Renee S. Cole

Department Executive Officer and Chair


  • Chemical Education Research
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Engaged Learning Environments


  • US Representative to IUPAC Committee on Chemical Education, 2022
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, 2021
  • University of Iowa CLAS Collegiate Teaching Award, 2021
  • Collegiate Fellow, UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2018-2020
  • American Chemical Society Fellow, 2015
  • Iowa Women of Innovation Award for Academic Innovation & Leadership (Post-Secondary), 2014
  • Missouri Governor’s Award for Excellence in Education, 2009

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. 

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. 

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 was supported by the National Science Foundation IUSE program grant #1624956.

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 was supported by the National Science Foundation IUSE program grant #1524965.

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 was 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

  • Joshua Reid, Zubeyde Demet Kirbulut Gunes, Shaghayegh Fateh, Adan Fatima, Michael Macrie-Shuck, Hannah Nennig, Fabrizzio Quintanilla, Nicole States, Ahmad Syed, Renee Cole, Gregory Rushton, Lisa Shah, Vicente Talanquer, “Investigating Patterns of Student Engagement during Collaborative Activities in Undergraduate Chemistry Courses, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 23, 173-188 (2022).
  • Rachel Roller, Saichon Sumantakul, Michelle Tran, Andrea Van Wyk, Jessica Zinna, Destiny Donelson, Sarah Finnegan, Gregory Foley, Olivia Frechette, Jessica Gaetgens, Jinai Jang, Katheryn Rinaolo, Renee Cole, Marya Lieberman, Vincent Remcho, and Kimberley Frederick, “Inquiry-Based Labs Using Paper Microfluidic Devices, Journal of Chemical Education, 98(6), 1946-1953 (2021).
  • Doug Czajka, Gil Reynders, Courtney Stanford, Renée Cole, Juliette Lantz, and Suzanne Ruder, “A Novel Rubric Format for Providing Feedback on Process Skills to STEM Undergraduate Students, Journal of College Science Teaching, 50(6), 48-56 (2021).
  • Gil Reynders, Juliette Lantz, Suzanne Ruder, Courtney Stanford, and Renee Cole, “Rubrics to assess critical thinking and information processing in undergraduate STEM courses,” International Journal of STEM Education, 7(9) (2020).
  • Wayne Jacobson and Renée Cole, “Motivations and Obstacles Influencing Faculty Engagement in Adopting Teaching Innovations,” To Improve the Academy, 39(1), 1-23 (2020).
  • Gil Reynders, Erica Suh, Renée Cole, and Rebecca Sansom, “Developing Student Process Skills in a General Chemistry Laboratory,” Journal of Chemical Education, 96(10), 2109-2119 (2019).
  • Daniel Reinholz, Rebecca Matz, Renee Cole, and Naneh Apkarian, “STEM is not a monolith: A preliminary analysis of variations in STEM disciplinary culture and implications for change,” CBE-Life Sciences Education, 18(4), 18:mr4,1-14 (2019).
  • Jennifer Schmidt-McCormack, Caryl Fish, Anne Falke, Juliette Lantz and Renée Cole, “Assessment of process skills in analytical chemistry student responses to open-ended exam questions,” Journal of Chemical Education, 96(8), 1578-1590 (2019).
  • Ian Brown, Thomas Wenzel, and Renee Cole, “Supporting faculty in adopting active learning pedagogies,” in Best Practices in Chemistry Teacher Education. Editor: Sarah Boesdorfer. Oxford University Press, 2019, pp. 135-148. 
  • Renee Cole and Tricia Shepherd, “Making Sense of Mathematical Relationships in Physical Chemistry,” in It’s Just Math: Research on Students’ Understanding of Chemistry and Mathematics. Editors: Marcy Towns, Kinsey Bain, and Jon-Marc Rodriguez, Oxford University Press, 2019, pp. 173-186.
  • Deborah Herrington, Ryan Sweeder, Patrick Daubenmire, Chris Bauer, Stacey Lowery Bretz, Diane Bunce, Justin Carmel, Renee Cole, Brittland DeKorver, Resa Kelly, Scott Lewis, Maria Oliver-Hoyo, Stephanie Ryan, Marilyne Stains, Marcy Towns, and Ellen Yezierski, “Supporting the Growth and Impact of the Chemistry Education Research Community,” Journal of Chemical Education, 96(3), 393-397 (2019).
  • Renee Cole, Gil Reynders, Suzanne Ruder, Courtney Stanford, and Juliette Lantz, “Constructive alignment beyond content: Assessing professional skills in student group interactions and written work,” in Research into Practice in Chemistry Education - Selected Contributions from the 25th IUPAC International Conference on Chemistry Education 2018. Editors: Madeleine Schultz, Siegbert Schmid, and Gwen Lawrie, Springer, 2019, pp. 203-222.
  • Marcy Towns, Renee Cole, Alena Moon, and Courtney Stanford, “Argumentation in physical chemistry,” in Argumentation in Chemistry Education: Research, Policy and Practice. Editor: Sibel Erduran, Royal Society of Chemistry. 2019, pp. 247-274. 
  • Marilyne Stains, Jordan Harshman, Megan Barker, Stephanie Chasteen, Renee Cole, Sue Ellen DeChenne-Peters, Kevin Eagan, Joan Esson, Jennifer Knight, Frank Laski, Marc Levis-Fitzgerald, Christopher Lee, Stanley Lo, Lisa McDonnell, Timothy McKay, Nicole Michelotti, Amanda Musgrove, Michael Palmer, Kathryn Plank, Tamara Rodela, Erin Sanders, Natalie Schimpf, Patricia Schulte, Michelle Smith, MacKenzie Stetzer, Blaire Van Valkenburgh, Erin Vinson, Laura Weir, Paul Wendel, Lindsay Wheeler, and Anna Young, “Anatomy of STEM teaching in North American universities,” Science 2018, 359 (6383), 1468-1470.
  • Courtney Stanford, Alena Moon, Marcy Towns, and Renee Cole, “The impact of guided inquiry materials on student representational level understanding of thermodynamics,” in Engaging Students in Physical Chemistry (ACS Symposium Series). Editors: Craig Teague and David Gardner, Oxford University Press. 2018, pp. 141-168.
  • Renee Cole, Juliette Lantz, Suzanne Ruder, Gilbert Reynders, and Courtney Stanford, “Enhancing learning by assessing more than content knowledge,” Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Salt Lake City, UT. (2018)
  • Alena Moon, Courtney Stanford, Renee Cole, and Marcy Towns, “Analysis of inquiry materials to explain complexity of chemical reasoning in physical chemistry students’ argumentation,” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2017, 54 (10), 1322-1346.
  • Jeff Froyd, Charles Henderson, Renee Cole, Debra Friedrichsen, Raina Khatri, Courtney Stanford, “From dissemination to propagation: A new paradigm for education developers,” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 2017, 49(4), 35-42.
  • 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, 2017, 18, 749-762.
  • 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.

View CV

Research areas
  • Physical and computational chemistry
  • Chemical education
Renee S. Cole portrait
Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemistry Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison
PhD, University of Oklahoma
MS, University of Oklahoma
BA, Hendrix College

University of Iowa
E331 or W331 Chemistry Building (CB)
230 N. Madison Street
Iowa City, IA 52240
United States