Blog

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…

Inaugural Lecture: Supporting student learning in complex environments

In February I gave my Inaugural Lecture to celebrate the awarding of the Chair in Chemistry Education. The lecture was recorded, and I am grateful to the folks at Academic Audio Transcription who have undertaken the very tough task of transcribing my very strange accent, so that I can now share the lecture with subtitles. As well as introduction (~4 mins) the lecture is in three parts – learning in the lab, a bit about me, and work around student inclusion. If you are interested in some of the aspects mentioned in this lecture, some follow-up links are below, which themselves…

Managing information from student perspective during COVID contingencies

My colleague Chris Mowat and I co-wrote a blog post for our university’s Teaching Matters blog, which I am linking here as it pulls together a lot of our activities into one post, so might be useful for people in a hurry! The end of academic year is a busy time for students in normal circumstances, but this year, in addition to spending this time reviewing all of their courses and getting ready for assessment, there is a swell in information relating to managing alternative arrangements due to COVID-19 that our honours students have to process. As a combined effort, we…

Managing the open-book exam process

At Edinburgh, we are mostly moving to replacing our 3 hour exams with open book exams. We had initially intended these to be within 24 hour timeframes, but the University has mandated 48. Otherwise, things are as described in the previous post. So students will need to access an exam paper from a  specific “start time” and submit their written answers no later than 48 hours than that start time. Easy! Having looked through the various options, I am going with the following 5 step plan based on Blackboard Assignments (rather than Turnitin), described below in terms of front of…

Supporting student study in the “pivot” online

As mentioned in last post, we are focussing our current efforts on two strands – maintaining and promoting academic focus, and being active in student support, the second aspect being led by m’colleague Chris Mowat. In terms of academic focus, we are moving our closed book exams to open book. Of course this seems “easier”, but I think brings new challenges for students in their study. All that study time spent learning things off doesn’t seem as important now, and we are moving our focus to asking students to think about what questions are asking, showing their understanding concisely in answers,…

Managing and recovering from serious interruption to teaching

The internet has been full of amazing advice over the last few weeks on technical issues relating to moving online. I’ve nothing to add to that, but thought I might offer our perspective from managing the whole process overall. Below are some notes I have sketched out on how we have dealt and are continuing to deal with with events of the last few weeks. We are sharing these with other chemistry departments in UK/IE, and I am publishing here for more general interest. As well as sharing, I am keen to learn. What is missing, what isn’t clear… (what’s…

Looking back on ten years of Chemistry Education Research and Practice

Over the last 10 years from 2010 – 2019, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, a free-to-access journal published by the RSC (of which I am currently Editor) has published 631 articles, which have been cited 5246 times (data from Web of Science). So what has been “hot” this last decade? It seems whatever way you cut it, it was flipped learning and organic chemistry… Below I’ve cut the citation statistics a few ways – these comments are based on citations rather than judgement on the work itself. In terms of number of citations, Keith Taber’s perspective on the chemistry triplet tops the…

A new book on teaching chemistry in higher education

This summer I published a very special book on teaching chemistry in higher education. Each chapter in the book contains some approach on teaching chemistry, written by someone who has implemented that approach more than once in their own setting. Chapters explain how the approaches are grounded in the literature, explain the rationale for the approach, and then go on to give some detail on the implementation and outcomes of the approach. Thus the book intends to be useful to those new or reconsidering approaches to teaching chemistry in higher education, as well as those involved in education development. While…

Five suggestions for future VICEPHEC meetings

It is great news that there is going to be a Committee of Elders looking after future VICEPHEC meetings. Here are five suggestions on the structure of this conference: Structure discussion time – discussion time needs to be structured into the programme. A good rule of thumb is to have at least half of the time allocated to presentations as discussion, so a 10 minute talk should have 5 minutes discussion, a 30 minute keynote should have 15 minutes discussion. Discussions should be structured by Chairs, perhaps with prompting questions (in the case of keynotes) and questions on a theme…