Category Archives: chemistry teaching

Variety – Living Up to its Name!

Last week I attended the Variety in Chemistry Education conference in Loughborough.  As before this conference delivered a variety of topics on the subject of chemistry teaching and these ranged from problem based learning to diagnostic testing to developing an understanding of the misconceptions students have  about chemistry when they come to university.  Along the way there was a healthy slice of technology in the form of audio feedback and screencasting of lectures.

As is now my practice at conferences, I provided a number of tweets but found this to be a rather lonely experience in Loughborough compared to other national conferences I have attended (either remotely or in person).   Having said that the twitter stream for me is a great way to revisit the conference at a later date and so I have provided the tweets with the hashtag  #Variety10 below for ease of finding.

Would be grateful to hear from other physical scientists who tweet on a regular basis.   Come on, don’t be shy…… 🙂


  • Coming to the end of #Variety10. Thanks to everyone who took part for a great meeting.
    Fri Sep 03 13:31:12 +0000 2010
  • Last “byte” of #Variety10 on easing the school to university transition.
    Fri Sep 03 13:22:57 +0000 2010
  • Hearing about adaptive questions for e-assessment #Variety10
    Fri Sep 03 13:06:14 +0000 2010
  • Hearing why students do not like organic chemistry. They like naming compounds but don’t like reaction mechanisms and synthesis #Variety10
    Fri Sep 03 12:35:29 +0000 2010
  • Suggested that the mole could be described as a sub-terranean concept. Earthy chemistry humour at #Variety10
    Fri Sep 03 12:32:31 +0000 2010
  • Only 44% of surveyed university chemistry students had first learned about the mole at GCSE level #Variety10
    Fri Sep 03 12:25:08 +0000 2010
  • Next talk at #Variety10 is entitled “The Mole Misunderstood”
    Fri Sep 03 12:13:01 +0000 2010
  • We cannot allow students to lose the skill of drawing chemical structures #Variety10
    Fri Sep 03 12:11:52 +0000 2010
  • Listening to a talk on a chemistry diagnostic test for assessing basic and complex chemistry knowledge #Variety10
    Fri Sep 03 12:06:47 +0000 2010
  • @msars It was a great session. All of the presentations should be available at some point on the #Variety10 website
    Fri Sep 03 09:39:56 +0000 2010
  • Exploring crystal structures using during one of the workshop sessions at #Variety10
    Fri Sep 03 09:29:32 +0000 2010
  • Phenomenography – the different approaches students take to problem solving: being described now at #Variety10
    Fri Sep 03 08:44:31 +0000 2010
  • Here is the programme for #Variety10 ( Will try to find some chemistry humour to tweet 🙂
    Fri Sep 03 08:17:03 +0000 2010
  • First session of the day at #variety10. “From parrots to professionals: more effective chemistry graduates”.
    Fri Sep 03 08:14:03 +0000 2010
  • New Post: In Pursuit of Meaningful Learning (#Variety10): The following quote from Michael (2001) was circulated a…
    Thu Sep 02 14:56:31 +0000 2010
  • Now in a session at #Variety10 focussing on labs and practical work.
    Thu Sep 02 14:30:27 +0000 2010
  • Lunch over, now being introduced to ChemTube3D at #variety10
    Thu Sep 02 12:50:09 +0000 2010
  • @traceymadden @michaelkls was right! RT @michaelkls: I’ll see you there! In my experience chemists don’t tweet 🙂 #variety10
    Thu Sep 02 12:06:30 +0000 2010
  • RT @traceymadden: RT @PhysSciCentre: Variety in Chemistry Education Conference 2010 – follow it (or contribute) using the tag #variety10
    Thu Sep 02 11:11:30 +0000 2010
  • Screencasting of lectures does not adversely affect attendance #Variety10
    Thu Sep 02 11:10:46 +0000 2010
  • Getting ready to talk about our reflective video project ( at #Variety10 (
    Thu Sep 02 11:10:03 +0000 2010
  • Two good talks on screencasting of lectures. To edit or not to edit? #Variety10
    Thu Sep 02 11:09:58 +0000 2010
  • Some students think audio feedback is TOO personal #Variety10
    Thu Sep 02 10:45:01 +0000 2010
  • Great talk on audio feedback using #Audacity at #Variety10
    Thu Sep 02 10:40:50 +0000 2010
  • “You may feel that this is a little unclear but in fact I am lecturing it extremely well” Gaither 2002 #Variety10
    Thu Sep 02 09:49:53 +0000 2010
  • @michaelkls Maybe we can swing the trend.. there should be a few tweeters in attendance… #variety10
    Wed Sep 01 11:09:00 +0000 2010
  • New Post: Variety in Chemistry Education 2010: Today I am off to the Variety in Chemistry Education 2010 Conferenc…
    Wed Sep 01 10:33:56 +0000 2010
  • In Pursuit of Meaningful Learning (#Variety10)

    The following quote from Michael (2001) was circulated at the Variety in Chemistry Education 2010 conference today.  I though it was worthwhile to share!

    We would never dream of going into the research lab without knowing the latest methodologies and without knowing what those other “experts” out there are thinking about. But we routinely do just that when we go into the classroom.  So, we need to teach the way we do research. We need to start by educating ourselves through faculty development programs, through our own reading…and by attending teaching sessions at professional meetings… The list of possibilities is a long one.
    And we need to approach the phenomena that occur in our classrooms, what works and what doesn’t work, what helps our students to learn and what doesn’t seem to help them, with the same attitude of inquiry with which we approach interesting phenomena in the laboratory.  We must be prepared to “experiment,” to make changes in what we do and how we do it when we observe that things aren’t working or when we learn about better ways to accomplish whatever we seek to accomplish.  If nothing else, such an approach to teaching makes teaching a more intellectually stimulating activity and, as a bonus, a lot more fun!

    Joel Michael “In Pursuit of Meaningful LearningAdvances in Physiology Education 25: 145-158 2001 (Extract from page 156).

    Variety in Chemistry Education 2010

    Tomorrow I am off to the Variety in Chemistry Education 2010 Conference in Loughborough.  My previous experience of this conference was a very positive one; in particular the format which comprises short, to the point presentations rigidly and fairly regulated by the chair.

    I will  be presenting some of our work on the use of reflective video to engage students and am looking forward to the technology-focussed sessions.

    I also hope to provide a few tweets and will be using the hashtag #Variety10.  Does anyone know if this is the official one?

    The abstract of my talk is below:

    For the past two years we have provided first-year undergraduate students on bioscience courses the opportunity to make short reflective video logs of their experience in chemistry practical classes.  Three practical groups per laboratory session are provided with a video camera and brief instruction on its use.  Each group must reflect on particular aspects of the practical, highlighting anything they found difficult and offering advice to someone who may be repeating the experiment at a later time.  In so doing this promotes engagement with practical work during the session and thought towards how the material relates to lectures and other parts of the course.  The videos are then uploaded to a video sharing website ( hosted on university servers and shared with everyone enrolled on the introductory chemistry module.  Students may view, rate and comment upon their colleagues’ videos in a manner similar to the popular video sharing website You Tube.  The software used to construct the website also contains social networking functions allowing students to ‘make friends’ with other members of the module group.  This reflective tool has provided a collaborative and inclusive peer-learning environment for bioscience students in a subject that is often perceived as difficult and at a time when transition issues to university study may be encountered.

    You can find out more about our reflective video project here.

    Photo credit.

    Context/Problem Based Learning to Deliver Biological Mass Spectrometry

    I have been recently using context/problem based learning to deliver biological mass spectrometry to year one bioscience students. The approach has been generally well received and I plan to do a re-run this year but to a larger year one group. I reported on this at the UK Centre for Bioscience reps forum in September last year and have included the slides below.

    I would be very interested to hear from colleagues who have also used this approach in teaching in the biosciences or physical sciences.

    HEAT on Tour!

    HEAT on Tour Logo
    JISC TechDis have now collated lots of resources from the HEAT3 project on their website. These include videos of presentations given by some of the project holders at the Higher Education Academy Conference as well as project reports, and copies of posters etc. Imaginatively entitled “HEAT on Tour” it demonstrates the breadth of practice that has been facilitated though this very worthwhile scheme.

    You can view all of these resources by clicking the link above. The presentation is given below.

    Reflections of at #HEA09

    I was invited by Simon Ball from JISC TechDis to present our HEAT 3 project ( at the Higher Education Academy Conference in Manchester in July 2009. This entailed a brief oral presentation at the JISC TechDis stand at the exhibition during one of the refreshment breaks and a poster presentation during a session entitled “The curriculum crunch: meeting strategic challenges and supporting practitioners through innovative solutions.”

    This particular session drew together a number of projects form the JISC TechDis HEAT scheme and the Academy/JISC Collaboration and the Curriculium Design and Delivery programme. It was organised in such a manner as to give project holders opportunity to present their poster to small groups of participants. The format was excellent allowing for discussion with interested colleagues. The organisation of the event also allowed presenters themselves attend other presentations so no-one missed out.

    During my poster presentation (please see below) I outlined our reflective video sharing project for year one chemistry laboratory classes, JISC TechDIS HEAT3 supplied video cameras and a laptop for this project which was trialled for the first time in the 2008/09 academic year.

    The main questions that arose at the session were:

    Q. Will you be rolling out this idea across other modules?
    A. We hope to do so. The technology is now in place and we hope that with internal dissemination there may be other colleagues who wish to avail of the site.

    Q. Are there any “how to” guides either written or in video?
    A. Not at the present time. We hope as part of the dissemination to provide a short overview video of the project that may include screenshots etc.

    Q. Will you model the reflection next year?
    A. We are looking into the possibility of using last year’s videos as guides for next year’s cohorts. This would direct new students in how to complete the practical and the type of reflection expected.

    Q. Are you encouraging students to use their own mobile technologies?
    A. Yes. We identified one weakness of the project as being the lack of available cameras. However, as many mobile phones now have relatively good quality video cameras this may be explored as a way forward.

    Q. Do you know what students’ prior knowledge / skills in video editing are? They could teach each other / tutors!
    A. We plan next academic year to give students greater ownership of their video material and to allow them to do some editing if they wish. It is possible that they could engage in some peer learning if accomplished video editors were present in the group.

    Q. How easy is [the software to create the site] to use?
    A. There are a number of ways that the video sharing aspect of a project like this could be carried out. It may be possible for low numbers of students to create a private group on You Tube and to therefore avail of an existing video sharing site.

    There are also various “You Tube clone” scripts available on the web. Two of these are phpmotion and Vidiscript and both are available free of charge for the most basic package. In our project we used the latter, however we also plan to fully evaluate phpmotion as it seems to have some advantages. Installation of the script required the skills of a computing officer and also required some space on a webserver hosted within the University. This should be borne in mind when planning projects.

    One other option, again for low numbers of students would be to post videos on the module website on the Institution VLE.

    The HEAT3 projects are all listed on the JISC TechDis website.

    The presentations as part of the HEAT3 scheme were excellent and showed the impact that could be made on the learning environment with relatively small amounts of money (average funding per project was £1250).

    There were various other highlights throughout the rest of the conference and overall the event was very useful. Colleagues who had attended previous Annual Conferences noted that there were fewer academics in attendance this year. This is something that should be remedied in future years so that those closest to the interface with the student body can make the greatest impact.

    Enhancing the first-year learning experience: a case study from Biomedical Sciences

    Paul Hagan and I presented some of the work we have been doing within the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ulster to enhance the first-year experience of introductory chemistry. This presentation gives an overview of some of the innovations that have been introduced.

    These presentations were given as part of the Innovation In Teaching and Learning Support Programme of Lunchtime Seminars for 2008/9 organised by the newly formed Centre for Higher Education Practice at the University of Ulster.

    The presentations were given twice in October 2008 at the Coleraine and Magee campuses.

    Please see the link below for further details:

    Labs, Camera Action!

    A brief report on our reflective video project for year one chemistry laboratory sessions appeared in the summer 2009 edition of the Higher Education Academy Bioscience Centre Bulletin. The article is below via scribd while the full bulletin can be found here:

    Technology to Promote Student Engagement with Laboratory Practical Classes

    Going back to January 2009, there was the elearning conference hosted by the University of Ulster on the Belfast campus. The theme for the conference was “Supporting the iGeneration”.

    Highlights for me included the use of SMS texting during one of the presentations as a method of asking questions of the speaker. Also of value was Simon Ball’s session on useful technology to promote inclusivity.

    Paul Hagan and I had a poster presentation on our use of pre-practical assessment (using an online quiz script) to engage students with laboratory protocols before coming to lab and reflective videos to be made when they were conducting the experiment. There is just some scant detail in the poster below, but hopefully you get the idea!

    Welcome to PlanetChemistry

    Thanks for dropping by.  Recently on my twitter page someone posed the very valid question “May I ask, what is it you do ? , (on your twitter) 🙂 to do with chemistry”. This comment reminded me that perhaps I had not really articulated anywhere in blogosphere what it is I do with regard to chemistry.

    For the past 7 years I have been teaching introductory chemistry to year 1 undergraduates in the biosciences who are following programmes such as biology, biomedical science, dietetics, food and nutrition, human nutrition and pharmacology.

    The experience has been a challenging yet rewarding one.  The challenge has been in relating to a heterogeneous student group with a rich edudiversity.  Many of the students come to University with good A-level grades in chemistry while others have had little experience of the topic at all.  The reward is in finding new and innovative ways to make the topic relevant to the courses studied and to equip students with sufficient chemical knowledge to take them to the next level of their degree.

    Through this blog I hope to share some of the experiences gleaned along the way, but more importantly to learn from the experinces of other who have passed this way before and who have made student learning a much richer experience.