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Fouad Abd-El-Khalick named recipient of top NARST award

Recognition cites his work on teaching and learning about ‘nature of science’

Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, Ph.D., dean and professor of science education at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, has been selected to receive the NARST 2022 Distinguished Contributions to Science Education through Research Award.

The award is the highest honor bestowed by NARST, the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. It recognizes scholars who — over at least 20 years since earning their doctorate – have made significant contributions to, provided notable leaderships in, and had substantial impact on, science education through research.

“Given the high impact of his rigorous and coherent research, international work with academics and graduate students, as well as service to leading science education journals, Dr. Abd-El-Khalick is a most deserving recipient of the 2022 NARST Distinguished Contributions through Research Award,” NARST said in a news release announcing the award.

Abd-El-Khalick is a leading science education researcher in precollege grades and teacher-education settings. He has made significant, transformative contributions to the development of the scholarly study of teaching and learning about, and assessment of, “nature of science.” Nature of science, or NOS, describes the characteristics of scientific knowledge and how that knowledge is developed and validated.

NARST will present the award to Abd-El-Khalick at its 2022 Annual International Conference in Vancouver in March. At the conference, Abd-El-Khalick is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on the future of science education.

Domain-establishing work

Abd-El-Khalick’s nominator, Saouma BouJaoude, interim dean of Arts and Sciences and the Mamdouha El-Sayed Bobst Professor at the American University of Beirut, praised Abd-El-Khalick’s contributions to the field of science education, work that places Abd-El-Khalick among the eight most published researchers in the field.

That work started with a master’s thesis that examined science teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge, including their NOS conceptions, and was published in the field’s premier Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST). Abd-El-Khalick’s doctoral dissertation, which examined the influence of history of science courses on students’ conceptions of NOS, won NARST’s Outstanding Dissertation Award in 1999. The resulting paper won the JRST Award in 2001.

“His dissertation was the first systematic empirical examination of a long-held assumption in our field; namely, that history of science (HOS) coursework would necessarily improve teachers’ understandings of NOS,” BouJaoude wrote. “His findings served to qualify this assumption and delineate the conditions under which a HOS course or few courses are likely to improve, in substantial ways, teachers’ understandings of NOS.”

Abd-El-Khalick went on to make crucial and sustained research contributions, including shifting the field from quantitative to qualitative assessments, which helped generate valid and rich profiles of learners’ NOS understandings. His resulting instrument — VNOS Form C— remains one of the most widely used NOS assessment instruments in the world. This work earned him the NARST Early Career Research Award in 2003.

Abd-El-Khalick contributed to the development and testing of the currently ubiquitous explicit-reflective NOS instructional framework, which is used across the globe and in various contexts to teach about NOS. Abd-El-Khalick also launched the current, fastest developing line of NOS research, namely examining how science curricula and textbooks represent — or misrepresent — NOS for learners.

In 2011, Abd-El-Khalick was elected as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for, according to the Association, “his outstanding research on teachers’ and students’ conceptions of the nature of science that helped provide a foundation for this field of research.”

His scholarship has made Abd-El-Khalick among few scholars in science education whose names are intimately associated with a whole domain of research in the field, BouJaoude said, referring to NOS — scholarly work that has been highly influential, with more than 20,000 citations on Google Scholar.

“Dr. Fouad Abd-El-Khalick has distinguished himself in his unwavering commitment to pursue excellence in scholarship, and wide-ranging collaborations, as well as the mentorship he affords to others through his varied service, especially to NARST, and leadership positions,” BouJaoude wrote.

Service to and leadership in science education

Abd-El-Khalick has served on, and led, multiple editorial boards of leading science education journals. He has served as co-editor of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, the leading science education journal, and as associate editor of the Journal of Science Teacher Education, JRST, and School Science and Mathematics.

His scholarship has attracted millions in external funding from the National Science Foundation and international agencies. A native of Lebanon, Abd-El-Khalick has led research and development activities that have contributed to evidence-based reforms in science education in several countries of the Middle East.

Abd-El-Khalick has served as dean of the UNC School of Education since 2016 where he has led efforts that have grown enrollment, increased credit hours taught, expanded student and faculty diversity, boosted research funding, and led to a 10-point rise since 2015 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of schools of education to No. 25.

Appointed by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, Abd-El-Khalick served on the Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education, which has issued a set of recommendations regarding increased funding public K-12 education in North Carolina.

Before coming to UNC-Chapel Hill, Abd-El-Khalick worked for 16 years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he won teaching and research awards — including being named University Scholar — was invested as the Grayce Wicall Gauthier Professor of Education, and served in several administrative leadership positions.

NARST, since 1928, has promoted research in science education and the communication of knowledge generated by research with the ultimate goal of helping all learners achieve science literacy. It pursues this work by encouraging and supporting the application of diverse research methods and theoretical perspectives from multiple disciplines to the investigation of teaching and learning in science; communicating science education research findings to researchers, practitioners, and policy makers; and cooperating with other educational and scientific societies to influence educational policies.