Smita's Year of SoTL
Created on December 2, 2020
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Some highlights from 2020!
Chemistry LTS group rebrands as CHERPS
Our School's Learning, Teaching & Scholarship group rebranded at the start of this year with a stronger strategy for creating scholarship opportunities and outputs as a team. The Chemistry Higher Education Research, Practice & Scholarship (CHERPS) Group currently comprises of Drs Frances Docherty, Smita Odedra, Beth Paschke, Daniel Price, Linnea Soler and Ciorsdaidh Watts.
We have a new twitter account (@UofGCHERPS) and I created a new webpage for our group - we hope to populate this with chemistry teaching resources developed by our project students later this academic year.
Investigating the provision of support and training for graduate teaching assistants
Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) play a huge role in delivering undergraduate lab teaching, and I'm really committed to making sure our postgraduates who teach receive the training and ongoing support they need. In 2019-20, Eileen de Sousa (BSc project student) worked with me to investigate our training provision in the School. She was able to dive into the existing literature and think critically, and apply what she learned to our context. She came up with brilliant ideas and was very proactive in taking the project forward: from initial project planning, designing the surveys, handling the ethics application to consulting GTAs and evaluating the results. The findings of her survey were really insightful, bringing to our attention various issues which were affecting GTAs. This highlighted issues such as the lack of any formalised feedback mechanisms on GTA teaching, and how particular teaching rotas could put extra strain on GTAs. We presented our work at two online conferences in Spring 2020. I have also been involved in ongoing discussions about supporting postgraduates who teach through the national Chemistry DryLabs network and Physics LTHE network.
During the School's planning over the summer for our pivot to online teaching, I involved our GTAs in consultations so that they could feed into our decision making about online lab teaching roles and a new mentoring scheme for Level-1 undergrads. Giving them agency in this was key to having a successful pivot.
CHEMISTRY IN THE MEDIA
Linnea Soler, Beth Paschke and I started our "Chemistry in the Media" social event series last year to look at examples of everyday science in movies, as a fun way to help create and support inclusive communities in our undergraduate Final year group. We used Box of Broadcasts to stream movies and created themed chemistry quizzes to accompany each film - this allowed us to satisfy the licensing requirements of showing films for educational purposes. For our first event in 2019 we screened the festive classic Elf!
This July we presented our work at the Supporting University Students in Chemistry during Hybrid Teaching (SUSChem) Conference; several institutions were inspired to adopt our idea themselves. This term we have held events more regularly through Zoom and involved our students in creating quiz content. It's been really enjoyable for staff and students involved and had a positive impact on our wellbeing in these troubling times.
Student support, fun films and a conference
SRC Student Teaching Awards
I was delighted to be shortlisted for the SRC's Student Teaching Award for Best Teacher in the College of Science and Engineering this year. What an honour!
The School has an amazing bunch of staff and students who make up the Chemistry Outreach Group (COG). They are very active in engaging with schools and communities across the country (and beyond).
One of my contributions to COG has been the Twelve Scents of Christmas activity, which explores the chemistry behind some festive scents through gamification. We've used this activity for the past couple of years at many science fairs, festivals and schools. It's a fun way to explore chemistry using the senses with all age groups. Unfortunately it's not suited for these pandemic times but we have so many great memories from it!
With lab capacity restricted by social distancing this academic year, our School faced a dilemma in organising research projects for our final-year students. Our CHERPS group has taken on a large number of students to work on a new initiative: Chemistry Analytical Methods, Practice & Scholarship (ChAMPS). ChAMPS students are involved in the creation of intereactive teaching and training resources focussed on Analytical Techniques. We intend to make these resources available externally.
I am enjoying co-supervising a ChAMPS student, Amy Carruthers (creative genius!), with my colleague Linnea Soler. Our combined expertise in the theoretical aspects and practical applications of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, and a vital student perspective will allow us to create resources which are both novel and relevant. A motto has emerged from our group meetings - "See a need - fill a need!"
Interactive H5p lectures
Chunk & check lectures
Practical classes have always been a vital part of Chemistry education. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting pivot to online has forced a rethink of how we can teach practical skills. I run a first-year laboratory and also an experiment for our third-year students. The prospect of turning these into online "dry" labs was a daunting one, but thankfully my colleagues Ciorsdaidh Watts and Linnea Soler are innovators in the area of practical teaching, and I was able to draw on their expertise to help solve my biggest challenges this year. The Chemistry HE community also came together over the summer to form the DryLabs network to share experience and ideas.
I have used H5P Interactive Book to transform my third year lab experiment into an online activity this semester. I used a combination of content types (text, videos, image hotspots and questions) to create an interactive experience that delivered the same learning outcomes as the lab. Practical procedures were explained step-by-step using a combination of image slider content and animations. I also used the app Procreate on an iPad to create new illustrations to help students conceptualise the operation of the equipment. Even when we return to face-to-face teaching, I will continue using these resources as I think they will help our students to understand the experiment better. I'm hoping to do a SoTL study around this!
I'm delighted to be working with a colleague (Dr Linnea Soler) and project student (Valerio Ruzzo) to collaboratively create some new content for our first-year chemistry lab. At the start of the project, we asked Valerio to reflect on his own experience in the labs. His perspectives were invaluable - he helped us to confront the problems of traditional "cookbook" chemistry labs and although we were driven by the rapid pivot, his input made us realise we should frame our project in improving student learning in a much wider context.
Valerio's new resources will be rolled out in second semester, and he will then be surveying a number of different stakeholders. We hope to get some conference presentations and a publication from this work.
Creating online lab experiences
Pivoting Labs online
I have used H5P Interactive Book in Moodle to transform my final-year lectures into an asynchronous online module. I chose this as it offered a streamlined, structured way to adopt "Chunk and Check" by incorporating a variety of content types (text, videos, and interactive elements such as quiz questions, timelines and image hotspots). I packaged content into chunks and organised them into sections by theme (rather than strictly by video durations / content length) so that different topics are easier to find. Using H5P also allowed me to easily create accessible maths content with MathJax - this was a critical requirement for me. Feedback from students has been really positive - they've found the content easy to navigate and engaging, and have said that the structure of it will make revision easier.
I wish all of the SoTL community a wonderful Christmas! I hope you all have a relaxing break after what has been a very strange and stressful year for us all. I would like to say a special thank you to our SoTL Champion, Nathalie Sheridan, for creating an online community where scholarship can flourish and for organising this Advent Calendar.
Thank you also to my wonderful CHERPS colleagues (Beth, Linnea, Ciorsdaidh, Frances and Daniel), our talented students, and the amazing team of technicians, admin and support staff, janitors and cleaners in the School of Chemistry who make everything possible!
Wishing you all the best for 2021!
Dr Smita Odedra
School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow.