CHEMICAL EDUCATION IN EUROPE

 

Peter E. Childs

Dept. of Chemical and Environmental Science, University of Limerick, Limerick, Republic of Ireland

Peter.childs@ul.ie

www.ul.ie/~childsp

 

Europe consists of many countries, with populations ranging from 4 million to 100 million, with different cultures, languages, educational and political systems.  Europe is bigger than the European Union which has 15 member states, with another 10 joining in May 2004.  It is thus impossible to give in a short article an accurate snapshot of chemical education in Europe.  Each country has its own chemical society, sometimes more than one, with sections for chemical education, and its own publications, conferences and other activities.  What I want to do is to describe briefly some of the bodies and activities trying to bring European chemists together in the area of chemical education.  The weblinks have been given so that you can find out more for yourself.

 

FECS Division of Chemical Education

The Federation of European Chemical Societies (FECS) is a voluntary federation of chemical societies in Europe, both inside and outside the European Union (EU).  It aims to be a voice for chemistry in Europe by coordinating the activities of member societies.  To this end it runs conferences under its own auspices, usually through one of its divisions, and lends its name to other conferences organised in Europe.  In 2006 (from 27th to 31st August) FECS will run the 1st European Chemistry Conference in Budapest, to gather chemists from across Europe in a single venue, with English as the conference language. FECS is organised into a number of Divisions and Working Parties, reflecting areas of interest across Europe but not duplicating the activities of member societies.  Thus the Divisions and Working Parties tend to focus on new or interdisciplinary areas, which are not always well catered for.  (For details check www.chemsoc.org/networks/enc/fecs)

 

The Division of Chemical Education has members from 26 countries, each representing their chemical society and its chemical education activities.  I am the current chair, having replaced Michael Gagan from the UK (now President of the RSC’s Education Division) in 2002.  There are vice-chairs from Eastern Europe, Hana Ctrnáctová from the Czech Republic, and from Western Europe, Paul Yates from the UK, who is also Secretary of the Division.  The Division Council meets once a year, usually in conjunction with a chemical or science education conference in Europe.  In 2003 we met after the ESERA conference in the Netherlands and in 2004 we will meet after the 7th ECRICE in Ljubliana, Slovenia.  Each member is asked to produce an annual report on chemical education in their country, and these are posted on the Divisions webpage (www.chemsoc.org/networks/enc/fecs/fecschemedu.htm).

 

The Division has two main activities.

a) It organised a biennial conference in chemical education, emphasising both research and practice.  The next conference, 7th ECRICE/3rd ECCE, will be held in Slovenia from August 24-28th 2004 (contact dusan.krnel@uni-lj.si or www.pef.uni-lj.si/7ecrice/main.html for details).  It is a unique forum bringing together people involved in teaching chemistry and researching chemical education across Europe, covering both second and third levels of education.  There are always a few delegates from outside Europe and chemical educators from the USA would be welcome.  Previous conferences have been held in Montpellier, Pisa, Lublin-Kazimierz, York, Budapest, Ioannina and Aveiro.  A decision was made to alternate these conferences which with research in chemical education with the European Science Education Research Association’s conference, which is held in the odd years.  In 2006 the next ECRICE will held as part of the European Chemistry Conference in Budapest.

b) Following the conference in Ioannina, Greece in 1998 the internet journal Chemical Education Research and Practice in Europe (CERAPIE) was set up by Georgios Tsaparlis (gtseper@cc.uoi.gr).  This has just been renamed Chemistry Education Research and Practice and 4 volumes have been produced, with 3-4 issues each year.  It is a free access, peer-reviewed journal, whose content is no longer confined to Europe, and it can be accessed at www.uoi.gr/cerp/.  I would encourage you to look at this e-journal and consider publishing in it.

In addition the FECS DivChemEd has also organised workshops with a European dimension and has just put on-line an excellent guide to ‘Giving a Paper in English at an International Conference’ by Michael Gagan and Ray Wallace, primarily to help people whose first language is not English.  However, it is a very useful guide to anyone giving a conference paper for the first time.

 

European Chemistry Thematic Network (ECTN)

The EU has a policy of encouraging Thematic Networks, which link educational institutions across Europe and focus on a particular subject area.  There is one in both chemistry (ECTN) and in science education (STEDE).  The ECTN has been running since 1996 and involves more than 120 universities from 30 countries across Europe. It focuses on the teaching and learning of chemistry across Europe.  Two basic tasks have been carried out: 1) to map and enhance education in chemistry and 2) to facilitate European cooperation.  Another aim has been to facilitate student transfer between institutions, which involves large numbers of students each year on programmes like ERASMUS.

 

One of the first ventures of ECTN was to identify Core Chemistry in the main areas of chemistry, by surveying what was taught in different universities and countries.  Each year a number of working groups are set up to look at a specific area relating to the teaching and learning of chemistry at third level, leading to the production of a report.  The reports survey what is being done in a particular area and make recommendations for future action.  Topics covered so far have dealt with specific subject areas e.g. Green Chemistry, Biological Chemistry or general issues e.g. The Image of Chemistry, Communication Skills.  A new group has just been formed to look at Links with Schools, chaired by Ingo Eilks from Bremen, Germany.  These reports are placed on the ECTN website (www.ectn.net) and a monthly newsletter is circulated by email.  Each year there is an annual meeting, which moves around Europe, and in 2004 it is in Toulouse, France.  The President of ECTN, which was set up as an Association in 2002, is Tony Smith from CPE Lyon, France (smith@cpe.fr).  Most of the funding for its activities has come from the EU through its SOCRATES programme.  I want to mention two other activities of ECTN.

 

a) EChemTest.  A group has been working for some years on a web-based chemistry test for general chemistry, the idea being to allow students in different countries to test their performance in chemistry and compare themselves with a European norm.  See www.EChemTest.net for further details.

b) Eurobachelor proposal.  There is a move to greater harmonisation of degree structures across the EU, where a first degree in chemistry can take from 3 to 5 years, and lead to different qualifications.  The EU Education Ministers have signed the Bologna Declaration, which will require states to move towards a 3 + 2 basic degree structure, with 3 years for a first degree in chemistry (as well as in all other subjects), and 2 further years for a Master’s degree.  The main aim of this is to facilitate student mobility between countries and institutions.  ECTN has devised an outline for a first degree in chemistry, the Eurobachelor, which defines the number of credits in core areas, while allowing some flexibility in other areas. 15 out of 180 credits (3 x 60) are designated for an undergraduate research thesis.  For more details see: http://www.cpe.fr/ectn/tuning_project.htm.

 

I hope this has given you a feel for some of the pan-European activities in chemical education.  I haven’t had time to describe the work of ESERA (www.esera.org) or STEDE (www.biol.ucl.ac.be/STEDE/), but you might like to look these up.  I would like to mention three other interesting European activities.

 

a) Variety in Chemical Education

About 10 years ago a 2 day conference was started by John Garrett and others at the University of York, UK, for university chemistry faculty to share ideas for the teaching of chemistry.  It was initially called ‘Variety in Chemistry Teaching’, and changed its name in 2003.  It encourages chemists to share their ideas and experiences of teaching chemistry – through short 10minute talks, posters and workshops.  A similar conference was started in Ireland in 1998, ‘Variety in Irish Chemistry Teaching’, and in September 2003 there was a joint meeting in Dublin.  An offshoot of ‘Variety’ is the free e-journal University Chemistry Education, sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry, and I would encourage you to check it out at www.rsc.org/uchemed/uchemed.htm

 

b) Learning and Teaching Support Networks (LTSN)

In the UK there are a number of LTSN’s dedicated to particular subject areas at third level, and there is one for the physical sciences (physics and chemistry) based at the University of Hull, and directed by Tina Overton.  The Centre organises short workshops in different areas of teaching and learning, supports small research projects, produces reports etc., all designed to help faculty teach chemistry better.  They have just published an excellent booklet, written by Norman Reid from Glasgow, on Getting Started in Pedagogical Research in the Physical Sciences.  The LTSN publications are available in print and on the internet and it is well worth checking out their website at http://dbweb.liv.ac.uk/ltsnpsc/

A new National Centre for the Learning of Science based in York and a number of regional centres have just been set up in the UK to improve the teaching of science at second level.  This is an important development and you can read about it at www.leeds.ac.uk/media/current/wruc_science.htm.

 

c) 17th Dortmund Symposium in Chemical Education

The Dortmund Symposia were started by Hans-Jurgen Schmidt and bring together chemical education researchers, once every two years, to focus on chemical education.  This year’s symposium is on June 3-5 on "Quality in Practice-Oriented Research in Science Education" and for details you can contact Bernd Ralle (bernd.ralle@uni-dortmund.de) or Ingo Eilks (ingo.eilks@uni-bremen.de), who has just moved from Dortmund to Bremen.  The website for the conference is www.chemie.uni-dortmund.de/groups/dc1/.  It is interesting to note that most German universities have Departments of Chemical Didactics within the chemistry schools.

 

In concluding this survey of European chemical education, I must not forget to mention that the 17th ICCE is being held in Europe this year, at Istanbul, Turkey from 4-8th August (www.turchemsoc.org/icce/web/ or icce2004@mmarmara.edu.tr ).  I am keen to promote more cooperation and communication between Europe and the USA in chemical education, and was delighted to be invited as a speaker at the recent Gordon Research Conference on Chemical Education Research and Practice in Ventura, CA, not least for the opportunity to escape the winter for a few days in the sun.

 

 

Biography

Peter Childs is a Senior Lecturer in chemistry at the University of Limerick, where he teaches inorganic chemistry, environmental chemistry and chemical education.  He is the editor and publisher of Chemistry in Action!, a magazine for high school chemistry teachers in Ireland and the UK, and runs the Schools Information Centre on the Irish Chemical Industry.  He is currently Vice-President of the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland and Chair of the FECS Division of Chemical Education.