Tag Archives: HEA Bioscience

The OUP Bioscience Education Summit at Ulster University

The Jordanstown campus of Ulster University was the venue in September for the national Bioscience Education Summit, an annual two day event that draws together academic teaching practitioners in the bioscience discipline from various institutions throughout the UK.  This year there were delegates from 23 UK universities in attendance along with representatives from the Higher Education Academy and Oxford University Press.

The Summit included a presentation from the most recent recipient of the national Bioscience Teacher of the Year Award (Dr Mark Clements from University of Westminster) and there were short “swap shop” sessions for sharing of practice. This combined with discussion around topical issues in learning and teaching in the biosciences made for a stimulating event.

A Storify of the event is available from this link.

The Summit was originally a forum for academic departmental representatives of the Higher Education Academy UK Centre for Bioscience. The yearly meeting was an opportunity for colleagues to hear about the work of the Centre, to share best practice, and to benefit from networking within a supportive and collegiate environment.

With the demise of the HEA Subject Centres the bioscience community has made efforts to maintain this network of teaching practitioners and has sought to continue hosting the annual September event; rebranded as the Bioscience Education Summit.

The organising committee are very grateful to the support from Oxford University Press that has made this year’s event possible. They also thank the School of Biomedical Sciences and the Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice (CHERP) at Ulster University for their valuable support.

Playing with Prezi – Thoughts & Tips

I had a go at using Prezi for my presentation at the Effective Learning in the Biosciences in Conference in Edinburgh last week.  This was the first time I had used Prezi outside my own Institution and I provide below some of my reflections and thoughts on its use as a presentation tool, especially in the educational context.

1. To use Prezi you need to visit the Prezi website and register for an account which is free for educational use.  You may author your presentations online and then download the entire presentation when you are ready to show it to your audience.  A paid option allows you to download a desktop version of the authoring software, but my experience to date has been with the free version.

2.  With Prezi you can use text, upload images, video and incorporate You Tube video in your presentation.  Note of caution, when showing your Prezi you must be connected to the internet if you have used You Tube video otherwise it will not work.  A workaround is to to upload video in avi or wmv format as this is then  embedded in the final presentation.

3.  Elements in your presentation can be made larger or smaller depending on the importance you want to give to each one.  You then link the elements together using the “path” function so that the presentation flows in the order you want.  The best way to see this is action is to use the tutorials or example presentations on the Prezi site.

4.  The “sea sick” factor.  I was concerned when I was constructing my presentation that I might need to distribute Stugeron (or similar medication) to my audience in advance.  The zoom-in-and-out functions of Prezi provide some attraction and can be attention grabbing, but used too much can become a distraction and may make your audience feel queasy.

5.  For me the jury is still out on just how I will use Prezi, especially in the teaching context.  I think that it would be valuable if used sparingly to explain concepts where you wanted to firstly show the “big picture” and then to zoom in on the detail of constituent parts.  One example on the Prezi site uses this in the context of anatomy of the human body etc.

6.  Reusing PowerPoint.  For my presentation I exported some PowerPoint slides as jpeg’s and used these linking them with relatively short paths and with not a lot of zoomng in and out.  This is therefore a halfway house between PowerPoint and Prezi (PreziPoint??).

A link to my Prezi is given below; just click on the image.  Any feedback would be gratefully received.

OUP / UK Centre for Bioscience Teacher of the Year Awards 2011

The Bioscience Teacher of the Year Award is a great way to recognise and reward teaching excellence in the biosciences.  Details of the short listed finalists and the overall winner of the 2011 award, Jon Scott is available on the UK Centre for Bioscience website.

The award is now run in conjunction with Oxford University Press and this year a short video compilation of each of the finalists in action is also available from their website, and is  included below.

UK Centre for Bioscience – Responses to: Conservation, Consolidation or Creativity?

I was asked to respond to Kevan Gartland’s piece in the UK Centre for Bioscience Bulletin 32, Spring 2011  “Enhancing the Bioscience Community: Conservation, Consolidation or Creativity?” on the demise of the HEA Bioscience Subject Centre. I have reproduced my response below.  Kevan’s piece and a further response by Julian Park are available in the online version of the bulletin.


There is no doubt that the UK Centre for Bioscience has done much to raise the profile of excellence in teaching and learning with many in the Bioscience community having benefited from its hallmark, high quality resources and supportive networking events. Despite its many positive attributes decisions taken in recent times appear to herald an untimely end for the Centre. So what can be done to prevent the good work of the Centre slowly drifting off the radar?

I agree with Kevan that some degree of conservation and consolidation of
resources must take place; the electronic environment can allow that to happen
easily. But one of the greatest spin-outs from the work of the Centre has to be the strong network of like-minded colleagues drawn together through its events such as the many and varied workshops, conferences and the excellent Reps
Forum.  How can this unique resource be conserved and augmented? I suggest
that in the absence of any other stimulus, social network sites and Web 2.0 tools
such as Twitter may be one means of helping colleagues band together; with
occasional blog posts and sharing of papers and ideas helping to keep the conversation going. In fact this in silico networking has already happened to some degree within the bioscience education community and may be the catalyst for the organisation of face-to-face networking opportunities organised around specific themes that emerge in the future.  Could the facilitation of such events be handled by the new structure at the new HEA?

In its myriad of functions the UK Centre for Bioscience has performed a very important role that lies close to home for each dedicated teaching practitioner in the Biosciences.  It has added a level of credence to excellent teaching practices that may sometimes be overlooked in research intensive environments. It therefore has helped to raise the profile of teaching and learning within institutions thus removing the feeling of isolation that can sometimes exist for teaching-focused colleagues. This aspect of its support will be sadly missed.

It is my hope that in the post-UK Centre for Bioscience era we who have benefited much will continue to sustain the current network, share resources, encourage and mentor junior colleagues and collectively raise the standard of excellence in teaching and learning in the biosciences. But in this regard the ball is firmly in our court.


Following on from my last post “Don’t Forget About Your Subject Centre” I decided that another quick post highlighting some of the supportive practice of the UK Centre for Bioscience was in order.

Last year I was delighted to be short-listed for the Ed Wood teaching Award organised by the Centre.  I found the entire process very supportive, unobtrusive and prompting further refection of my own teaching practice.  Each of the finalists was asked to record their reflections of the process and these may be read in full in the Centre’s latest bulletin.  I have quoted my reflections below.

Put simply, the Ed Wood Teaching Award process is straightforward, supportive and highly beneficial.  When I applied for the award it was with a certain degree of trepidation as to what might be entailed, however I discovered that the most challenging part was completing the application form in a manner that succinctly conveyed the teaching practice I was offering up for consideration.

Once that was done and I had been shortlisted the rest of the process allowed for reflection on my own practice during the observed teaching sessions and the ensuing interviews and evaluation, culminating in the production of the case study.  This part of the process I found very helpful and unobtrusive given that the teaching observations and interviews were carried out during one of the busiest times of the academic year.  The case study was written by Sheryl and passed back to me for comment; the whole process being very supportive with minimal stress for the academic.

While I have benefited from a working environment where innovation in teaching and learning is encouraged, supported and rewarded,   the Ed Wood Award process allowed me to gauge how my teaching practice was perceived on a national level by peers and closer to home by my own students.  Applying for such awards is as one of my own colleagues described “like putting your head above the parapet”.  However, in terms of reflecting on your teaching practice and having it supportively evaluated and showcased on a national level I highly recommend being involved in the Bioscience Teacher of the Year Awards!

Image credit.

Don’t Forget About Your Subject Centre!

Towards the end of last year a number of comments appeared in the blogosphere about the proposed demise of the Higher Education Academy Subject Centres.  At that time my teaching was in full swing so formulating a response was limited to a few retweets on Twitter.

I now have time to write a few more words.  As a departmental rep for the UK Centre for Bioscience and participant in some of its events I found the announcement incredulous given the impact and usefulness of the activities of the Centre.  The Centre has been hugely supportive of teaching in the Biosciences and has produced a number of very useful guides and resources to support  lecturers.  Its Bioscience Education journal is an excellent platform for the dissemination of good practice in teaching and learning, and in recognition of excellence in teaching there is the highly supportive process that defines the Ed Wood teaching award (now Bioscience Teacher of the Year Award).  All these along with the myriad of useful workshops, conferences and events organised by the Centre make the decision to cease funding all the more unbelievable.

Other bloggers weighed in early with their responses such as Chris Wilmott who wrote his “Obituary The Death of a Dear Friend?”  For me that could be extended to “two dear friends” as I have also in the past participated in the Variety in Chemistry Education events run jointly by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Physical Sciences Subject Centre.  Both Centres have been hugely successful in supporting teaching and innovation in teaching.

In the wake of the announcement a petition was launched to help save the Subject Centres and over 790 signatures have been received to date.  This is further testament to the depth of feeling that exists around the issue.

In my assessment the Higher Education Academy will have it’s work cut out in trying to inculcate centrally the supportive environment that already exists through the Subject Centres.

Despite the bad news it is great to see the Bioscience Centre forging ahead with many great events in support of teaching. In many regards, on the surface at least, keeping calm and carrying on.

Photo credit.

Reps Forum Revisited

I know this report has been out for a while, but I thought it worth flagging up again.  The content and activities of UK Centre for Bioscience Reps Forum 2010 was encapsulated in the report which is available on their website.   It covers just about everything that happened over the two days and is a great way of recalling all that took place!

Report on the 2010 UK Centre for Bioscience Reps Forum

Twitter for Higher Education

The Best Way to Get Started With Twitter; Just Jump In!

The Best Way to Get Going With Twitter. Just Jump In!

I have been using Twitter for a while now mainly for work purposes; teaching and researching within a bioscience environment. Twitter has been a useful of means of networking with like-minded colleagues in other institutions primarily on mattters of teaching and learning in higher education and extends conversations beyond those facilitated by face to face networking opportunities at conferences or other events.

I don’t follow a huge number of people neither do I have a huge following and I certainly don’t claim to be a “Twitter expert”. Sometimes I get questions on what Twitter is all about and the occasional admission from colleagues that they “just don’t get it”. With this in mind I supply the list below of my thoughts and tips after just over one year of tweeting.

    The best way to start is to jump right in. Register an account and get going.
    Follow an established tweeter (or lurk for a while if you are feeling shy) to see how the thing works.
    Make sure your profile is informative. If your username is very cryptic (like mine – PlanetChemistry) AND your picture is not of you or has not been updated at all users will not know who they are communicating with. Make sure you provide some information about yourself in the bio – concisely done in less than 160 characters.
    Contribute! Reply to other users’ comments and get involved; that’s the best way to build a network.
    Take a look at the people being followed by the people you follow as possible members of your network.
    Don’t rely on automatic tools to update your page. Feeds from your blog are fine so long as your Twitter page is not composed solely of them! Remember that Twitter is better for conversation: not broadcast!
    Use a tool like TweetDeck to help organise your followers and groups and so that you can keep a track of conferences and events through the use of #hashtags. Hashtags are short tags added to each tweet relevant to a conference or topic under discussion and allows relevant tweets to be aggregated together. For example, #edtech10 was the hashtag for the recent Irish Learning Technology Association conference and allowed the conversation around this event to be followed by delegates at the event and others participating remotely via Twitter.
    Enjoy it! Tweeting is about “networks not destinations” (@AJCann) so it’s an opportunity for you to collaborate online and extend your network on a regular basis.

You will soon discover that there are numerous things Twitter can be used for. No doubt I will add to the list above as the weeks go by.. but does anyone have anything else to say?

Picture Credit.

Reflections on the HEA Bioscience Reps Forum 2009

I was at the Higher Education Academy Bioscience Reps Forum in Birmingham from 10th – 11th September 2009. For a meeting that starts around noon one day and finishes around the same time the next a lot is packed in. Well chosen discussions sessions, updates from the Centre and swap shop sessions planned around opportunities for networking characterise the meeting. Most notably, the talks themselves, delivered by enthusiastic practitioners are flavoured with good sense and rooted in a realism that is sadly lacking from some other conference presentations I have listened to. As on my previous visit to this event, I came away enthused again about teaching and armed with new ideas to incorporate into my own practice.

One of the highlights for me was the discussion around how web 2.0 tools could be used to enhance an in silico network of reps so that the discussion could continue after we had returned to our respective institutions. It is heartening that this network has begun to emerge (mainly through Twitter #heabio). Hopefully this will grow and work to the benefit of us all.

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: