Background: The Fund for Educational Development

Posted on May 21st, 2009 by Joss Winn

For the last two years, the Centre for Educational Research and Development have managed a Fund for Educational Development (FED), a competitive fund for projects that support the University’s Teaching and Learning Strategy 2007-2012 (PDF). The Chemistry.FM project is based on a FED project that Dr. Mark Baron and Dr. Jose Gonzalez-Rodriguez worked on during 2008-9. Incidentally, they’ve also been funded by the FED to continue their work again this year, producing further videos for a second year ‘Analytical Techniques for Forensic Science’ course.

We thought it might interest you to read more about the original FED proposal that eventually became the Chemistry.FM project. Here’s the original FED project outline.

Outline of proposed project (max 500 words)

Traditional methods of chemistry teaching are currently used within the Forensic Science degree (a Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) recognised course), with teaching programmes consisting of lectures, seminars and practical classes. This traditional approach, however, fails to identify the specific requirements of individuals in large classes (>100 students) with diverse abilities. As a consequence, many of our level 1 students struggle to achieve the level of competence in chemistry required to underpin the more advanced areas of study in levels 2 and 3. This not only impacts on the student experience as students perceive themselves as failing in chemistry and consequently expect to struggle in the chemistry related areas of the course but also removes a significant area of employment and further study open to our graduates.

We aim to address this by undertaking a major innovative project in which the way we teach chemistry at level 1 is radically changed from traditional methods of teaching to a continual skills audit approach. The chemistry syllabus will be transcribed into an extensive list of skills (learning outcomes) that the student must acquire, to at least a threshold level of competence, by the end of level 1. In this way the focus will be on achievement of learning outcomes with students being fully aware and involved in the process1 The emphasis will be on recognising the requirements of the individual and achievement rather than failure.

The benefits of such an approach are numerous including: targeted learning that supports the development of the individual and progress through their programme of study; students work at their own pace; students develop professional profile planning skills within the context of their subject; learning is motivational with the emphasis on achievement.

We have already introduced some changes to the course by recognising and recording competence achievement in laboratory work. Initial feedback from staff and students is encouraging. However to support the broader aims of the project we need to develop appropriate learning materials. Commercial video material is available and has been used extensively for laboratory skills training2 however this is generic and can be difficult to incorporate into specific activities. Video has also been widely used in distance learning teaching (Open University) to teach skills and understanding. The popularity of YouTube shows that video in a downloadable format is a medium that students regularly engage with and short video clips in chemistry are now available however many are simply traditional lectures or demonstrations of interesting (usually explosive) chemical reactions3. In this project we intend to produce a series of short video clips with each being aimed at teaching a particular level 1 chemistry skill. These will be downloadable as podcasts for use on students personal equipment such as computers, mobile phones and iPods. These will provide individual tuition as and when required by students but may also be used by tutors in lectures, seminars and laboratory classes. As such they will provide a versatile medium for teaching skills.

A novel approach proposed here is that we intend to use students as teachers in the video clips. It is known that successful learning can take place through student peer interaction in formal and informal settings and that students as teachers is a key aspect of any teaching and learning strategy4. We aim to take advantage of the communication skills used between students in informal learning within these video clips. There is plenty of good practice in the production of video material for general viewing of challenging conceptual areas of science that we can learn from5. It is also widely accepted in teaching that animation can be a powerful tool for visualising difficult ideas and so we intend to incorporate animations into the clips. As such the project will need input from media specialists to help produce scripts, animations and the video clips. We therefore propose to recruit a team of level 2 students consisting of forensic science and media studies students to work on this project.

Intended outcomes of the proposed project (max 200 words)

  1. Improve the learning experience of level 1 Forensic Science students studying chemistry
  2. Improve the achievement of level 1 Forensic Science students in chemistry skills that will support their progress and development at level 2 and 3
  3. Develop professional development planning skills of students within the context of their subject
  4. Provide versatile learning materials for students and academic staff
  5. Provide evidence of the value of this medium and its versatility in the teaching and learning of skills.
  6. Provide evidence of the value of developing structured teaching materials using students as teachers
  1. University of Lincoln The White Paper: Teaching and Learning Strategic Plan 2007-2012 Section 2.3 []
  2. Many examples from LGC/VAM and the Chemistry Video Consortium []
  3. Van Noorden R Chemistry World December 2007 46-49. []
  4. University of Lincoln Teaching and Learning Green Paper 2006 []
  5. Eminate NanoScience DVD 2007 []

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