Remembering Friday 13th March 2020

On Friday 13th March 2020 I wrote to all students and staff in the School of Chemistry to announce that all teaching was moving online for the remaining three weeks of semester. The email was a result of a busy few weeks of activity planning contingencies as we worked to comprehend what the impact of COVID-19 would be — if any. In the weeks running up to the event, contingency work was very much in the context of “worse-case scenario”; indeed it started off from the perspective that COVID-19 had prompted general agreement that we should have a contingency plan…

Passing on the Editor’s pen at CERP

From the start of this month I began my slow fading away as Editor of Chemistry Education Research and Practice and I am delighted to say that involved handing over the reins to Professor Gwen Lawrie, who has taken up the position as Editor in Chief of the journal. It was a very difficult decision to stand down from the journal that I have been working closely with for five years, but the right one for me at this time. On taking up a position like this, you make mad plans and generate lots of “great ideas”, but in reality…

State of the nation

An email the other day reminded me with some cheer that it is 66 days until students return. Remove days for annual leave, weekends, and just wailing hopelessly into the void, that does not leave many days left To Do Things. And there are lots of Things To Do. We’ve just come through a month of consultation with staff and students where I’ve shared plans and sought feedback and ideas. Consultation with staff was quite empowering. I hear a lot about staff in research intensive universities and their supposed negative attitudes towards anything teaching related, but my email box is…

Capturing hand-writing in desktop-lecture capture

As people begin planning recording materials for online delivery of lectures, one aspect to consider is the capture of hand-writing. Students have been clear with us that where lecturers normally work through problems/reactions etc, they want that to continue, and don’t want “death by PowerPoint” (albeit beautifully produced). I bought the HUE-HD camera which has a flexible arm to the camera and have been playing with options. It is relatively easy to use this webcam as a document camera for screen capturing recordings as follows. (HUE-HD does not come with Yorkshire tea.) The HUE-HD document camera should not be used…

Micro-structuring students’ learning with SMARTS

Much of our interaction with students involves structuring their work as they move through a curriculum. The very presence of a timetable is a headline structure, telling students when they will hear content on particular topics, when they will discuss it in class, and when they will work in labs. Much of my own work is focussed on micro-structuring – that is to say structuring at School level but with consideration of individual student actions. For example, in labs and tutorials, we’ve had a lot of success with structuring students work before, during, and after contact time. This means students…

Helping students manage “The 48 Hours” assessment period

Our exams begin next week, and our focus this week is getting students ready for managing themselves and their academic performance in the exam period. Two key issues from the student perspective are understanding what that 48 hours looks like for them, and giving strong guidance on keeping focussed in their exam answers. A problem with 48 hours is that it is two sleeps, not one, and we want to push a strong message of keeping up a regular and healthy pattern of sleeping and eating over the exam period, with clear advice and directions if students are looking for…

Compilation of COVID-19 Contingency Posts

I’ve received quite a lot of correspondence about the recent spate of posts and am very glad sharing my own thoughts has been helpful. I’ve listed all COVID-response posts below for convenicence and will update as new ones are added. I’ve broken them into two themes – Teaching Planning (from a whole-School perspective) and Moving Labs Online. Teaching Planning Managing and recovering from serious interruption to teaching This post was the first in the series, looking at the four stages we are working through from interruption to return to normalcy – currently at the end of stage 3…! Supporting student…

Moving early undergraduate chemistry labs online

The last post discussed an advanced physical chemistry lab, and in this one I want to summarise more concrete plans for how we can move an early undergraduate lab online. The key thing for us at early undergrad stage is teaching chemical technique, and getting students to think about recording data and drawing conclusions from experiments. An important factor is that at this stage, students probably expect that they will be learning about technique. Coming into university from school, their perception will be that they want to learn about chemical techniques, and lots of them. A problem I have summarised…

Moving a (physical) chemistry lab online

The last post discussed some epistemological considerations (roll with it) on moving chemistry labs online, sharing some concerns about trying to teach technique via fancy swipey-wipe interactions (roll with it).This one aims to be a bit more grounded. If we were to move a lab online, what might it look like? I am going to go through my first draft of thinking for moving a physical chemistry lab online below. The headline considerations for me are: (1) not to create busy work for the student for the sake of it; (2) some bits of lab work aren’t really that great,…

What is an “online chemistry lab”?

Prelude The massive shift to online teaching and learning for us in Edinburgh focussed on lectures and tutorials, as we were comparatively lucky in timing – our semester starts and ends very early in the calendar year, which meant that our students were able to complete the majority of their labs. Knowing what I have lived through over the last weeks, I empathise with educators from the other side of the world who are just beginning their teaching year, and those teaching summer semesters: I realise how lucky I am! I mention this as a prelude as I want to…