LearnSci resources contribute to Queen Mary University of London team winning double award

In the midst of a challenging couple of years, the Chemistry team at QMUL, led by Dr. Lesley Howell, incorporated LearnSci’s resources into a new innovative way of teaching that not only won them one of LearnSci’s Teaching Innovation Awards for 2021, but also the award for Most Innovative Hybrid or Blended Learning Project at Pearson’s inaugural HE Innovate Awards in 2021

The Challenge:

The practical chemistry team needed to identify innovative and novel approaches to deliver teaching to all students

In a non-pandemic year, 255-280 undergraduate BSc Chemistry students at QMUL undertake 100 hours of lab classes, as the accreditation of their programmes by the Royal Society of Chemistry requires students to complete 300 hours of practical chemistry by the end of the third year. 

With the start of the pandemic, lab classes were immediately affected. Social distancing meant classes needed to be adapted, but the stricter measure of UK Government-mandated lockdowns meant that educators needed to identify a way for students to continue to participate at all in practical chemistry. The Chemistry team recognised that a new approach to delivering their teaching was urgently needed. Not only that, but the approach they took needed to allow all international students and those who were shielding to participate. 

QMUL challenge
Like every chemistry department in the UK, we have needed to adapt our lab classes to accommodate social distancing requirements, which has resulted in more repetitions of the same class. Furthermore, with the government announcement of another lockdown in January 2021, we had to rapidly identify a way to continue to engage and enthuse our students with practical chemistry.
Dr. Lesley Howell, Reader in Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry

The Solution:

LabSims and Smart Worksheets were paired with mixed reality to create an engaging and effective learning experience

Initially, the team rotated the students so that a third of the class was in the labs at any one time. However, this brought with it some challenges. Educators need to ensure that when students were not in the labs, they were still engaging with material and content from the lab classes, and furthermore that they were in the best possible position, when they did have access to the lab, to maximise the impact these classes had on their education.

An innovative approach where all students could participate

The team investigated the use of online labs, LabSims, videos and Smart Worksheets to support their in-class provision, an approach that would allow their international students and students shielding to still participate fully. This is where our LabSims and Smart Worksheets came in. In the weeks when students were not in the lab, they were required to engage with our LabSims, guaranteeing that they were still engaging with material and content from the lab classes, and shifting the focus away from getting the right answer to the development of key skills and techniques. The team also used our Smart Worksheet Collection in their Year 2 module during the weeks students were out of the lab, so students had the opportunity to practise data analysis and problem solving. 

Alongside this, the team decided to invest in mixed reality. They purchased a Microsoft HoloLens2, involving the headset of smart glasses being worn by an academic and students signing in via Microsoft Teams to view exactly what the academic could see, aided by holograms and other interactive features.

2 Images of the HoloLens in use in the laboratory.
The HoloLens2 in use in the laboratory
Happy Face
Although initially its use was intended for a small cohort of students, following the announcement of another lockdown in January 2021, the team rolled out this innovative and creative approach to all Year 1 and Year 2 students, enabling them to continue to inspire and enthuse their students with practical chemistry during the challenging lockdown period.
Dr. Lesley Howell

The Results:

Students were highly satisfied and engaged with the mixed reality and skills-based approach

proving that technology can be used innovatively to enhance their learning experience

Implementation of the team’s teaching approach proved very popular with students, with the combination of interactive practical sessions and worksheets being viewed as an excellent way to ensure engagement.

Overall student satisfaction with the module scored over 4.2 on a 5-point Likert scale

with 4.22 being the average score awarded by Year 1 students and 4.47 awarded by Year 2

Students also agreed the module was intellectually stimulating

with 4.52 being the average awarded by Year 1 students and 4.42 awarded by Year 2 on the 5-point Likert scale

The feedback received demonstrates the effectiveness of mixed reality and a skills-based approach in delivering practical chemistry, as well as its potential for enthusing students through practical chemistry. The team at QMUL has implemented mixed reality and a skills-based approach, supported by our resources, to their practical chemistry classes across year groups. 

Dr. Howell and her team are now double award winners, having been acknowledged for their work by both LearnSci’s Teaching Innovation Awards 2021 and Pearson’s inaugural HE Innovate Awards 2021. Our awards support innovation that positively impacts teaching quality and enhances student learning, while Pearson’s HE Innovate Awards recognise innovative approaches to teaching, learning and student support in higher education. Dr. Howell and her team won Pearson’s award for the Most Innovative Hybrid or Blended Learning Project.

Prof. Nicola King
This application shows clear innovation and development of the innovation over time and in response to the changing situation. It’s also a good demonstration of not just seeking a single solution but combining different technologies well.
Prof. Nicola King, Associate Dean for Education, University of Exeter, and member of the judging panel for LearnSci Teaching Innovation Awards 2021
Dr. David Lefevre
The submissions received for this [Pearson] award reveal the scale of innovation in EdTech across our sector that has been prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. They reveal a wealth of alternatives to the “education via Zoom” approach and the shortlisted projects demonstrate how technology can be used to, not just replicate existing models, but enhance and further the educational experience for students
Dr. David Lefevre

You can read more about Dr. Howell’s winning entries on our website and on Pearson’s own website. If you would like to discuss ways of effectively engaging your students through innovative use of digital technology, please contact us. We would love to hear from you.

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