History

Peter Fensham was for many years Professor of Science Education at Monash University. When appointed he was the first Professor of Science Education appointed in Australia and it is believed the first such professor anywhere in the world outside USA. In 1970 Peter invited all those Australians with interest in science education research to a one-day meeting, held in May that year at Monash University, Clayton (Melbourne).

Emeritus Professor Peter Fensham celebrating his 80th birthday at QUT on October 26, 2007.

Twenty six attended the meeting. In a clear if very sad reflection on the gendered nature of science education and university staffing in that era, all 26 were male. The list of attendees and their research and/or development interests is part of the document about the very early years that is in this archive. 'List of attendees of first meeting'. This list is headed “Science Education Research Conference” and the meeting has come to be recognised as the very first ASERA Conference. At the meeting it was decided to initiate annual research conferences in science education, and the name “Australian Science Education Research Association” was adopted. Thus, ASERA is the second oldest science education research body on the planet (after the USA-based National Association for Research in Science Education, NARST, which preceded ASERA by decades). This meeting occurred 6 months before the first meeting of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE, first meeting in November 1970); thus it seems likely that ASERA can claim to have had the first educational research conference in Australia. (A list of all invitees to this initial Conference no longer exists, so there is no record of those who were invited but could not come.)

Before the next (1971) conference took place (at Macquarie University, Sydney) two newsletters were produced at Monash and circulated to an address list that was wider than the initial 26 participants in the first Conference; no record remains of this distribution list. The two newsletters are also in the document about the very early years.The New Zealand dimension of ASERA began with the attendance of the late Roger Osborne at the 1977 conference, but was not formalized in the name change to “Australasian” until 1990, 7 years after ASERA first met in New Zealand. 

The general belief at the first Conference was that every second ASERA Conference would be organized by Monash, a reflection of the fact that in 1970 Monash was the only substantial centre for science education research in Australia (a circumstance that changed dramatically over the next several years). The notion that Monash would be responsible for every second ASERA was part of the ‘gentle coercing’ that had the Macquarie organizers agree to host the second conference, and is why the third conference was held back in Melbourne with Monash organizational involvement (albeit at a very different form of venue – the headquarters of a major secondary science curriculum project [Australian Science Education Project – ASEP]). Such was the very rapid growth of Australian science education research and our strong Association that this perspective only lasted until ASERA 5 (and after 1975 the ASERA conference did not return to Monash until 1984).

From the outset ASERA adopted a very informal and collegial structure --- there was no constitution, essentially all ASERA business was considered and decided at a “Business Meeting” at the annual conference at which all attendees were clearly welcome as active participants. A significant decision taken at the 1971 Conference was to publish papers presented at the Conference, after refereeing; that is there would be an annual refereed post-conference form of proceedings, to be distributed to all conference attendees and those others (including libraries) who subscribed. The first of these, containing papers from ASERA 2, was titled Research 1971 (1971 being the year of the Conference), in 1972 Research 1972, and in 1973 Science Education: Research 1973. In 1974 a permanent name was adopted, Research in Science Education (RISE), with the 1974 edition of RISE designated Volume 4, in recognition of the preceding three years. The extent to which the Association’s structure was informal is clearly shown by the fact that the only positions in the Association were someone to collect and account for money (usually termed ‘Business Manager’), the person who would organise the next annual conference, and the editor of the post-conference publication.

The essence of the raison d’étre of ASERA was the conduct of the annual conference, a conference that would be assiduously collegial and open to all, and the publication of RISE as post-conference proceedings. Two striking aspects of the ongoing attempts to maintain collegiality and openness to all have been the deliberate complete absence of any invited keynote presentations (or keynotes of any form), and the maintenance of the original 40 minutes time allocation for each paper (with 20 minutes for the presentation and 20 minutes for discussion of the paper). This time allocation has been maintained to the present day by increasing the number of parallel sessions, something seen as preferable to reduction of available time for one presentation. The informality, lack of constitution, raison d’étre and RISE with this form continued into the early 1990s.

The active involvement of New Zealand in ASERA began in 1977, with the attendance at ASERA 7 in Wagga Wagga of the late Roger Osborne (of Children’s Ideas in Science, Osborne & Freyberg, and various LISP projects at Univ Waikato fame). New Zealand participation increased quickly and in 1983 ASERA was held in that country for the first time, at Univ Waikato in Hamilton). It was not until 1990 that this active New Zealand involvement was formalized through changing our name to the “Australasian Science Education Research Association”.

Through the early 1990s Prof Cam McRobbie (Queensland University of Technology) invested major time and effort to transform RISE away from post-conference refereed proceedings into the genuine international refereed journal that we know today. From the beginning of 1995 Kluwer (now Springer) took over the production of RISE and Cam McRobbie began 12 years as editor of this new research journal. RISE of course remains the journal of the Australasian Science Education Research Association, but since the beginning of 1995 the journal has had no formal linkage of any form with papers presented at ASERA conferences. (Those actively involved in ASERA through the early 1990s will also remember well the difficulties Cam McRobbie had in overcoming objections to this RISE transformation from some committed ASERA members.)

The transformation of RISE also required a major transformation of the Association itself, in part because to even begin serious negotiations about RISE Kluwer obviously needed to be able to deal with a legal entity (rather than the then informal and quite casual and still ‘constitutional-less’ association). Before Kluwer took over responsibility for production and marketing of RISE ASERA had become a legal entity registered under the Australian Companies Act, with consequent limited legal and financial liability of its members, audited accounts, and a constitution and formal office bearers (of the form that continues today). It is a fundamental aspect of ASERA that these major changes were undertaken while holding to the informality and collegiality of the conferences --- today there are still no keynote addresses, presentations still all have 40 minutes (and still in the original 20 + 20 form), and so all who present do so on a basis of equity of time and potential audience.

In response to the growth of forms of accountability/output demands of academics by their institutions and funding agencies, in recent years ASERA has implemented a new form of refereeing and then selected electronic publication of conference papers for those presenters who need such endorsement of their conference paper for their institution to accept it as of worth.

In 2003 ASERA held the first of its (almost always) biennial pre-conference workshops for Early Career Researchers. These are conducted immediately prior to the annual conference and in the same city as the annual conference. These workshops are one or two day events, and thus far have been held in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018.

Further reading about the history of ASERA

  • Cultural Studies of Science Education, 4 (2) (June 2009): This issue of CSSE has a strong  focus on ASERA; it contains some personal accounts of ASERA conferences, other accounts of history, and articles about 4 key figures in ASERA and Australasian science education research (Peter Fensham, Cam McRobbie, Roger Osborne, Léonie Rennie).
  • Fensham, P. (2009). The genesis of science education research in Australasia. In S. Ritchie (Ed.) Handbook of research in Australasia (The world of science education Volume 2). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. (Other chapters in this volume also have relevance.)
  • White, R. (1991). An overview of the Australasian perspective. In J. Northfield & D. Symington (Eds.). Learning science viewed as personal construction – An Australasian perspective. Perth: Key Centre for School Science and Mathematics. (Other chapters in this volume also have relevance, particularly Ch 3 which has a section “Research on teaching and learning reported in RISE in the 1970s”.)