Celebrating innovative teaching: What trends are reflected in the 2023 Teaching Innovation Awards?

Emily Rees
March 4, 2024

With the pressure to meet student needs and expectations for their degrees as well as adapt to the shifting needs of the industry, educators are continuing to find new ways to innovate using digital technology. Recent research from Ernst & Young reveals that the top needs students are looking for universities to deliver include high-quality teaching supported by digital technology, improved career prospects and workplace preparation, and enhanced support for achieving learning goals. 

Our yearly LearnSci Teaching Innovation Awards see a wide range of impressive innovative teaching methods using digital tools that reflect all three of the above expectations. In this article, we’ll consider the themes that emerged from the 2023 awards, and how they reflect the wider landscape of Higher Education trends.

Expanding skill development

In recent years, teaching methods on STEM courses have shifted to a more skills-focused approach, equipping students with not just subject-specific skills, but transferable skills and competencies that employers are seeking. EY’s research found that 48% of students chose their course to qualify for a specific career, or to improve their career prospects, which only emphasises the need for employability-focused curricula. Innovations seen in the Teaching Innovation Awards reflect this shift, with an increasing number of skills and employability-focused applications over the past four years. 

Using badging for skills identification

To enhance practical skill development, educators are implementing enhanced technology and approaches such as augmented reality, badging techniques, Smart Worksheets, and LabSims. Dr Ryan Mewis and colleagues from Manchester Metropolitan University implemented the use of Moodle badges to showcase practical skill development for first-year chemistry students, earned by completing LabSims and other pre-lab exercises followed by laboratory classes to practise and demonstrate proficiency. Their approach enabled students to recognise their skills, with 71% of students surveyed agreeing that the badges helped them to identify the skills they were developing.

Building transferable skills

Educators’ dedication to preparing students for the working world is highlighted by a number of 2023 applications. From learning groups developing problem solving and critical thinking skills to global student projects focused on building the skills needed to make a difference in the world, the range of innovations demonstrates how science degrees can support transferable skills development as well as subject-specific content.

Enhancing student learning

With students looking for institutions that utilise digital technology and enhanced teaching strategies, it’s increasingly important that teaching and resources are engaging and support students every step of the way. 

Enhancing student learning has always been a prominent theme of the Teaching Innovation Awards, and it was no different this year. Laboratory time is often a focus, due to the cognitive demands it can have on students, especially for those who lack lab experience. Dr Smita Odedra and Dr Linnea Soler from the University of Glasgow created a set of e-resources to combat this, supporting student transition into labs with videos, 360° images and interactive quizzes. All students surveyed believed that the resources would help them adjust to higher education chemistry, and reduce anxiety when entering labs. 

Educators are also utilising new technology such as virtual and augmented reality to provide an engaging experience for students; whether that’s introducing immersive simulations for deeper understanding, using augmented reality to illustrate complex chemical structures, or co-creating VR resources with the students themselves.

Image of what a student sees when using an AR headset in the lab. Image shows lab equipment and two screens imposed on the top, showing how to set up and detailed steps.
Queen Mary University of London: Example of an augmented reality instructional guide for lab experiments.
Three images of what it looks like to use the ARCHEM app. Image 1 shows an AR nanotube, image 2 shows someone playing football with a water molecule encased in a carbon 60 'buckyball' and image 3 shows A tablet that's showing paracetamol's structure, with an AR visualised Raman spectrum in front.
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology: Images of the ARCHEM app that utilises augmented reality.

Accessibility for all

Ensuring that all students have equal access and opportunity for learning is vital, as disparity still exists between student groups at many universities. Levelling the playing field by supplying pre-lab resources, providing authentic assessment that reduces awarding gaps, introducing skills-based interventions for incoming students and more all have an important impact on student success.

Access to science careers

There is value in extending accessibility innovations beyond university student learning, as demonstrated by Wellcome Connecting Science’s winning Teaching Innovation Awards application. The Engage team created a virtual, interactive work experience course that allows young people to explore varied science careers, empowering students by increasing their confidence and combating stereotypes surrounding STEM education and careers. This initiative provided a widened opportunity for young people to consider a future in science, removing financial, geographical and other barriers associated with in-person work experience.

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It is inspiring (to say the least) to see educators’ hard work demonstrated in such a wide range of innovations in the Teaching Innovation Awards every year, giving us an insight into wider advancements in higher education and digital technology. You can read more about each application in depth on our dedicated webpage. Get ready to be inspired!

If you’re passionate about innovation or want to hear more about how fellow educators are enhancing their teaching, sign up to our mailing list where we’ll be discussing innovation in education and how we support educators in implementing innovative solutions.