Variety in Chemistry Education 2012

You know it was a good conference when you’re still thinking about the stuff you saw over 2 weeks later! This year’s Variety in Chemistry Education conference was combined with Physics in Higher Education Conference, creating the oddly abbreviated ViCE/PHEC (pronunciations varied greatly). I particularly loved the decision on the part of the organisers to accept all abstracts, and the resulting programme had so many fantastic presentations by so many academics so obviously committed to quality undergraduate education.

A few highlights for me:

Stephen Ashworth’s ‘Formative assessment: Carrots and sticks’ where he revealed simply the most logical way of devising multiple choice questions to test basic mathematical skills. Not just a way of writing one or two questions, but several hundred in subtle variation, complete with feedback. I will be trying that one!

Paul van Kampen’s keynote speech was a wonderful example of transitioning between experimental physics and physics education. With points illustrated by quotations, Paul’s talk was really quite reassuring (that it is possible to make this transition), and showed some fascinating examples of how to overcome topics that cause students trouble.

I loved the Microscale Chemistry activities session run by Bob Worley. Firstly it hit the high note by being hands on, secondly several of the microscale preps were directly related to labs I’m currently redeveloping for our first year. So we got colour changes, bangs and other hands on stuff, and amazingly useful as well. The advantages of going microscale (so using a few drops of reagents in small glassware) are reduced costs, lower risk, easier disposal and more opportunities for students to work individually, particularly where the lab bench is a laminated piece of white paper. For reactions commonly done for the students to observe colour changes, formation and release of gas or formation of precipitates, it was easier to see this with a few drops of liquid on a white card than in the usual test tube.

Flipping Lectures turned out not to be a variation on the standard slur, but rather a very crafty way of making more room in timetables for higher level activities such as problem solving and getting to the heart of misconceptions and difficult concepts. Simon Lancaster presented a great talk on setting last year’s lecture recordings as required preparation for class, then using the time for other activities designed to provoke deeper learning. As someone who started recording lectures 3 years ago, first as MP3s, now as screencasts I can truly see the advantages. Last year I ended up reusing the previous years recordings as (a) I had major computer issues in my first year lectures (new tablet PC conflicting with Microsoft powerpoint version), and (b) I got really ill one week and knowing last years lectures were sitting there if need be was very useful. In the end I delivered those lectures but as I’d lost my voice so sounded mostly like Marge Simpson. This year I am being more deliberate and have uploaded the recorded lectures already.

Other highlights (it’s so difficult to pick only a few) included Martin Pitt’s oral bite on the inclusion of a reflection activities in lab reports, Paul Taylor getting students to make videos about labs (I really want to try this), video pre-labs by Roy Lowry, and the conference twitter stream was summarised by Simon Lancaster in his Storify.

Other links:

Online Abstracts/ Conference Site

Michael Seery’s Round ups (on blog), (Education in Chemistry)

If there are any other good links, let me know and I’ll update.

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