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The University of Southampton

Innovations for teaching Chemistry in the 21st century

Published: 7 July 2011
Charles Harrison

Chemistry graduate Charles Harrison is working to help students gain a real understanding of the subject, with the aid of technology.

He’s taking a master’s degree in Education at Southampton, focusing on innovation in the teaching of Chemistry. Yet, when he began his undergraduate degree at Southampton, he wasn’t convinced about the real value of hi-tech devices such as electronic voting pads, or zappers.

“I thought they were gimmicks,” he admits. “I argued with staff who were using them – but they turned the tables on me and asked me to suggest better ways of designing interactive sessions. I had a go, found it worked, and changed my mind.”

Technology came to the rescue to solve a real-life problem affecting students: “Some of our first years had problems with timetable clashes. They wanted to take a maths module but Chemistry lectures were scheduled at the same time. To avoid them having to copy out notes from their friends, we recorded the lectures and put them online,” he explains.

After choosing to study educational aspects of Chemistry for his undergraduate dissertation, Charles is now continuing this work at master’s level and plans to stay on to take a PhD: “Technology is great but it has to make a real contribution to education We want to do it because it’s effective, not just because it’s a gimmick, we also need to find out what works well and what doesn’t.”

Now, all first year lectures are recorded and shorter videos are made to explain particular parts of the syllabus. Web analysis and frequent discussions with the student body prove the recordings are popular and suggest new areas for development. Future ideas include coming up with ways to encourage students to read more widely around the subject throughout their degree. Whatever happens, Charles is determined that innovations shouldn’t impose on academics’ busy timetables – and must enhance existing teaching instead of replacing it.

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