Contingency Planning

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 wrong…) from the compilation below.

Phase 1: Immediate Disruption – managing teaching alternatives

Aim: to continue the curriculum as much as possible, with clear communication to staff and students as to what options are available, and where resources are. This is done by time release (week by week) of prepopulated online class links and other details on the course homepage of the VLE.

  • Clear decision making process with authority delegated to key stakeholders. One person responsible in this phase for all staff and student communications with a back-up nominated and cc-ed from the outset; staff communications crucial at this stage;
  • Lectures: We mapped our existing timetable online and delivered a combination of:
    • Live lecture via webinar system (e.g. Blackboard Collaborate) – good for staff who have a full slide deck and little board work
    • Lecture recordings (full or in parts) released to students with live lecture discussion via webinar (a form of flipped lecturing) – good where existing recordings are available and staff comfortable with live classrooms
    • Lecture given live and live streamed, with questions via email (assuming building is open) – good for staff who are uncomfortable giving webinar type lecture
  • Tutorials were managed in a similar manner, and staff typically:
    • Go through tutorial answers with discussion in online webchat
    • Release tutorial answers and have discussion in online webchat on any difficulties
    • Release tutorial answers and have discussion by email or discussion board
  • Labs: We were at the end of our lab cycle so finished just short of the finish line. Clearly future contingency will need to consider laboratory alternatives (see Phase 4).
  • Coursework: all activities moved to online submission. Some events, such as presentations, changed to students submitting PowerPoint decks with outline of presentation, or were cancelled.

Phase 2: Preparing for Alternative Examinations

Aim: to introduce an alternative to in-person closed book exams, that matches similar assessment of learning outcomes, allows students to handwrite, can be completed anywhere in the world, being as low tech as possible, and allows students to perform in an equitable manner

  • We have opted to issue our exams as open book assessments.
  • Students will be given paper in advance, password protected, which they can download from a special VLE site for each paper. This reduces internet connection concerns on the day.
  • Students will be asked to agree to a revised Code of Conduct.
  • Students use the password released at the start time of the assessment. Password release by email, on VLE, and possibly by text.
  • Students take photos of their work, and generate a PDF, which can be concatenated (using Adobe Scan mobile app, a solution I am currently exploring – thanks to Ross Galloway for this tip) and uploaded via mobile to VLE, on a question by question basis (use grayscale to reduce size of file). We are exploring a parallel e-mail bin for each exam. Option with advance notice of students sending papers back by registered post.
  • Process will be issued using existing published timetable, assuming no clashes within (exactly) 24 hours of start times.
  • Answer files then distributed to markers in a batch zip file for anonymous marking.
  • Note: at Edinburgh, all non-honours exams were cancelled centrally, so course (module) marks for these are generated by known existing marks – lab and other course marks in our case.

 Phase 3: Get students’ focus back on studying chemistry

Aim: to “normalise” the new arrangements, online teaching, preparation for open book exams, and make sure isolated students’ welfare is closely monitored

  • Return to regular communication with central focus on two streams – one on academic matters and one on student support. At Edinburgh we split this activity across two people (Director of Teaching and Senior Personal Tutor).
  • In academic terms, communications around getting on with study, study advice for different assessment formats, making sure students are pushed back to thinking about tutorials, revisions, thesis writing etc. The tone is regular, even mundane (by design!), just to aim to get students to focus in the current chaos. In addition, we will be releasing a mock exam system so that students can interact with it, get a feel for it and check it out in their situation, for reassurance (on both sides) more than anything else. All academic guidance about new arrangements located on a single webpage, with all VLE course (modules) linking to it. This means students have information centrally as well as in email.
  • In student support terms, we are worried about isolation. We pushed strongly in all email correspondence and Twitter unambiguous messages that we want to stay in contact, and prompting students to contact DoT/SPT/PT for anything; the language here was personal and casual. This is then followed by regular webchats – twice weekly online Q+As where students can ask anything. These have been very popular, and have moved from lots (and lots) of queries about exam paper format to students (and staff) sharing pictures of their dogs. We don’t care, the intention is to just keep a conversation going. We’ve also created a “kudoboard” which will act as an online Yearbook (see: https://www.kudoboard.com/) – students can just post anything they want there.
  • These approaches have been very well received by students. The key message is: you cannot communicate enough, but that communication needs to be well planned, and unambiguous. We have a policy of getting every major email second read, at least, with relevant stakeholders.

Phase 4: Mop up and prepare for future?

Aim: once immediate task is completed, what can we learn? And how do we prepare for a more serious (mid-semester) interruption.

  • We have garnered a huge swell of goodwill from staff who have seen many benefits of lecture recordings, online interaction, and dialogue, and the importance of dialogue in general. We plan to consider how to continue this, even in low tech ways, when teaching returns to normal.
  • The move to open book assessments will open a big opportunity for chemistry to really rethink assessment for 21st century. Lots of opportunities to pursue here.
  • The chemistry community (worldwide) is very underprepared for major interruptions to laboratory teaching, and I think there is scope for significant collaboration in generating datasets and banks of materials for alternatives to lab classes in the event of future interruptions.

 

Chemistry, Pedagogy

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 poll, with 115 citations on Web of Science (Clarivate) and 262 on Google Scholar. In fact the top 4 hits are perspectives or reviews.

Title Authors/ Year Source Total Citations (Google Scholar) Average per Year (Google Scholar Average)  Article Type
Revisiting the chemistry triplet: drawing upon the nature of chemical knowledge and the psychology of learning to inform chemistry education Taber, Keith S. / 2013 Link 115 (262) 16.43 (37.4) Perspective
Rethinking chemistry: a learning progression on chemical thinking Sevian, Hannah; Talanquer, Vicente / 2014 Link 77 (136) 12.83 (22.7) Perspective
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and chemistry education Burmeister, Mareike; Rauch, Franz; Eilks, Ingo / 2012 Link 75 (210) 9.38 (26.2) Perspective
Flipped learning in higher education chemistry: emerging trends and potential directions Seery, Michael K. / 2015 Link 67 (145) 13.4 (29) Review
The flipped classroom for teaching organic chemistry in small classes: is it effective? Fautch, Jessica M. /2015 Link 66 (147) 13.2 (29.4) Article
Student attitudes toward flipping the general chemistry classroom Smith, J. Dominic / 2013 Link 61 (132) 8.71 (18.9) Article
A comparative study of traditional, inquiry-based, and research-based laboratory curricula: impacts on understanding of the nature of science Russell, Cianan B.; Weaver, Gabriela C. /2011 Link 54 (97) 6 (10.8) Article
Structure and evaluation of flipped chemistry courses: organic & spectroscopy, large and small, first to third year, English and French Flynn, Alison B. / 2015 Link 53 (102) 10.6 (20.4) Article
Development and validation of the implicit information from Lewis structures instrument (IILSI): do students connect structures with properties? Cooper, Melanie M.; Underwood, Sonia M.; Hilley, Caleb Z. / 2012 Link 51 (85) 6.38 (10.6) Article
Let’s teach how we think instead of what we know Talanquer, Vicente; Pollard, John / 2010 Link 49 (101) 4.9 (10.1) Article

A fairer way of looking at citations is the average number of citations per year. This means that older papers which have had a longer time to accumulate citations are averaged out. (However this is still not fair to recent papers, which will not have had a chance to be cited at all, or will not benefit from a cumulative citation effect). However, on this cut, Weaver’s paper on nature of science in the lab (this is an excellent paper which really should be better known), Cooper’s paper on IILSI, and Talanquer’s paper on teaching how to think drop out of the top 10, and the top 10 based on average citations become (new additions with *):

Title Authors Publication Date DOI Average per Year (Google average)  Article type
Revisiting the chemistry triplet: drawing upon the nature of chemical knowledge and the psychology of learning to inform chemistry education Taber, Keith S. 2013 Link 16.43 (37.4) Perspective
Flipped learning in higher education chemistry: emerging trends and potential directions Seery, Michael K. 2015 Link 13.4 (29) Review
The flipped classroom for teaching organic chemistry in small classes: is it effective? Fautch, Jessica M. 2015 Link 13.2 (29.4) Article
Rethinking chemistry: a learning progression on chemical thinking Sevian, Hannah; Talanquer, Vicente 2014 Link 12.83 (22.7) Perspective
Structure and evaluation of flipped chemistry courses: organic & spectroscopy, large and small, first to third year, English and French Flynn, Alison B. 2015 Link 10.6 (20.4) Article
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and chemistry education Burmeister, Mareike; Rauch, Franz; Eilks, Ingo 2012 Link 9.38 (26.3) Perspective
*Flipped classroom modules for large enrollment general chemistry courses: a low barrier approach to increase active learning and improve student grades Eichler, Jack F.; Peeples, Junelyn 2016 Link 9 (20) Article
Student attitudes toward flipping the general chemistry classroom Smith, J. Dominic 2013 Link 8.71 (18.9) Article
*How flip teaching supports undergraduate chemistry laboratory learning Teo, Tang Wee; Tan, Kim Chwee Daniel; Yan, Yaw Kai; Teo, Yong Chua; Yeo, Leck Wee 2014 Link 8 (15.8) Article
*What is a hydrogen bond? Resonance covalency in the supramolecular domain Weinhold, Frank; Klein, Roger A. 2014 Link 8 (11) Perspective

Google Scholar shows much higher number of citations, as Google draws citations from a much broader range of sources. In general, while the order of articles may differ slightly, Google and Web of Science match up well, but there are some notable exceptions – James Nyachwaya’s paper Evaluation of chemical representations in physical chemistry textbooks jumps from 152nd in the Web of Science average list to 9th most average citations in Google Scholar and Bette Davidowitz’s paper on student generated micro-diagrams jumps from 72nd to 12th.

Finally, reviews and perspectives are naturally going to attract more citations, so just considering research articles, the top 10 most average citations are below. It seems it was the decade for flipped learning and organic chemistry!

Title Authors Publication Date DOI Total Citations Average per Year
The flipped classroom for teaching organic chemistry in small classes: is it effective? Fautch, Jessica M. 2015 Link 66 13.2
Structure and evaluation of flipped chemistry courses: organic & spectroscopy, large and small, first to third year, English and French Flynn, Alison B. 2015 Link 53 10.6
Flipped classroom modules for large enrollment general chemistry courses: a low barrier approach to increase active learning and improve student grades Eichler, Jack F.; Peeples, Junelyn 2016 Link 36 9
Student attitudes toward flipping the general chemistry classroom Smith, J. Dominic 2013 Link 61 8.71
How flip teaching supports undergraduate chemistry laboratory learning Teo, Tang Wee; Tan, Kim Chwee Daniel; Yan, Yaw Kai; Teo, Yong Chua; Yeo, Leck Wee 2014 Link 48 8
Development and validation of the implicit information from Lewis structures instrument (IILSI): do students connect structures with properties? Cooper, Melanie M.; Underwood, Sonia M.; Hilley, Caleb Z. 2012 Link 51 6.38
A comparative study of traditional, inquiry-based, and research-based laboratory curricula: impacts on understanding of the nature of science Russell, Cianan B.; Weaver, Gabriela C. 2011 Link 54 6
Characterizing illusions of competence in introductory chemistry students Pazicni, Samuel; Bauer, Christopher F. 2014 Link 32 5.33
Students’ interpretations of mechanistic language in organic chemistry before learning reactions Galloway, Kelli R.; Stoyanovich, Carlee; Flynn, Alison B. 2017 Link 16 5.33
Language of mechanisms: exam analysis reveals students’ strengths, strategies, and errors when using the electron-pushing formalism (curved arrows) in new reactions Flynn, Alison B.; Featherstone, Ryan B. 2017 Link 16 5.33

 

Book review, Chemistry, Context, Laboratory, Pedagogy

A new book on teaching chemistry in higher education

Cover webThis 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 the approaches are situated in chemistry, most chapters will be relevant to many other disciplines. The book contains 30 chapters, with 452 pages. There is something for everyone!

Festschrift tweet compilationThe book is dedicated to Professor Tina Overton, and carries the subtitle of a Festschrift in her honour. Festschrift is a German word for a writing celebration in honour of a scholar, and those invited to contribute a chapter wished to celebrate her influence on their career and/or pedagogical approaches they were describing. The book idea came about when I was in Australia visiting Tina and attending an Australian chemistry conference. It was clear from the education strand of the conference that Tina’s influence in Australia was as strong as it had been in the UK and Ireland – no mean feat given she was only there three years at the time. I decided that we needed to celebrate Tina’s contribution to chemistry education in some way, and following her general lead regarding pragmatism, decided that a book describing useful approaches to teaching chemistry would be the best way to do it. Together with my co-editor Claire Mc Donnell, we invited a range of educators from Ireland, UK, and Australia to contribute chapters. The book is available on Amazon by searching for its title (UK and Ireland Amazon here).

Chapter Details

Foreword: Overton, T. L. (2019), “Foreword from Prof Tina Overton, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 1-4.

  1. Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (2019), “Introduction to the Festschrift, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 5-8.
  2. Turner, K. L. (2019), “A framework to evaluate the transition to undergraduate studies in chemistry”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 9-22.
  3. Read, D., Barnes, S. M., Hyde, J., and Wright, J. S. (2019), “Nurturing reflection in science foundation year undergraduate students, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 23-38.
  4. Ryan, B. J. (2019), “Integration of technology in the chemistry classroom and laboratory, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 39-54.
  5. Yuriev, E., Basal, S. and Vo, K. (2019), “Developing problem-solving skills in physical chemistry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 55-76.
  6. Shallcross, D. E. (2019), “A pre-arrival summer school to solve the maths problem in chemistry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 77-88.
  7. Lancaster, S. J., Cook, D. F. and Massingberd-Mundy, W. J. (2019), “Peer instruction as a flexible, scalable, active learning approach in higher education, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 89-104.
  8. Lawrie, G., Matthews, K. E. and Gahan, L. (2019), “Collaborative, scenario-based, open-ended, problem-solving tasks in chemistry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 105-122.
  9. Williams, D. P. (2019), “Context- and problem-based learning in chemistry in higher education, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 123-136.
  10. O’Connor, C. M. (2019), “Approaches to context-based learning in higher education chemistry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 137-150.
  11. Rowley, N. M. (2019), “Developing inquiring minds through learning chemistry”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 151-164.
  12. Mistry, N. (2019), “Diagnosing and addressing the issues faced when students learn stereochemistry”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 165-180.
  13. Fergus, S. (2019), “Using PeerWise to support the transition to higher education, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 181-194.
  14. Gaynor, J. W. (2019), “Student-led interviews to develop employability skills, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 195-208.
  15. Mc Donnell, C. and Murphy, V. L. (2019), “Implementing community engaged learning with chemistry undergraduates, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 209-224.
  16. Essex, J. (2019), “Implementing inquiry-based learning activities in chemistry education, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 225-236.
  17. Sedghi, G. (2019), “A sustainable peer assisted learning model for chemistry undergraduates, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 237-248.
  18. Pask, C. M. and Pugh, S. L. (2019), “Developing business and employability skills for undergraduate chemists, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 249-264.
  19. Haxton, K. J. (2019), “Undergraduate screencast presentations with self-, peer-, and tutor-assessment, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 265-282.
  20. Southam, D. C. and Rohl, B. M. (2019), “Computational thinking in the chemical sciences curriculum, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 283-300.
  21. Slaughter, J. L. and Bianchi, L. (2019), “Student-led research groups for supporting education research projects, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 301-314.
  22. Spagnoli, D., Rummey, C., Man, N. Y. T., Wills, S. S. and Clemons, T. D. (2019), “Designing online pre-laboratory activities for chemistry undergraduate laboratories, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 315-332.
  23. Capel, N. J., Hancock, L. M., Haxton, K. J., Hollamby, M. J., Jones, R. H., Plana, D. and McGarvey, D. J. (2019), “Developing scientific reporting skills of early undergraduate chemistry students, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 333-348.
  24. Seery, M. K., Agustian, H. Y. and Lambert, T. O. (2019), “Teaching and assessing technical competency in the chemistry laboratory, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 349-362.
  25. Ziebell, A., George-Williams, S. R., Danczak, S. M., Ogunde, J. C., Hill, M. A., Fernandez, K., Sarkar, M., Thompson, C. D. and Overton, T. L. (2019), “Overturning a laboratory course to develop 21st century skills, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 363-376.
  26. Thomson, P. I. T., McShannon, L. and Owens, S. (2019), “Introducing elements of inquiry in to undergraduate chemistry laboratories, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 377-390.
  27. Burnham, J. A. J. (2019), “Developing student expertise in scientific inquiry, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 391-404.
  28. Hyde, J. (2019), “Design of a three year laboratory programme for international delivery, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 405-420.
  29. Flaherty, A, Overton, T. L., O’Dwyer, A, Mannix-McNamara, P. and Leahy, J. J. (2019), “Working with chemistry graduate teaching assistants to enhance how they teach in the chemistry laboratory”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 421-434.
  30. Randles, C. A. (2019), “Developing reflective practice with graduate teaching assistants”, in Seery, M. K. and Mc Donnell, C. (Eds.), Teaching Chemistry in Higher Education: A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton, Creathach Press, Dublin, pp. 435-451.
Pedagogy

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:

  1. 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 (in the case of oral presentations). Where possible, allow for some think-pair-share talk before the Q&A and discussion with the group. If the conference is going to be streamed, discussions will be one of the main reasons to come along. Also, there is a pretty healthy backchannel at these conferences, with a bit of thought could be brought into discussions (e.g. up-voting question apps, etc).
  2. Simplify the presentation formats – at the moment we have keynotes, oral presentations, oral bites, and posters. People submit for one (e.g. a presentation) but get allocated another (e.g. a bite). The original idea of bites was that they would be a quick and easy talk about a “good idea” or something that people wanted to quickly share. But bites now are mostly mini talks, where presenters squeeze their 15 minute research talk into 5 minutes. Now that we have posters, let’s get rid of bites. Make all presentations 10 minutes long (+ 5 separate minutes of discussion). Keynotes for a one-and-a-half day conference should be 30 minutes (+ 15 discussion). Chairing needs to be ruthless. The poster session on Friday morning worked great, and perhaps giving poster presenters 60 seconds at the end of Thursday to pitch their poster would help attendees navigate to posters of interest the following morning.
  3. Have a single stream – perhaps most controversial (ooooh); I think the conference would benefit from a single stream. It keeps everybody together; keeps that sense of discussion going, and means the conference as a whole can start to generate some overall headline outcomes in advancing the disciplines, rather than just a series of lots of little things. I think the keynotes and oral bites sessions (given to one audience) show that single streams are beneficial. Parallel workshops do make sense, but given the shortness of the conference, one hour workshops are more appropriate.
  4. Guidelines for presenters – there is a variety in style and quality of presentations and for people new to the discipline, it would be useful to set out what different types of presentations are valuable, along with guidance on structuring these. This is especially important for people transmuting from bench chemistry type conferences into education conferences. This guidance should be available at abstract submission stage.
  5. Bring in external voices – I think it was useful having an external voice this year (someone not directly from chemistry or physics education) and perhaps that should be a continuing feature. What can we learn from leaders in other disciplines, learning and cognitive scientists, career guidance people, industrialists, primary and secondary educators, students themselves…? I’m guessing quite a lot.
Uncategorized

A Year of Ups but also Downs

It has been an interesting (academic) year at Seery Towers and our fridge has had plenty of bubbly alcohol flowing through it. Some of the many highs of the year include becoming Director of Teaching, becoming Editor of Chemistry Education Research and Practice, running another MICER, publishing the Overton Festschrift, being elected Chair of the 2023 CERP Gordon Research Conference (wut?), and of course finding out in February (May, of course I mean May!) that I was promoted to Professor. Yay!

Schadenfreude

Academia is generally a place where we are used to talking about success. I think this is a good thing – the work involved in new publications and prizes and promotions (P3), sometimes against the odds of university systems they were achieved in, should be celebrated and lauded.

There is much less talk of associated “downs” – I am reluctant to call them failures as I believe they are part of the successes that we are more public about. Certainly we see more openness about grant/paper rejections on social media, and while that is ephemeral, it does help contribute to a more realistic perspective of the full breadth of academic life. In many ways I wonder if we should have a “Not Successful” part of our official websites – wouldn’t that make the successes all the more special? Beckett said to “fail again, fail better!” – isn’t that academia?

Further to that, even failing is bloody hard work, and maybe we should be honest about times when we are just floating a bit. I’m coming around to an idea that academic life isn’t a marathon, but a mountain hike. There are times when you can give your all, creative juices flowing, outputs both good and bad are in overdrive. But also times when you just want to sit and watch the clouds go by while you eat your cheese sandwich. Coming to terms with the fact that there might be times when easing off the accelerator and just being has helped me deal with the near constant concern of burning out, the stress of feeling that I should be writing those papers in the queue or replying to those emails or doing something – anything – above the normal baseline. But perhaps for periods of time, like a kind of academic circadian rhythm, the baseline is just ok.

Recently I had email correspondence with someone who was looking for help with something. It was something I would have loved to have done, but knew that I wouldn’t have time to do properly. I (eventually) replied, full of apology. The response was that the reader had gained solace in reading that I was too busy, and was happy that I was able to say no because it resonated with their own sense of feeling too busy while wanting to do things. If we only project all of our successful things, will others who just see our shiny websites only see that side of us? The knowledge of our “failures” can put the extent of our success into context, including what those successes truly mean to us.

I’ve been battling with my own failures this year. I’ll mention two. I haven’t had any serious writing time and therefore my output has reduced. This is a “not success” for me because the reason I am an academic is that I love reading and writing (and teaching, naturellement!). Not being able to write means I am not doing the part of the job I enjoy most. I don’t intend this to be a statement reflecting how super busy I am – I could find the time but I have not been successful in protecting it, nor using the time I have properly. Knowing that failure helps me redouble efforts to protect time to write, or just to enjoy a cheese sandwich, and therefore being allowed to indulge just a little more when that final “accept” email does come.

To offset the glorious opening, I will conclude with sharing that I did not receive a National Teaching Fellowship this year. I thought I met the standard, but somehow did not convey that in my application. Colleagues have kindly played the Victor Meldrew role for me, but I am ok about it (hearing in Tuscany en route to a glass of prosecco meant I was quickly consoled). But if I ever were to receive it in future, wouldn’t everyone know that it meant more because I didn’t get it first time around? And I guess that is the point.