. The goal of this program is to train students in the fundamental areas of chemistry and modern educational theory. It also provides hands-on experiences with teaching and presentations.

University of California – Berkeley

The activity in Chemical Education in the Berkeley College of Chemistry [5] consists primarily of the work of two faculty members: Professors Angelica Stacy and Robert Bergmann. Of particular note is the ChemEd research group led by Dr. Stacy, which works to develop chemistry curricula for high school and college courses, as well as to perform research related to the assessment of student understanding. In addition to projects in these areas, the ChemEd group has worked on the Multi-Initiative Dissemination (MID) Project, an NSF-funded effort that introduces faculty in to diverse resources through 1.5-day hands-on workshops in “diverse geographic locations.” Dr. Bergmann has also been involved in MID, as well as the promotion of teaching models based on active learning, and outreach activities such as science presentations by graduate students in local elementary schools.

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona Department of Chemistry [6] offers several opportunities for training in chemical education, including a Teacher Preparation Program for middle school and high school teaching, and a concentration in chemical education for students pursuing an M.S. or Ph.D. in chemistry. In addition, two faculty members are listed as having research interests in chemical education: Associate Professor Vincente Talanquer and Professor Philip Keller. Dr. Talanquer’s research focuses on common sense and qualitative reasoning in chemistry, the progression of learning and expertise in chemistry, and development of pedagogical content knowledge in chemistry teachers. Dr. Keller’s specific interests are unspecified.

University of Pittsburgh

Even though the Department of Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh [7] does not have any faculty devoting their research to chemical education or the potential for students to obtain Chemical Education degrees, it is making their students more aware of advances in chemical education via a ChemEd seminar offered each term. This presentation features a nationally recognized researcher describing their innovations in chemical education.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The UNC Department of Chemistry [8] lists four faculty with research interests in chemical education, most of whom are responsible for development of (apparently internal) undergraduate curricula. Research Assistant Professor Todd Austell works to design curricula which produce a more dynamic learning environment, especially through the introduction of computer technology into laboratory courses and varied teaching methods into lectures. Research Assistant Professor Brian Hogan develops and implements undergraduate biochemistry curriculum with an emphasis on active learning. Research Assistant Professor Domenic Tiani works on curricula and teaching methods that seek to establish critical thinking skills in the student, as well as to help the student draw connections between course material and the world of experience. Research Assistant Professor Bessie N. A. Mbadugha explores innovative teaching methods to maintain student engagement, to challenge students to think about the concepts as opposed to relying on memorization and to demonstrate the relevance of organic chemistry.

University of Georgia

The University of Georgia includes chemical education as part of its research interests in the Department of Chemistry [9]. Of the 59 faculty members in this department, only one devotes his research to chemical education: Charles H. Atwood. Dr. Atwood, an Associate Professor at the University of Georgia, designs his research around the introduction of new technologies for educational presentation, assessment, laboratory instruction and testing of chemical phenomena. One of his recent projects includes developing a computerized testing and homework system in order to evaluate students.

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa’s Chemistry Education website [10] reveals a concerted effort in chemical education which includes the improvement of general chemistry courses; graduate student education, including preparation for teaching; and the design of courses for non-science majors. In terms of chemical education research, Associate Professor Norbert J. Pienta performs work related to student problem solving, assessment [methods], electronic data collection in laboratories, multimedia in the classroom and as supplementary materials, and the training of teaching assistants (TAs) and graduate students. Additionally, the Department of Chemistry offers a specialization in chemical education for Ph.D. chemistry students, although students must also have performed work and demonstrated proficiency in a traditional subdiscipline of chemistry.

University of Northern Colorado

The University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley [11] is one of the few programs in the United States that offers a doctoral degree in Chemical Education. The doctoral program in Chemical Education started in the early 1970s as one of the first chemistry Doctorate of Arts programs in the United States; the degree was converted to a Ph.D. degree in 1988. Several faculty members within the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry [12] participate in Chemical Education research. This research field is the main focus for three of the chemistry faculty. Dr. Jerry Suits’ research [13] focuses on interactive multimedia modules and simulations, computer-interfaced laboratory experiments, student visualization, learning styles, conceptual learning and achievement. Dr. Jack Barbera’s research [14] has two main foci: 1) the development and validation of instruments for the assessment of both students’ epistemological beliefs and of their chemistry conceptual knowledge, and 2) the development of learning materials (virtual laboratories, tutorials, classroom demos) which utilize the PhET chemistry simulations [15]. Dr. Youngjin Song’s research [16] focuses on how science teachers learn from their practices through classroom research (e.g., action research) and how they develop their professional knowledge for teaching. Specific projects focus on “teachers’ practices in relation to students’ thinking” and “inquiry teaching and learning of science”. Emeritus faculty members include ACS Pimentel Award winner Henry Heikkinen [17] and EDUCOM/NCRIPTAL Higher Education Software Award winner Loretta Jones [18].

Degree programs in chemistry education

Another way to identify work in chemistry education is through the Chemistry Education Research (CER) community. A list of graduate programs [19] that offer the MS and/or PhD degree in Chemical Education in the United States is maintained at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

The following Google Map displays the various degree programs in the United States [20].

Bachelor of science and/with education. B.Sc.Ed

Chemistry is a common course taught within the framework of the science stream of such teaching degrees as the Bachelor in Science and Education, or (depending on location) Bachelor in Education with specialisation in sciences.


  1. ^ Siebert, E. D.; McIntosh, W. J., Eds. College Pathways to the Science Education Standards Arlington, VA: NSTA Press, 2001, 57-63.
  2. ^ Coppola, B. P. “The Most Beautiful Theories…” Journal of Chemical Education 2007, 84, 1902-1911.
  3. ^ Coppola. B. P., Jacobs, D. "Is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning New to Chemistry?" In Huber, M. T.; Morreale, S. (Eds.), Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. A Conversation. Washington DC: American Association of Higher Education and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2002; pp. 197-216.
  4. ^ Science & Engineering Indicators
  5. ^
  6. ^ University of California Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

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