Nothing is worthwhile except that to which we can ascribe a number ?>

Nothing is worthwhile except that to which we can ascribe a number

[warning: Monday ramble ahead] I’ve now got to the point of the semester where I am tired and cranky and grumpy (why yes, some of you might enquire as to how you’d know the difference between now and the rest of the semester). I’m tired of assigning numbers to the work of students, considering numbers ranking our programmes in league tables, rating satisfaction with stuff, and all the other metrics that dictate life in a university. And let’s face it,…

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Chemistry Festivities ?>

Chemistry Festivities

After surviving the 2nd year practical exam at the beginning of last week, the end of the week brought our Salters’ festivals of chemistry. We do two, one is the standard festival with the Salters Challenge then one of our own devising, the second is for SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) students and we do two challenges. The challenge for the SEND festival is to cater to the diverse range of needs the students have while still offering some…

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Safety Compromises ?>

Safety Compromises

Running a practical exam with several staff invigilating highlights, very clearly, the differences in approach to certain lab techniques. For a reaction heated to reflux, do we clamp the flask, the flask and the condenser, or the flask but with a second clamp loose around the condenser for a little stability? Are disposable nitrile gloves good enough for this type of use or that type of use? Can syringes be used, without needles, to measure reasonably accurate quantities? Does the…

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(Im)practical Exams ?>

(Im)practical Exams

On Monday and Tuesday next week our 2nd years will have their practical exam. This consists of 2 x 3 hour sessions, one in a computer lab carrying out data analysis and the other is in the lab carrying out a literature style prep. All of the techniques and methods should be familiar to the students but the specific scenarios are not. This is worth 20% of a 15-credit module and we’ve run mock exams for each to give our…

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It’s time to fix Easter ?>

It’s time to fix Easter

Our first semester is easy. It starts at the end of September, there are twelve weeks and then three weeks off including Christmas. Then there are exams followed by the start of semester 2. Nothing unusual there (and I sincerely do not want an earlier start in September to pave the way for pre-Christmas exams, we barely survive the 12 weeks). Semester 2 however swiftly devolves into some kind of pedagogical lucky dip. Will there be 8, 9, 10 or…

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Research Labs vs Teaching Labs ?>

Research Labs vs Teaching Labs

One of the biggest shocks for our students when they start projects is the difference between the highly scripted experiments in the undergraduate teaching laboratories and the research project lab. Like many other chemistry programmes, our students spend two years doing lab experiments following a lab script. Doing experiments that are pretty much proven to work and really, will stand a fair amount of carelessness in the prep is a great way to learn techniques, produce products for analysis and…

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One year out another year in ?>

One year out another year in

Our 3rd years submitted their dissertations on Friday (well done all!) and our 2nd years submitted their project choices on Friday. I’ve written a few times about undergraduate research projects here. It is a hazard of having a blog dating back to mid-2009, you have to dig around a bit to find what you’ve already said on a subject before putting fingers to keyboard to bash out some more thoughts. I don’t really think I’ve changed my opinions much since…

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Dealing with Difficult Deadlines ?>

Dealing with Difficult Deadlines

I have lost track this academic year of the number of times I have said to a student: ‘the deadline is the last possible date/time for submission, it is not an indication of when you should start the work’. I have lost track of the number of times when the student has attempted to school me in just how wrong I am about this and that of course deadlines are an indication of when to start the work. And it…

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Blackboard Battles: Multiple Modules, Similar Content ?>

Blackboard Battles: Multiple Modules, Similar Content

One of the biggest challenges we have is a handful of modules (typically 15 credit units) that have two versions running simultaneously. This might be because the modules have different course codes for different cohorts and so have two module spaces on Blackboard, but identical content. It might be because two modules overlap in some content but not all. It might be because we wish to align some modules for a specific activity. In the first case, and if appropriate,…

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Excellence in/is What Exactly? ?>

Excellence in/is What Exactly?

I noticed that there was a tweet chat the other night on Excellence in Teaching <<specific broad area not science>> and I picked up on a few interesting tweets on the topic. It’s a topic that we return to frequently, particularly with TEF brewing like a storm in the offing. And there’s a lot of debate about what teaching excellence is, whether students can recognise it and whether the term is so widely used as to have lost all meaning. But…

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