Bristol Teaching Awards, BTA 2021 Shortlist, Inspiring and Innovative Teaching Award

Rachel Tunnicliffe

Lecturer in the Faculty of Science, School of Chemistry

“Over the last 12 months, Rachel has developed an entirely new first year for these programmes, with the aim of teaching scientists the computational tools required to analyse and visualise data and build computer models.”

“Rachel has leveraged these tools to provide students with a highly engaging environment in which coding concepts can be explained, and in which students can develop their own code, write reports, produce figures, etc.”

“Rachel’s use of a cloud-based system has removed one of the major roadblocks to teaching computing, namely the need to install complex software libraries on a range of different machines. Since the students only need a web browser to interact with the teaching materials, they could start writing code within minutes. This strategy improves accessibility, as their engagement with the course material is not dependent upon the quality of their computer…”

“She has gone above and beyond with ensuring that no student is left behind by adapting material during the term to solidify the core concepts in areas where some may have been struggling.”

Your background and experience relevant to the award category

Learning to program is not always easy but is becoming increasingly necessary when engaging with science. I have been coding for a while now and have used my experiences to train students to learn and develop skills in coding, which is sometimes entirely new to them. As part of this I was even afforded the opportunity to help train some wonderfully enthusiastic university students in Nairobi, Kenya in association with the Jean Golding Institute and Advanced Computing Research Centre at Bristol. A fantastic experience! In my current role I have been developing a new degree course and first year unit teaching scientists (from Chemistry and Physics) how to program in Python.

Your style of working and ethos relevant to the award category

My philosophy has been to get the students doing some real coding straight away and this has been made possible by the new tools and style of teaching we’ve developed and implemented this year. It’s been all about developing a supportive, engaging environment with lots of hands-on learning and feedback, built around relevant concepts. This has ranged from writing instructions for how to make a cup of tea and using plotting tools to decorate a snowman to creating computer models of a bouncing ball and analysing real-time air quality in Bristol town centre.

What you enjoy about the role

What I have enjoyed the most in this role is seeing these first year undergraduate students learn and grow throughout the year and with some of them developing from having no background in computing to becoming competent, creative and enthusiastic programmers. It has been a joy to see and all of the students should be so proud of themselves especially under such difficult circumstances as these with purely online teaching.

How you feel about being shortlisted for the award

I was so honoured to be first nominated and then shortlisted for this award (especially against such stiff competition)! I saw such wonderful feedback from staff and students for so many members of staff across the University. It’s been a difficult year for everyone but to be able to take some positives from this has been so important. Really I’m chuffed to bits.

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