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Introducing innovation

This Unit Coordinator describes innovative teaching and learning strategies involving the use of technology, research and collaborative projects with external bodies. More...

My teaching experience includes unit coordination of units at all undergraduate levels in chemistry. Recently, I became the sole unit coordinator for all first year chemistry units at my institution. As unit coordinator I prepare most of the lecture materials, which I share with colleagues, and I develop all laboratory material and on-line tests. The first year classes are huge as the units are core to several degrees but the numbers drop away in the second and third years.

Six years ago I completed secondary and tertiary teaching qualifications due to my interest in teaching and learning. I regularly talk with the education team here to keep up to date with changes to the school science curriculum in addition to seeking opportunities to collaborate with the local Science Teachers’ Association. I am keen to find common research threads across disciplines. With a change in leadership here I find myself in a ‘catch 22’ situation where I must choose between focusing on research into chemistry or education  research or simply move away from both to concentrate on teaching. All academics face time pressure to complete their teaching administration responsibilities which are not valued as highly as some other activities.

As Unit Coordinator I spend long days on campus because there are more and more tasks to complete so that I am unable to complete them in a standard working day. Sometimes I find myself preparing materials just in time for classes as there is no time to prepare in advance. I like to keep my materials current but find there is only opportunity for slight modification and updates. My goal is to move away from lectures and to use group work instead. For the past two years I worked on a national chemistry education project with other universities. Together we worked on a process oriented teaching and learning strategy with facilitated discussion and prescribed roles for our students as they worked in groups.

Another initiative I introduced is online quizzes to encourage students to revise regularly. Quiz questions were written for online formative assessment and I developed a comprehensive data base of 1500 questions. Students receive a mix of questions, quality feedback and their results contribute to their final grade. Each set of questions is available for three weeks and multiple attempts are possible. Unfortunately, some students do not take advantage of the weekly quiz, with many leaving their attempt until the last minute. I guess that is real life and they are busy too. There is a strong correlation between quiz performance and success in the units. Those that do take advantage of the quizzes state that they are among the best things in first year chemistry.

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