DIT played host to the 8th Irish Variety in Chemistry Teaching meeting, modelled on the very successful UK Variety in Chemistry Education (ViCE) meeting on Thursday May 10th. There was a workshop in the morning covering two aspects of technology in chemistry teaching; using wikis, by Claire McDonnell, who demonstrated how to set up, edit and modify a wiki, along with highlighting the advantages of a wiki for monitoring group work – the ability to be able to track who did what and when. Claire identified this as the most useful aspect of wikis from her perspective in teaching. My own part of the workshop was on podcasting using Audacity, as outlined in the recent article in Education in Chemistry.
The remainder of the day was divided into two themes, Supporting Student Learning, and Broadening the Curriculum; followed by the keynote talk from David McGarvey at Keele.
Supporting Student Learning
There’s no doubt technology is becoming more and more common-place in chemistry education to support student learning. Christine O’Connor (DIT) opened this session describing her implementation of the use of podcasts to support lecture material and annotate worked examples. Her ongoing work involves investigating how students use these resources; some key points were that students liked the audio files with their lecturer’s voice, but they liked having print outs too as they could quickly scan through that material, which they can’t do with audio files.
Simon Collinson (Open University) described his work with Eleanor Crabb on the use of online chat-rooms to run tutorials (using Elluminate). The software allowed for voice, video, drawing and text from both instructors and students. Simon reported that while students liked the chat function, he was worried that with a large group the text box may get distracting. While students liked the idea of a microphone, they were reluctant to use it “on the spot”. Simon’s interested in looking at how providing students with some advance material ahead of the chat-room sessions might help reduce the cognitive burden involved in both being online and thinking about chemistry.
Pat O’Malley (DCU) used Articulate to prepare some pre-lab activities for students. Some clever ideas here included a virtual map of the lab, with Articulate Engage used to annotate the image so that students could navigate around the lab and familiarise themselves with where things were kept. along with videos on various techniques, he had a nice resource on how not to use a pipette, along with the result of a broken pipette meeting with a hand and some red stuff appearing. Pat assured us no students were harmed in the filming. In terms of getting students to use the resources, Pat described how he made some questions very specific to the resources, for example; what label (a) referred to in a particular slide.
Finally in this session was Mike Casey (UCD). Mike described the implementation of a student poster assignment, whereby the student had to take a medicinally relevant drug and make a poster on it, including the chemical structure, 3D structure, annotate functional groups in the drug and illustrate some physical properties. The students had to independently use resources to work out how to draw the structure and prepare the PowerPoint slide so it had a professional feel. What was most impressive was that this assignment was administered to class sizes of up to 450 students, and achieved a 96% completion. This was facilitated by using a lab session to introduce the assignment, and assign lab tutors to help students with queries. Each student gave a 5 minute presentation where the core organic chemistry of the slide could be discussed. It was a really simple, effective strategy, and Mike showed some clever ways of highlighting Ireland’s role in the development of pharmaceuticals.
Broadening the Curriculum
The second session of the afternoon was on the theme of broadening the curriculum. First up in this category was Tina Overton (Hull) who took us through some of her work on dynamic problem-based learning. The idea is that after presenting students with their problem and context as in a normal PBL scenario (for example, designing a green-campus, costing the impl,emtation of bio-diesel for a bus company), students are given some condition change mid-way through the project—for example: changing costs of materials, changing legislation, a natural event (e.g. earthquake), etc. Students would then have to re-assess the intial information they rquested and see how to adjust their project given the changing conditions. All of this was carefully implemented through well-organised card system, which probably accounted for the fact that students didn’t seem to mind the changing conditions, which they were not expecting. Feedback from students was positive. Tina is making several of these resources available on the RSC’s website later in the year.
Marie Walsh (LIT) spoke about her involvement in the “Chemistry is all around us” project—an evolving network of chemists from around Europe collating resources for chemistry education. The website from the original project is http://www.chemistry-is.eu/and the new project is focussed on three themes: (1) Students’ motivation; (2) Teacher Training; (3) Successful experiences. The new website is being developed at http://projects.pixel-online.org/chemistrynetwork/info/index.php.
Odilla Finlayson (DCU) spoke about integrating research awareness into the curriculum, by getting students to talk to research staff and postgraduate students. The process was organised through a lab-session where students would meet researchers in their teams and find out about their research/process of research, and then report their findings in a group presentation. Students reported that they liked the idea, and were much more aware of the research activities within the School.
David McGarvey (Keele) was the meeting keynote speaker, having won the 2011 RSC Higher Education Teaching Award. David gave a broad ranging talk covering various innovations he has initiated over the last number of years. These included developing context-based spectroscopy labs using sunscreens as a basis. As well as experimentation, the labs involved preparing a poster, completing a simulation on sunscreens depending on location in the world. One of the other novel features about this project was getting students to complete a mock assessment exercise using provided assessment criteria, so that students could really get a feel for how the assessment worked. David’s work on sunscreens is available in full at this Education in Chemistry Article.
Another project described was some impressive work with audio feedback. In the example shown, students had to prepare and deliver a PowerPoint presentation on a lab experiment. Rather than just providing feedback after submission, students were offered interim feedback on their PowerPoint slideshow. This was done using audio feedback, recorded with annotations using a tablet PC on the student’s work. David played a few of the sequences, showing the student’s interim submission, his feedback, and the student’s final submission incorporating the feedback points. It was very impressive, and a nice antidote to the notion that students don’t take feedback on board. Perhaps it might be better as a rule to give feedback on an interim basis rather than at the end? David’s work on audio feedback is available from page 5-9 in the July 2011 issue of New Directions [PDF].
David also managed to find some time to talk about his screencasting work, whereby he uses Camtasia to record screencasts to cover material causing difficulty to students, worked examples, etc. He recommended the use of a table of contents feature to allow easy navigation for students so they could jump to the section they wanted to listen to. David has also used screencasts as a means for feedback, in a collaborative project with Katherine Haxton, also at Keele (see New Directions, July 2011, p 18-21).
Thanks to all for a great day. The presentations will be available on the conference website by end of May.