About half a century ago, Bloom et al. (1956, 1964) published two handbooks outlining a taxonomy of educational objectives. In their conceptualization—which is not specific to chemistry education, but relates to education in general—educational objectives could be categorized into three major domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Of these three, the cognitive domain has received significantly more attention by researchers over the years, especially in the context of chemistry learning. With this volume, we intended to gather information about the influence of the affective domain on chemistry learning in order to inspire consideration of the affective domain both in the context of chemistry teaching and in the context of future chemistry education research.
Affective dimensions refer to such psychological constructs as attitudes, values, beliefs, opinions, emotions, interests, motivation, and a degree of acceptance or rejection (Koballa, 2013; Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1964). For several reasons, these dimensions have often been ignored or minimized in science education research literature, in curriculum development, and in assessment. First, it is challenging to measure affective constructs—such as students’ motivation to learn science, their attitudes about learning science, and the degree to which they value scientific knowledge and practices—as these are hard to observe. Additionally, in practice, if a teacher explicitly states specific affective objectives in the classroom, some students will do everything they can to reflect those objectives, as they know that they will get credit for those valued behaviors. In such a case, students’ demonstrated behaviors might not reveal their true attitudes and beliefs toward learning science. Second, many practicing scientists attempt to divorce the affective domain—subjectivity and individuals’ feelings—from the cognitive domain, which is believed (by the scientists) to be more reason driven and objective. As a consequence, science is often presented in classrooms as being objective and separate from attitudes, values, beliefs, opinions, and emotions. Finally, because it is perceived to be more challenging to measure outcomes in the affective domain than in the cognitive domain, our current educational systems around the world tend to focus assessments on cognitive, instead of affective, objectives.
So, what is the status quo? How is the current emphasis on cognitive objectives and the lack of emphasis on affective objectives influencing student interest in and retention in science fields? The drawbacks of our current educational practices were clearly observed in recent international studies like PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and described in a European Union document known as the “Rocard Report” (Rocard et al., 2007). According to this report, the following issues were highlighted:
- The number of young people entering universities is increasing, but they are choosing to study fields other than science; in consequence, the proportion of young people studying science is decreasing (e.g., In 2003, the total physical science graduates in the USA dropped by 12 % (about 88,000) in comparison to 1995 (about 100,000); the same comparison for Germany is even more dramatic—50,000 vs. 101,000—a 50 % loss).
- When looked at from a gender perspective, the problem is even worse as, in general, females are less interested in science education than males (e.g., females comprised only 31.2 % of the MST [mathematics, science, and technology] graduates in EU27 countries and only 31.1 % of MST graduates in the USA in 2005).
The current situation urges us to reconsider our current approaches to science education in general and to chemistry education in particular. Because positive affective dimensions have been shown to correlate with students’ persistence and performance in science topics, a focus on affective dimensions is an important part of the solution to the global issues of lack of interest and retention in science education in general (and chemistry education in specific).
Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Hill, W. H., & Furst, E. J. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.
Koballa, T. (2013, September 16). Framework for the affective domain in science education. Serc. Carleton.Edu. Retrieved November 27, 2014, from http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/ affective/framework.html
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1964). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Handbook II: Affective domain. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.
Rocard, M., Csermely, P., Jorde, D., Lenzen, D., Walberg-Henriksson, H., & Hemmo, V. (2007). Science Education NOW: A renewed pedagogy for the future of Europe (European Commission.). Luxembourg: European Commission.
Kahveci M, & Orgill MK. (Eds.). (2015). Affective dimensions in chemistry education. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. doi: 10.1007/978-3-662-45085-7.