Home practical activities during campus closures
During first semester 2020, along with most institutions, the authors were unable to run their usual practical activities for a large foundational chemistry unit. They did not want to use only online learning activities because they wanted to give their students the opportunity to use all their senses and engage with their hands. Instead, the authors developed two sets of simple, safe activities that students could complete at home using common household items. Each activity included worksheets requiring students to record their observations and apply theory taught in class, and perform some calculations. Although not a laboratory experience, this was nonetheless a practical experience, focused on observation skills, measurement and significant figures. The proportion of students who submitted online chemistry practicals was the same as typically attends face-to-face practicals (90%), and the feedback was largely positive from students and staff. Since publication of this report, a significant number of enquiries have been received (mostly from developing countries) so it seems that others are likely to adapt and adopt these activities (Schultz M., Callahan D.L., Miltiadous A. J. Chem. Educ. 2020, 97(9), 2678–84).
Bringing experiments online
In 2018, at Edith Cowan University, electronic laboratory books were introduced into chemistry laboratory classes to increase student engagement, utilise video and photo capabilities, provide students with feedback on their reports in laboratory class, and share student data. In 2020, chemistry classes moved to a new science building and more than 300 OneNote Notebooks were launched in two first-year chemistry units. On 23 March 2020, alongside many equivalent institutions, Edith Cowan University had to transition to fully online teaching. In a webinar, Magda Wajrak (pictured right) describes how this transition was made seamless by the use of these digital notebooks and Microsoft Teams meetings. The goal was to make the transition to online learning as stressless as possible for students. Wajrak was concerned that students would find it challenging to learn chemistry without doing laboratory work, an integral part of studying chemistry. To suddenly remove the laboratory component of this unit would make this learning a lot more challenging. She wanted to maintain a rich learning environment online and discusses how she did that by using Teams and OneNote programs. Watch the webinar (bit.ly/3jjJl8L) for more.
With higher education now being delivered in either multi-modal or online formats, there is a need to focus more on engaging students outside of their class times. One such resource that has proven engaging for students is lightboard videos. Lightboard videos provide the audience with a clear view of the educator and allow the educator to write out a message (such as a chemical mechanism or chemical equation) on a transparent board that is illuminated to enhance the focus on the presenter and their written message. Stephanie Schweiker (pictured) and Stephan Levonis have evaluated student engagement over the past few years and have found that using short and snappy lightboard videos between classes has increased their engagement. The videos are on-point with minimal details and extended examples. This means they are quick to watch for students practising questions relating to the videos. The authors have found that their students’ average test scores have increased, and the students have a strong appetite for this type of resource (Schweiker S., Levonis S. J. Chem. Educ. 2020, 97(10), 3867–71).
Comparing success of online and face-to-face learning
In this study, the authors compared the standard offering of a large foundational chemistry unit in 2019 with an online version in 2020. They were interested to examine the relationship between student engagement with learning activities and assessment tasks, and student success in the unit. The authors examined the completion and scores on two weekly online assessment tasks, as well as the uptake of learning activities, including lectures with in-class polling and tutorials, which moved from face-to-face in 2019 to online in 2020. The drop in level of engagement in the low-stakes assessment tasks and learning activities over the course of the semester was similar for both years. Each form of engagement was associated with increased likelihood of success in the unit, whether face-to-face or online. Of the multiple forms of engagement measured, only tutorial participation had a significantly lower impact on student success in the online than the face-to-face environment. Participating in in-class polling, goal setting and reflection activities had the same impact on success in both years (Miltiadous A., Callahan D.L., Schultz M. J. Chem. Educ. 2020, 97(9), 2494–501).
New paradigm for teaching and learning
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a transformation in teaching and learning as we knew it across schools and universities. On reflection, that whole experience can be considered to be a threshold teaching event! It is unlikely that everything will return to ‘normal’ once the pandemic retreats; instead, we will be operating a new paradigm for teaching and learning practice. It is important that we acknowledge that the prior learning experiences of students have also shifted in parallel – their ways of thinking and engaging in their study have also been transformed. There is now an opportunity to work collaboratively towards identifying best pedagogies and practices for hybrid and online teaching. In the editorial of the first issue of Chemistry Education Research and Practice this year, Professor Gwen Lawrie as new Editor in Chief (pictured) reflects on how the chemistry education community responded to teaching in response to COVID-19. She also calls for examples of evidenced teaching innovation that have demonstrated positive student learning outcomes embracing the opportunities presented by this new learning landscape (Lawrie G. Chem. Educ. Res. Prac. 2021, 22, 7–11).
Online safety quiz
A flexible strategy to improve students’ general knowledge of safety for a second-year inorganic chemistry laboratory was implemented at Griffith University. The strategy used an online interactive revision Safety Quiz Template, that was device agnostic and thus flexible for students and academics. Details of the design process, technical aspects of the implementation of the Safety Quiz Template using PebblePadTM and analysis of submissions for 2018–19 are compared (Loughlin W.A., Cresswell S.L. J. Chem. Educ. 2021, 98, 218–23). Results showed that low numbers of students (18%) achieved 100% correct completion of the Safety Quiz Template with their first submission. However, most students (98%) could achieve 100% correct completion by their third submission and implementation appeared to contribute to improved student knowledge and safe behaviour in the laboratory sessions. The most noticeable aspect of the implementation of a Safety Quiz Template was the identified need for upper-undergraduate chemistry students to revise their safety knowledge regularly and actively for chemistry laboratory environments, beyond any safety training received in first year. Analysis of the student responses revealed the areas for improvement of laboratory safety in second-year undergraduate chemistry included basic chemical knowledge of solvents, maintenance of proper PPE and correct identification of safety equipment.