Our research interests include integrating best principles of laboratory teaching ino our laboratory programmes, community based learning, supporting learning with virtual learning environments and using e-learning to enhance the in-class experience. An outline of our approach is given below. For more details, contact any member of the team and see our dissemination page.
Our work here has integrated several stands to insitute a progressive development of students' practical skills as they study their degree. the projects include
- Development of project-based laboratories (mini-projects): students take ownership of experimental design, using their knowledge from expository laboratories and apply it to a context-based problem. The projects involve experimental design, safety audit, conducing experimental work, experiment modification when required, presentation of results and reflection on experience. The work is funded by DIT's Learning and Teaching Centre.
- Development of research-skills synthesis lab: these practicals follow on from the mini-projects with students using their skills in experimental design and applying them to synthetic chemistry. Students are given a journal article and are required to use it as a basis to design an experiment, cost the materials, synthesis and fully characterise their product and report on their work. Along with the mini-projects, these projects help students prepare for their final year project. This work is carried out in collaboration with Prof Simon Belt, University of Plymouth and is funded by the RSC CFOF.
- Context based laboratories: In this work, context based practicals were developed to integrate fundamental chemistry and apply it to forensic scenarios. Practicals were developed for first years, second years and fourth years, involving progressive development of analytical skills and culminating in an extensive cross-disciplinary case-study in their final year. this work was carried out in collaboration with Dr Sarah Creswell, University of Strathclyde and was funded by the Physical Sciences Centre, UK.
A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) was developed using WebCT software and was piloted in 2004 in the School of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences in DIT. This was one of a number of measures introduced with the aim of supporting and retaining first year undergraduates in Science degree programmes and was designed as a Chemistry Support Initiative (CSI) for first year Chemistry learning and teaching. This work was supported through funding from the DIT Learning and Teaching Centre which allowed a summer research assistant to be employed.
Since the launch of the first WebCT VLE in our School in September 2004, a VLE has been created for each year of each course we deliver. This was facilitated by the fact that the first WebCT template design could be adapted quite easily and that first year students expected to continue to have a VLE available as they progressed. Currently, VLEs are used to support undergraduate Chemistry students from their first to their final year. WebCT has also proven to be very effective in the support of taught postgraduate programmes and as a tool for the administration and management of our School through the use of a WebCT site for staff.
The research is aimed at providing guidelines for the development and utilisation to their full extent of the existing VLEs and optimising their pedagogical application in a ‘blended approach’ to learning and teaching chemistry. The VLE developed provided access to course information, past exam papers, weekly tutorial problem sets, summaries on certain lecture topics, a glossary of chemical definitions, useful websites, careers information, an academic calendar, WebCT mail and a series of formative self-assessment quizzes that provided instant and detailed feedback. The original design template is still in use to date throughout the School of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences however is now hosted via webcourses rather than its predecessor WebCT and the applications and support for students expands on an annual basis.
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