Report by 2011 International Travel Award Recipient Dr. Vicky Lykourinou

I have the pleasure of reporting details of my participation at the 4th EuroVariety in Chemistry Education held in Bremen, Germany from September 1- 3, 2011- organizers Dr. David DiFuccia and Dr. Ilka Parchmann. EurovarietyThe Eurovariety conference is one of the most important opportunities to exchange experiences, demands and research results about teaching and learning of chemistry on tertiary level – at university. The intention was to bring together lecturers and researchers of chemistry or related areas and promote discussion and sharing on best practice and research on tertiary level in different countries of Europe focusing on

  • Innovative methods in lecturing, tutoring, lab work and assessment
  • Student centered learning
  • Partnerships and networks between universities and other institutions/enterprises
  • Future fields of necessary innovations in teaching and learning chemistry
  • Possibilities to get funding for innovative projects

The conference featured an impressive list of invited presentations

  • Dr. Natasa Brouwer-Zupancic - Educational service centre, Faculty of Science, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands  ‘Training the teachers also at the university – An Educational Perspective’
  • Prof. Dr. Holger Butenschön - Institute of Organic Chemistry, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany; Chair of the division "Chemical Education" of the German Chemical Society  ‘Demands and challenges in chemical education from a Chemist’s perspective ’
  • Dr. Vanessa Kind - School of Education, Durham University, Great Britain, presentation title ‘Demands and challenges in chemical education from a Chemist’s perspective’
  • Prof. Ron Naaman - Chemical Physics Department , The Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, presentation title ‘Argumentation in the chemistry laboratory: inquiry and confirmatory experiments’
  • Prof. Anthony Smith - CPE LYON Ecole supérieure de chimie physique électronique de Lyon, France, presentation title ‘Projects, project organisation and funding possibilities - the example of the EC2E2N-network’

The presentations were grouped under two main themes-Teaching Skills, Methods and Challenges and Exemplary Topics for Higher Education and participants and presenters (total  of ~45 attendees) represented a variety of countries- US, Taiwan, South Africa, Italy, Czech Republic, France, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Denmark and Poland.The small scale of the conference allowed for a very good interaction and exchange among participants which sparked considerable exchange of ideas and potential collaborations.

I should also note that myself and  Dr Santiago Sandi-Urena were the only two participants from US Universities (University of South Florida). I am including a picture of us with the organizers Dr Parchmann and Dr Di-Fuccia. My participation was partially funded by the annual International Travel Award I received from the Division of Chemical Education of the ACS and by the Chemistry Department of the University of South Florida. My presentation was titled "Implementation of SWH in large enrollment general chemistry labs". Dr Sandi-Urena’s participation was funded in part by an International Travel Award from the College of Arts and Sciences and the title of his presentation was: "Learning from teaching: An opportunity for scientific skills development for chemistry GTAs". Both talks were well received and sparked considerable conversation and discussion.

Reflecting on the conference, I can say that it provided me with a great perspective on practices from countries outside the US-Europe in particular- which I find personally and professionally significant as I grew up in Europe (Greece) and completed most of my undergraduate education there. This was a good opportunity to return to this educational environment and gain a new perspective- as a practitioner at the instructional level.

I had the opportunity to meet participants working with students in laboratory and classroom setting and get an overview of training practices for didactics at tertiary level. Seeing the organization of teacher training undertaken in European Universities highlighted the need to provide more resources and pedagogical training to all involved in tertiary teaching in US Universities. Multi-component workshops can be designed or shared among US and European Universities to familiarize instructors and graduate teaching assistants with learning theory, current outcomes of research in student learning, tools and means to design and improve courses.  Furthermore, many of the ongoing European initiatives for a more standardized and unified approach in student training at the Undergraduate and Graduate University level (e.g. the Bologna process or programs like Erasmus) highlighted the need for strong and more integrated networking among practitioners in US Universities particularly the ones who are designing and implementing graduate assistants training and organize large enrollment courses and thus have significant educational impact at the freshman undergraduate level in chemistry. 

My participation has also provided many ideas for workshop organization with other colleagues at the departmental level, local ACS section and among practitioners at state level. The need for such initiatives was further supported after participation in the conference as some of the presentations shared current programs (for example Dr. Natasa Brouwer-Zupancic - Educational service centre, Faculty of Science, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands) for a well structured preparation of instructors at the tertiary level.

Details of the conference are available at the conference website http://www.eurovariety2011.de/

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