We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from Paul Wyatt, who has been a BILT Fellow since September 2017.
I’ve worked in the University for some 20 years and in that time been very much at the heart of teaching, its innovation and quality. I was Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School Chemistry for 13 years, Director of ChemLabS and Faculty Quality Assurance Team Chair (as it was then) for the Faculty of Science for five years. I’ve taught quite a variety of students over the years. Once upon a time, I taught chemistry and physics in a secondary school to 11- to 18-year-old boys and in the professional development courses I ran in industry I would sometimes teach adults nearing retirement. I suppose my first taste of the satisfaction that can come from teaching came in my early 20s upon seeing 12-year-old boys simply bubbling over with excitement about chemistry.
I’ve co-authored four text books in chemistry (two undergraduate and two postgraduate) which are now course texts in some US institutions and have been translated into both Chinese and Japanese. With my own teaching I like to mix it up with the media, using whatever works best in the situation. While I use a blackboard on the one hand, I’m also a big fan of using technology where it actually, genuinely improves the teaching experience (and it can – my iPad in lectures is so much clearer than the visualiser), but not where it is used for its own sake or – for reasons no one can put their finger on – simply doesn’t work. The last couple of years have been quite experimental for me in this regard, using polling software and flipping the class.
I am one of the University’s Pathway 3 Professors.
I started my BILT fellowship on 1st September 2017. With Programme Level Assessment as a starting point, reading some of the literature started the process of thinking a bit more deeply about the activities we have in the School of Chemistry, and it began to dawn on me that there are several things we do that do not really work very well. Furthermore, the things that don’t work very well have been tinkered with for years and yet continue to not work very well.
Also, I hear people say that they ‘don’t know the answers’ and yet all too readily the answer to, for example, students not attending lectures is to introduce a register. Well, it’s about time that we put to work the information out ‘there’ in the educational literature. So I set about developing a resource that digests the educational literature to provide some evidence-based, concrete solutions to the problems that we have. The School of Chemistry can be the framework in which to set that, but the application should be very much broader. Simply, ‘what can we do better?’
Having been Director of Undergraduate Studies in Chemistry for over a decade, I’m a bit shocked to realise that, while we might have completely redesigned the course, improved the labs immeasurably and put in far more robust assessment processes over the years – all good stuff – somehow we missed some important deep-seated issues. Until we fix these our NSS scores will never hit the big time.
This year I have had three BSc students who have been doing educational projects:
- Virtual and Augmented Learning to Improve Student Learning & Engagement
- Student-Student Interactions for Enhancing the Learning Experience
- Efficacy of handouts currently used in the School of Chemistry
All these projects have caused the students themselves to reflect on their learning, and not just in their university years. The four of us have had many open discussions, and they have been very open with me about when they have displayed superficial learning, and things that they don’t think worked for social cohesion. They have also quizzed me about why the School does things the way it does. At times, their questions made me realise the magnitude of the issues. They have provided a good sounding board for the issues which have emerged, which are, very broadly:
- social cohesion (at every level)
- communication (to the students)
- student-student interactions
Sometimes the task ahead of us for effecting change looks very daunting. A book that I have found very encouraging, and which details how teaching methods were totally transformed at a research-intensive university, is “Improving How Universities Teach Science” by Carl Wieman (ISBN 978-0-674-97207-0). It demonstrates that monumental changes to teaching can be made within an institution, and it has top tips on how to achieve them.