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I had some strange notions when I made the jump from working at the lab bench to teaching at the white board. I thought good teaching meant interesting lectures. And I was completely unaware that people actually conducted research in science education. If I had been asked about education research, I would have replied that it was largely anecdotal, probably limited to sociologists and primary grades, and as far as I was concerned, useless.

And, honestly, to me it was useless.

I never saw any of science education articles or journals. No other instructors every discussed them and naturally, I concluded that they didn’t exist.

Okay, I was ignorant.

But I still think those attitudes are more the norm than the exception.


Science instructors are often unaware of the findings from education research because they don’t see them. The instructors who do much of the college teaching, those at our nation’s community colleges, have little access to this kind of information.


It’s not either not accessible or it’s not indexed by our favorite search tools.

If I use PubMed Central for example, and I browse the PMC journal list with the word “education,” I find only four journals (CBE Life Sciences Education is listed twice because they changed names):



Only one of these journals concerns teaching science to undergraduates.

If I use Google, I find lots of things, but I can’t read any of them on-line.

Very few science education journals are open access. Journals like “Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education,” and “Journal of natural resources and life sciences education” and “Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education,” keep their articles locked away, out of public view.

And certainly away from most instructors.

I find it appalling that in a day and age, when we’re struggling to teach students how to think like scientists, we have so little access to the tools that would help us practice these principles in our own daily work.  College instructors need to become more familiar with the concepts and benefits of evidence-based teaching. That familiarity would develop more easily if college instructors had more access to the results of education research.

If we are ever to use science to help us teach science, if evidence-based teaching is ever to replace teaching by anecdote, we’re going to need to share strategies and information, not lock them away.

Inspired by Geeky Mom.


  1. #1 Alexa
    November 12, 2007

    You could try this European journal, open access…

  2. #2 Charles
    November 12, 2007

    New concepts in education research come about slowly. You might consider just googling “evidence-based science education research,” choose book results, and after reading reviews, buy one of the more recent books.

  3. #3 Sandra Porter
    November 12, 2007

    Charles: It’s strange, but I see more awareness of learning research among teachers in primary grades than in college instructors.

    Thanks for the tip Alexa! This looks like a journal with interesting summaries of classroom activities and science topics. What I want to see though, are studies that really examine and measure student learning. Right now, I think the CBE Life Sciences journal is the only one I can access that publishes those kinds of studies.

  4. #4 Burton MacKenZie
    November 12, 2007

    Try going through the library at your institution. I consider one of the biggest “perks” of teaching at an educational institution is the free access to most academic journals. While on campus (at my desk), I can get carte blanche access to full text electronic versions, and from home I can log in to the institute’s library via the net, and get the same.

    Through google alone, I get nothing. 🙁

  5. #5 Sandra Porter
    November 12, 2007

    That’s probably the difference between community colleges and Universities. We never had access to these kinds of publications when I taught full-time at the community college.

    Now, that I only teach part time, I have even less access to publications on-line.

  6. #6 Liz Dorland
    November 13, 2007

    Hi Sandy,

    Here is a link to a list of open access education research journals compiled by a division of the American Educational Research Association.


    Another possibility for community college faculty is to visit the library of the closest research university. It’s not as convenient, but you can use their electronic resources to find articles you want remotely, and then make one trip to the library computers to download the actual articles.

    If you find an article with Google Scholar, you can go to a university library website and use the ejournal title search to see if they subscribe. Here is the link for the University of Washington.


    For instance, when I put in the title:
    International Journal of Science Education

    I can see that the university subscribes and in what databases. Now a trip to the library should give me access.

    You can often find the journal publisher website and search for particular articles and abstracts before a library trip. Here it is for IJSE.


    Here is one for Research in Science and Technological Education.


    Here is a list of “biology education journals” from a Google search:


    Another tip: when you find an article you want, try searching for the author’s name in quotes. Often you can find links to files to download on their website.

    I agree completely that it is vitally important for college faculty to become more aware of educational research. This is a role that the campus Centers for Teaching and Learning should be filling. Learning how to search for journal articles beyond disciplinary databases is useful for students as well as faculty.

    Also, some states (Ohio for instance) do provide online access to journals for community college and high school teachers, or free electronic interlibrary loan services. Lobbying efforts are needed in other states in order to work towards better access.

  7. #7 Sandra Porter
    November 13, 2007

    Thanks Liz!

    I think the resources you mentioned will be quite helpful to many science faculty!

  8. #8 JYB
    November 13, 2007

    I’m a middle school teacher and I read A LOT of education research. It is rarely science specific though. I’d say the vast majority that I find are on educational styles or methods and psych things (stereotype threat, learned helplessness, pygmalion effect). Also, I’d say I’m in the minority in the amount of research I read.

  9. #9 Sandra Porter
    November 13, 2007

    JYB: I’m not surprised. I think teachers in the K-12 grades are much more familiar with educational research than college instructors, for the simple reason that K-12 instructors take courses to learn about teaching.

    College instructors are rarely taught anything about teaching or how teach. They kind of pick it up on their own.

  10. #10 Larry Moran
    November 13, 2007

    I’m an editor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education and we have frequent debates about this problem. The journal would lose too much money if we were to put it online without charging the authors for publishing. Since this is an eduaction journal, most authors don’t have a spare $2000 lying around.

    It’s a rock and a hard place and we’re caught in the middle.

  11. #11 Sandra Porter
    November 13, 2007

    Thanks Larry,

    I know it’s a dilemma.

    As an author, though, it’s why I published a paper in CBE. I wanted people to be able to read it and I wanted to be able to find it when I searched PubMED.

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