Meet the Next Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Chemical Education: Thomas Holme

The American Chemical Society  (ACS) named Professor Thomas Holme of Iowa State University as the next Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Chemical Education (JCE). Established in 1924, this high-impact chemical education publication is co-published by the ACS Division of Chemical Education and ACS Publications. Holme will succeed Professor Norbert J. Pienta of the University of Georgia in January 2020.

Read An Interview with the Incoming Journal of Chemical Education Editor-in-Chief Thomas Holme

 Journal of Chemical Education Editor-in-Chief Thomas Holme
Journal of Chemical Education Editor-in-Chief Thomas Holme

I recently interviewed Professor Thomas Holme to learn more about his goals for the journal, the challenges facing this field of research, advice to upcoming researchers, and what it means to be the next Editor in Chief for the Journal of Chemical Education. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

What are your goals as the next Editor-in-Chief?

My main goal is to assure that the Journal not only remains the premier archival source of information on the teaching and learning of chemistry but that it also becomes an academic publication at the vanguard of data-driven decision making. Given the challenges associated with navigating the data and information landscapes that shape the way people produce, seek and use information to improve the teaching and learning of chemistry, the Journal needs to explore and implement the most useful strategies possible to enhance scholarship in chemistry education.

While data analytic methods offer no panacea for improving communication, communication outlets like the Journal are in perhaps the best possible position to gain useful insights by these methods. By advancing and implementing new data analytic methods to enhance the visibility of the Journal and it’s responsiveness to users, we can take the lead in helping authors, reviewers and readers find more than they originally sought when they seek out articles published in the Journal. This strategy will expand the horizons of how information is curated and archived and it will raise the bar, and raise awareness of the quality of scholarship afforded by the educational endeavor in the chemical sciences.

What are the major challenges still facing the field of chemical education today?

There are many areas of broad consensus about the content needs and best pedagogical approaches to the teaching and learning of chemistry. Nonetheless, making valid and reliable measurements of student learning remains as a key challenge in chemical education.  Even with advances in learning sciences that guide innovation in education, the sources and extent of error when we try to measure what a student knows and has learned can be difficult to understand. This is one reason why having high-quality peer-review is so important for chemical education. As researchers and practitioners look to improve measures used in their studies, the academic debate surrounding what we measure and how we analyze the data becomes a key component of advancing our understanding.

This issue becomes even more important when we consider large-scale educational reform efforts. If we think about calls for reform in a project like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) the challenges to educational measurement efforts are particularly salient. It seems sensible that many would agree helping students be more capable of systems thinking – seeing how scientific ideas and observations are connected and lead to amazing complexity. Figuring out ways to assess the progress a student is making in acquiring systems thinking skills, however, is difficult. This is even more of a challenge when considering the venue of large enrollment courses such as first-year chemistry at universities. Thus, there are many ways the chemical education needs to explore, and the Journal will continue to be a trusted source for communicating advances in educational efforts.

Where do you want JCE to expand?

Chemistry is the central science, and this is true regardless of the specific circumstances of where earth and societal demands arise. Thus, it would be helpful to imagine ways to enhance the availability of the Journal to educators in developing regions of the world. This access needs to be for educators as audiences and as authors, so that the communication of ideas about teaching and learning goes both ways. I had the good fortune to spend a year as a Fulbright Scholar teaching at the University of Zambia early in my career, and I remain impressed to this day at the level of creative problem solving and desire to learn I was able to experience from my fellow educators and from the students in our classes. There seems to be a great deal of untapped potential, and it would be a goal for me to help find ways to connect more strongly with this constituency.

What advice would you give to upcoming researchers in the field of chemical education?

To me, the vital piece of the puzzle for research in chemical education is to make sure we put the chemistry at the core of the questions we ask. This is not to diminish the fact that the student learner must be at the center of our educational efforts. On the contrary, we need to increase our ways of understanding how the student learner engages with chemistry, and how our teaching can bolster those student efforts.

Chemistry has the additional challenge of being a science that students need to understand many of their other science classes, so we who teach chemistry must play many roles. Ultimately, at least to me, the fact that chemistry informs so many disciplines means we need to find the right balance between fundamental understanding and connections to larger systems and other sciences. This balancing act provides a wealth of important questions about chemical education. Learning science-related questions about how students grapple with chemistry’s many abstractions; pedagogical questions about how to engage students in any learning environment – formal or informal; and as noted earlier, how do we make trustworthy measurements of the learning we hope to inspire all represent important questions. New researchers who can ask and answer these questions in the specific context of chemistry will find a wealth of interesting research ideas to pursue.

What does it mean to you in becoming the next Editor in Chief for the Journal of Chemical Education?

I have been incredibly fortunate to participate in the advancement of chemistry and chemical education through the ACS for a number of years. When I served as the Director of the ACS Examinations Institute, I was routinely humbled and awestruck by the level of dedication and passion my chemical education colleagues had for their efforts to improve teaching and learning. The generosity with which those colleagues gave of their time and expertise was simply spectacular.

Becoming the Editor-in-Chief provides another case where I will have similar opportunities. The efforts of reviewers, associate editors, colleagues who step up and serve as editors for special issues, authors, and those who help put the message out on social media channels about the great work that appears in the Journal provide a constant reminder of how fortunate I am to be a member of the chemical education community. Academic publishing is not without its set of concerns at the moment, and assuming a leadership position carries some additional weight with respect to those concerns. Nonetheless, knowing the passion and expertise that the chemical education community brings to the advancement of teaching and learning chemistry makes it a privilege to step into this role. I’m very much looking forward to it!

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