Renee S. Cole

Renee Cole
Associate Professor
W331 CB
  • B.A., Hendrix College (1992)
  • M.S., University of Oklahoma (1995)
  • Ph.D, University of Oklahoma (1998)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemistry Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, (1998-1999)

Chemical Education Research: Research based design of instructional materials and teaching strategies; assessment of the impact of novel teaching strategies on student learning and attitudes; scientific discourse and social negotiation of meaning in chemistry; analysis and development of professional development strategies.

Research Interests: 

The focus of my research is in the area of chemical education as well as STEM education more broadly. I am interested in issues related to how students learn chemistry and how that guides the design of instructional materials and teaching strategies. I am also interested in how to effectively translate discipline-based research to the practice of teaching, thus increasing the impact of this research and improving undergraduate STEM education. 

Enhancing Learning by Improving Process Skills in STEM (ELIPSS)

This work builds on a previously funded project with collaborator Juliette Lantz (Drew University) to create POGIL (process oriented guided inquiry learning) materials for Analytical Chemistry courses. In addition to the project assessment components, there was a more fundamental question of how students develop the information processing and problem solving skills that are critical to analytical chemistry. The theoretical framework for this work is self-regulated learning. While there are different models of self-regulated learning, they all have commonalities that include the purposeful use of specific processes, strategies, or responses by students to improve their academic achievement. The primary goal of the current collaborative project with Juliette Lantz (Drew University) and Suzanne Ruder (Virginia Commonwealth University) is to create resources that can be readily adopted by instructors to assess student process skills in a wide range of classrooms and across STEM disciplines. Process skills, often referred to as soft skills or workplace skills, include skills such communication, teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking. However, most instructors do not currently assess student performance in the area of process skills. We are designing universally applicable and easily implemented assessment tools that will allow instructors to provide feedback to students, and inform the instructor as to the effectiveness of their instructional strategies in supporting process skill development. Assessment serves two purposes: (1) it provides a measure of achievement, and (2) it facilitates learning. The types of assessment used by an instructor also telegraph to students what is valued in a course. However, in many instances, the lack of alignment between instructional methods and assessment detracts from the added value of engaged student learning. A secondary goal of this project is to create professional development tools to improve the recognition and assessment of process skills by instructors and administrators at academic institutions. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation IUSE program grant #1524965.

Promoting Active Learning in Analytical Chemistry

This collaboration with Thomas Wenzel (Bates College) is designed to examine the effectiveness of professional development workshops and follow-up activities to support the sustained implementation of active learning materials in analytical chemistry. The goal of this project is to characterize and refine a faculty development process that leads to meaningful and sustainable change in the way faculty members teach, emphasizing adoption of active learning experiences in which students are engaged in their learning. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation IUSE program grant #1624956.

Using Qualitative Analysis to Explore Teaching and Learning in Chemistry

A theme in several research projects has been describing and classifying student and instructor actions, discourse, and interactions to characterize how classroom (and laboratory) learning environments can lead to (or inhibit) meaningful student learning. Chemistry is often math intensive and requires the ability to translate among different representational levels. Students often have incomplete or differing understandings of concepts and terms. In order to capture student thinking and interactions, it requires the use of pedagogical content tools that allows the observer to connect to student thinking while still delivering content. POGIL activities and other active learning strategies provide a natural pedagogical content tool to observe student interactions and meaning making. We are using different frameworks to analyze data from multiple contexts to look at the relationship between student discourse, concepts used, and how concepts are used logically to build explanations. We are are investigating the interplay of influences from individual students’ backgrounds, in-class learning, and other group work on their contributions to small group tasks and their performance on individual tasks. 

Transform, Interact, Learn, and Engage (TILE) 

My interests in addressing growing state and national concerns regarding education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), led to a project to develop a plan to increase effective undergraduate teaching and learning in STEM courses at the University of Iowa. The overarching goal for this project is to improve student learning in STEM courses and retention in STEM majors. The major activities of the project have been assessing the organizational climate for promoting and sustaining innovative teaching and learning practices in STEM departments, creating a Leadership Institute to provide College and Department leadership with evidence-based practices for supporting teaching and learning at the department and program level, and creating a process to iteratively increase the use of evidence-based scientific teaching and learning practices in STEM classes, particularly in general education and introductory courses.

Increasing the Impact of STEM Education Projects through Effective Propagation Strategies

The purpose of this TUES Central Resource Project was to help educational researchers and curriculum developers increase the impact of their projects through increased focus on project design and strategies to facilitate wider adoption/adaptation of new learning materials and teaching strategies.

 In the past decades, substantial work has taken place within the TUES program (and its predecessors) to develop and test new curriculum materials and instructional strategies based on current scientific understanding of how people learn.  These materials and strategies have translated research about effective teaching and learning at the undergraduate level into resources STEM faculty members can apply in their courses. Awareness of these strategies and materials has increased. However, there is a growing consensus that a currently unsolved problem is how to get this understanding about effective teaching and learning enacted in the teaching practices of typical college STEM faculty.

This project will work to improve propagation strategies within the STEM education community through four core activities:

  1.  Collect propagation strategies used by current and former TUES/CCLI projects to promote adaptation and implementation of innovative developments in STEM education.
  2. Analyze and categorize strategies and success of projects in terms of empirical evidence and factors identified by theories of change.
  3. Promote discussion about and awareness of the importance of deliberately designing propagation strategies and explicitly using appropriate strategies in project planning.
  4. Develop accessible resources about a range of possible propagation strategies as well as how to identify and optimize strategies to enhance impact.

This project is being done in collaboration with Charles Henderson (Western Michigan University) and Jeff Froyd (Texas A&M University). It was funded by the National Science Foundation TUES program (NSF-DUE#1236926).

Recent Publications: 
  • Jennifer Schmidt-McCormack, Marc Muniz, Ellie Keuter†, Scott Shaw, and Renée Cole, “Design and implementation of instructional videos for upper-division undergraduate courses,” Chemistry Education Research and Practice, ASAP June 2017.
  • Courtney Stanford, Renee Cole, Jeff Froyd, Charles Henderson, Debra Friedrichsen, and Raina Khatri, “Analysis of propagation plans of NSF-funded education development projects,” Journal of Science Education and Technology, 201726(4), 418-437. 
  • Raina Khatri, Charles Henderson, Renée Cole, Jeff Froyd, Debra Friedrichsen, and Courtney Stanford, “Characteristics of Well-Propagated Teaching Innovations for Undergraduate STEM Disciplines,” International Journal of STEM Education, 2017, 4(2), 1-10.
  • Courtney Stanford, Alena Moon, Marcy Towns, and Renee Cole, “Analysis of Instructor Facilitation Strategies and Their Influences on Student Argumentation: A Case Study of a Process-Oriented Guided-Inquiry Learning Physical Chemistry Classroom,” Journal of Chemical Education, 201693(9), 1501-1513.
  • Courtney Stanford, Renée Cole, Jeff Froyd, Debra Friedrichsen, Raina Khatri, Charles Henderson, “Design and development of a sustained adoption assessment instrument for characterizing effective propagation plans for STEM educational innovations” International Journal of STEM Education, 20163, 1-13.
  • Raina Khatri, Charles Henderson, Renée Cole, Jeff Froyd, Debra Friedrichsen, and Courtney Stanford, “Designing for sustained adoption: A model of developing educational innovations for successful propagation,” Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res., 201612, 010112:1-22.
  • Becker, N., Stanford, C., Towns, M., Cole, R., "Translating across macroscopic, submicroscopic, and symbolic: the role of instructor facilitation in an inquiry-oriented physical chemistry classroom," Chemistry Education Research and Practice2015, 16, 769-785.
  • Cole, R., "Using chemistry education research to inform teaching strategies and design of instructional materials," in Chemistry Education: Best Practices, Opportunities, and Trends, Editors: Javier Garcia-Martinez and Elena Serrano-Torregrosa, Wiley-VCH: Weinheim, Germany, 2015.
  • Cole, R., Becker, N., Stanford, C., "Discourse analysis as a tool to examine teaching and learning in the classroom," in Tools of Chemistry Education Research (ACS Symposium Series), Editors: Diane Bunce and Renee Cole, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 61-81.
  • Becker, N., Towns, M., Cole, R., Sweeney, G., Wawro, M., Rasmussen, C., “Explanations grounded in the particulate nature of matter: A sociochemical norm in a physical chemistry class,” Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 201314, 81-94.
  • Bauer, C., Cole, R., “Validation of Assessment Rubric via Controlled Modification of Classroom Activity,” Journal of Chemical Education, 201289, 1104-1108.
  • Cole, R., Becker, N., Towns, M., Sweeney, G., Wawro, M., Rasmussen, C. "Adapting a Methodology from Mathematics Education Research to Chemistry Education Research: Documenting Collective Activity", International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 2012 10, 193-211.
  • Linenberger, K., Cole, R., Sarkar, S. “Looking Beyond Lewis Structures: A General Chemistry Molecular Modeling Experiment Focusing on Physical Properties and Geometry,” Journal of Chemical Education, 2011 88, 962-965.