Three children looking at a test tube and beaker in a laboratory
Education Enhancement Funds

MAP: Bristol

A Teaching Innovation Grant was awarded to Dr Chris Adams for the academic year 2017/18 – you can find a summary of the project he undertook with his grant below. If you would like to read the full report, please contact the BILT Team

Project summary
MAP-Bristol (Monitoring atmospheric pollution in Bristol) was a project which allowed first-year students to participate in a real scientific investigation by carrying out a survey of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution across the city of Bristol. They used the investigation to provide the raw material for workshops in scientific report writing and data handling which form part of their first year-unit ‘Communication and Information Skills in Chemistry’.

At the same time, the ‘Eco Team’ from Bristol Grammar Primary School undertook a similar monitoring project. They were then invited into our labs to do some chemistry and analyse their results, with some of our first year undergraduates acting as laboratory demonstrators.

Conclusions 

Overall, I would give this a 7/10. The students engaged with it, liked the societal relevance, and generally enjoyed it. The practical aspects worked and went well.  

Just reiterating how enjoyable and valuable the NO2 project has been. Very glad to see public health issues and science being linked in this way, especially on the first year of our course! 

As described above, I was disappointed by the quality of the written work produced by many of the students, and this will be the focus going forward. 

The project has a number of ‘hidden’ benefits. This may well be the only time during their time here that students do any practical which is (a) not entirely laboratory based and (b) relevant to their everyday lives, and it will certainly be the only time that most of them get on a bus and venture into Fishponds and beyond. It teaches a broad range of ‘transferable’ skills in an authentic context and makes the second year of the degree program ‘fairer’ – currently students write a number of reports which are all summatively assessed with absolutely no training whatsoever. Many of the activities were carried out in groups, and students therefore also gained a great deal of experience in group working. 

It addresses several points of the University’s Education Strategy: 

  • We will embed assessment for learning, as articulated in our Institutional Principles for Assessment and Feedback in Taught Programmes across the institution such that a common approach to assessment is formed articulating the cyclical relationship between learning, assessment and feedback and improving students’ understanding of their learning experience. (2.3) 
  • We will provide a curriculum that supports the development of enduring, transferable skills and attributes in disciplinary appropriate ways within all programmes (3.2)  
  • We will provide students with the opportunities for professional and community engagement in a variety of contexts, including, internships, placements or volunteering activities. (3.4) 
  • We will provide a Bristol Skills Framework against which students can assess their skills development, evidencing and recording their personal development in order to foster and demonstrate a rounded set of graduate attributes. We will provide academic study skill resources to support students to successfully transition to study at University and progress through their academic programmes (3.1) 

This kind of model could be replicated across the University – indeed, Geography are already doing something similar (above), and I have been contacted by a microbiologist colleague who is thinking about distributing sample tubes about Bristol in a similar fashion. It is my belief that many of the schools in the science faculties are trying to teach similar skills and could implement similar programs – indeed, that is one of the reasons for the forthcoming Educational Excellence seminar. I do firmly believe that many colleagues across the University are trying to teach many of the same things, and that sharing ideas and practice is a necessary prerequisite for improving the University’s educational offering. 

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