Chapter 1: Digital Learning and Teaching in Chemistry—What We Know and What We Wish to Investigate Further
Published:12 Jul 2023
Y. J. Dori, R. Peretz, C. Ngai, and G. Szteinberg, in Digital Learning and Teaching in Chemistry, ed. Y. Dori, C. Ngai, and G. Szteinberg, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2023, ch. 1, pp. 1-7.
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Researchers and teachers worldwide seek creative and efficient ways to move from teacher- to student-centred classrooms, as well as to switch the mostly summative, assessment of learning, to a more formative, assessment for learning. This is especially necessary for online and digital learning environments in chemistry. This book provides high-school teachers, and university lecturers and instructors with theory and practice to support their pedagogical decisions regarding engaging in online, or virtual, teaching, learning, and assessment methods for chemistry courses. Technology has been integrated into classrooms with varying degrees of success, and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced educators to turn to digital learning to support their students. This book is motivated by a desire to collect and share effective and cutting-edge practices in teaching chemistry digitally. Furthermore, teaching chemistry digitally has the potential to bring greater equity to the field of chemistry education and foster access to quality learning, and this book will contribute to that goal. With more than 70 authors from nine countries, our book presents the ways digital learning and teaching of chemistry are being implemented around the world. At the same time, because of the universal nature of technology, the topics shared in this book will apply to chemistry teachers, researchers, and learners globally.
With education rapidly moving into the digital age, the role of the teacher and lecturer is significantly evolving in an imperative attempt to align with technological advances. In chemistry education, educators face many challenges due to changes in the learning environment, including administering and monitoring the learning process. Teachers and researchers around the world are looking for creative and efficient ways to move from teacher-centred to student-centred classrooms, and from summative, assessment of learning to formative, assessment for learning methods,1 especially in online and digital learning environments.2 Therefore, gathering the most up-to-date techniques for teaching and evaluating chemistry learning in digital environments is essential.3
In this book, we provide high-school teachers and university and college lecturers with both theory and practice to support their pedagogical decisions regarding online teaching, learning, and assessment methods for chemistry courses. There is great potential in deploying digital technologies in purposeful ways, giving chemistry teachers and lecturers a variety of options for a comprehensive examination of learners’ progress.4 Digital technologies can also influence how new assessment criteria are set to match online learning and teaching methods and their unique characteristics for teaching science in general and chemistry in particular.
Technology has been integrated into classrooms with varying degrees of success even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pandemic has forced educators to turn to digital learning to support their students. This book is motivated by a desire to collect and share effective and cutting-edge practices in teaching chemistry digitally, especially those that have been recently developed due to the pandemic. Furthermore, teaching chemistry digitally has the potential to bring greater equity to the field of chemistry education and foster access to high quality learning. This book will contribute to that goal. With more than 70 authors from nine countries, our book presents the ways digital learning and teaching of chemistry are being implemented around the world. At the same time, because of the universal nature of technology, the topics shared in this book will apply to chemistry teachers, researchers, and learners globally.
1.2 Word Cloud Analysis of the Book Chapters
A world cloud was generated to summarize the main themes of the chapters in this book. The most frequent words in the full-text chapters (excluding abstracts) were students (more than 2000 times) and learning (more than 1100 times) followed by these words in descending order, from more than 850 times to fewer than 270 times: teachers, chemistry, teaching, groups, online, knowledge, digital, feedback, support, content, environmental, and social (see Figure 1.1). Knowledge was included in the top-ten list of both full-text and abstract analyses and the word content was in the top-fifteen of the full text. Surprisingly, given the prevailing educational discourse surrounding students’ skills, this word was not included in the top 15, emerging with less frequency. The word practices was included toward the end of the list of the 55 most common words in the abstracts of the book (see Figure 1.2). Accordingly, a significant part of this book deals with skills, competencies, and practices, in addition to content knowledge. Concepts, understanding, ideas, experiences, hands-on activities, modelling, and information and media literacy are all shown in the full-text word cloud illustration (see Figure 1.1).
The word cloud analysis of the abstracts (Figure 1.2), which appear online, is similar to that of the full-text analysis for the top 10 words, in a slightly different order. However, it is interesting to note that in both clouds students and learning were the most widely mentioned words. When comparing the 20 most frequently used words, the word pandemic is relatively frequent in the abstracts, evenly distributed among all book themes, whereas in the full-text analysis this word does not even make the top 100 (which is also the trend for COVID and COVID-19). The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have more of an impact on the transition to digital online learning than is explicitly indicated in the study’s background, motivation, and structure. The fact that the abstracts were written at the first stages of the pandemic and the chapters only about a year later when the transition to digital media had already begun and was practically a fait accompli, might explain that gap.
This book aims to benefit a wide range of relevant populations—school and higher education educators, laboratory instructors, educational content developers, education researchers, and policymakers. This book has several key contributions that can be beneficial for any of the above populations: research-oriented, theoretical, practical, and methodological contributions.
1.3.1 Research-oriented and Theoretical Contributions
This book has notable contributions to educational research and theory in a variety of aspects and levels. Highlighting various educational issues that have arisen in recent years, certainly since March 2020 when the pandemic began to erupt, may give other researchers opportunities to explore new directions, particularly in the aspect of digital chemistry learning in the post-pandemic era. These new directions are evidence-based, so continuing the research avenues shared in this book may yield more important insights that can generate more practical contributions.
In the first theme of this book, Best Practices of Teaching and Learning Digitally,5 several chapters focus on expanding existing educational theories regarding digital resources for the learning and teaching of chemistry. They add fresh perspectives and characteristics related to this kind of learning, both in a student-centred and a teacher-centred approach. Other chapters included in the second theme, Digital platforms for increasing inclusion in chemistry education,6 add new knowledge to what we already know about the various aspects of inclusion in online chemistry learning, whether through YouTube, social media, or massive open online courses (MOOCs). The third theme, Using Visualization and Laboratory to Promote Learning in Science,7 is mostly focused on practical and methodological aspects in the application of visualization and technologies in chemistry education. However, a couple of chapters clearly illustrate the importance of relying on existing theoretical frameworks (such as knowledge integration), which can add significant value to the development of chemistry learning processes that integrate visualizations and technology. The following theme of Digital Assessment8 includes a number of chapters that add new layers to existing theoretical frameworks dealing with different aspects and approaches to assessment. These chapters include topics such as formative feedback in laboratory activities, teachers’ assessment knowledge, the need for extensive training in this regard, and the need to provide multi-modal supportive feedback to increase student engagement in learning. In the final theme, Building Communities of Learners and Educators,9 all the chapters discuss community formation, bringing new theoretical viewpoints to the field of chemical education. This contribution is particularly significant considering the major disturbance caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
1.3.2 Practical and Methodological Contributions
Several chapters in this book present studies of a distinctly practical and methodological nature, either by elaborating on different existing methodologies and technologies or by presenting results and insights that can and should be applied in educational practice. The third theme, which focuses on visualization and laboratory in chemistry education,7 includes studies that are more application-based. In this theme, digital technologies that can be used in both remote and in-person chemistry learning are presented, such as virtual and augmented reality, instructional videos, and smartphone applications. In the chapters that make up this theme, specific guidelines for using similar digital platforms for other educational purposes (e.g., for other chemistry topics or other disciplines) are described in detail and with full transparency.
The opening theme, Best Practices of Teaching and Learning Digitally,5 illustrates how technical and theoretical principles are applied in converting in-person chemistry courses into a remote learning platform, and in creating an informal learning environment enriched with augmented and virtual reality in the context of recycling electronic devices. Other notable practical and methodological contributions found in the book include identifying the most crucial elements for successful blended learning for better utilization in education systems; adapting an open-access chemistry learning website to the new needs and limitations that emerge over the years; designing an adaptive digital environment for personalized chemistry learning; introducing a modelling tool and methodology that has been proven to facilitate the development of systems thinking; and laying down guidelines for an innovative online assessment that includes a two-stage test to encourage group interaction as a component of inclusive collaborative assessment. Most of these technological practices and methods can be used by any chemistry instructor, since the theoretical background, the generalizations and their validity, and the insights arising from these generalizations are all visible and detailed as required by evidence-based education.10
1.4 Recommendations for Future Studies
As mentioned in section 1.2, the word skills was among this book’s 55 most frequently used words (see Figures 1.1 and 1.2) in the full-text. The frequency of the word skills was about one third of the word knowledge and about half of the word content. The relatively medium-level frequency of skills, also referred to as competencies or practices, throughout the book may indicate the importance of future studies that will focus more on these terms and find out how to connect them better to content knowledge in chemistry.
Another aspect where further research may be helpful to establish the necessary knowledge and tools in digitally assisted learning and teaching is teacher preparation and professional development (PD) programs. To support pre- and in-service teachers in using learning technologies to help students develop a deeper understanding of the importance of scientific ideas, more needs to be done in science teacher PD and pre-service training programs to smoothly incorporate technology into the curriculum. Research-based programs based on scientific theories are preferable to programs that lack proper research-theoretical foundations, which mandates more pertinent teacher-centred studies. Considering the findings presented in the Digital Assessment theme,8 such training is particularly important regarding teachers’ assessment tools and knowledge in online environments. The connection between assessment and online learning environments in the context of teacher training should be subjected to more research.
Regarding the inclusion of learners from different societies, needs, and backgrounds, additional studies are required to generate insights and knowledge adapted globally as well as to each country and each different target population. Adaptation is required to produce reliable research evidence for different target populations, especially in issues related to equity and inclusion—societal aspects of education. Some of the studies presented in the book can and should form the basis for similar studies among other populations, in order to expand existing theories or even establish new ones.
The editors wish to express gratitude to the chapter authors for their contribution to this book, and to Roee Peretz, a co-author in this chapter, for providing much needed editorial support and helping to bring this book to completion.