Personal highlights from Michael Seery, a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology

Vanbrugh College at the University of York

Source: David Dixon

Vanbrugh College at the University of York

Variety in Chemistry Education (ViCE) UK is one of those conferences. Unmissable, pragmatic, friendly and always informative. I've gone every year since I started teaching, and love catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. Its value lies in the fact that it is based on presentations by chemistry lecturers on things they have tried in their own teaching - so it is a treasure trove of new ideas of things to try. This year we found out, using clickers in David Read's talk, that 48 per cent of attendees were first-timers, a good measure of a well-established and thought of conference. Like last year's Variety, I came away with a real boost in motivation for the start of the new academic year. 


The opening keynote is traditionally given by the RSC Higher Education Teaching Award winner, which for 2010 was David Read. I've heard him speak before about school to university transition, outreach, contextualising learning, lecture capture, and more. His background as a school teacher, now working in the university system, gives him a good view on transition issues. He spoke, amongst other things, about going full circle in developing a really nice suite of resources on worked examples covering key aspects of chemistry causing difficulties. An example of these is on YouTube.1

Simon Belt, from Plymouth, was awarded a UK National Teaching Fellowship and his entertaining lecture Karaoke Chemistry used the talk titles of several previous Variety talks to show how trends in chemistry education were changing, slowly. This provided the background to addressing a wholesale programme redesign for chemistry programmes in Plymouth. The approach was novel, considering what outcomes were desirable, picking just five of the most important and then identifying how these could be introduced into the curriculum. It was brilliant to see a live example of a meaningful programme redesign and how it could occur in practice, incorporating mechanisms to get all staff on board. 

Ingo Eilks from Bremen gave the CERG Lecture on the history of the lecture. I was a bit disappointed not to see more about his work in rethinking how lectures can be given, although this work, at an early stage, should be interesting to follow. 


Lots of presentations (15 minutes) and bytes (5 minutes), so it is hard to pick out ones to mention. In terms of themes, lecture capture is one of interest. It seems to be evolving, moving on from full lectures to shorter screencasts on topics that are causing difficulties. Simon Lancaster gave a talk on a collaboration with David Read on chemistry vignettes which they are developing on a variety of topics; something similar is being developed at Leicester by Dylan Williams. Another theme was lecture or lab preparation, with our own talk on pre-lecture activities, and Gita Sedghi presented a talk on Liverpool's VITAL pre-lab tutoring system. Visualisation is a component of this, and Liverpool's excellent (and technically amazing) ChemTube3D2 project was well represented by Neil Berry and virtual experiments described by Charles Harrison, a student of David Read's (yes, him, again). Jmol also featured in a brilliant talk by Nigel Young which had vibrations of molecules in tune with classic hits. Eleanor Crabb from the OU gave a great talk on supporting students using chat rooms and forums. 

Following last year's publication of Hanson and Overton's Skills Audit, a lot of talks looked at professional skills, and all of them embedded the teaching of these skills into the chemistry curriculum. Kyle Galloway completed an impressive audit of student opinion of what they considered to be important key skills at various stages. There was a nice byte from James Gaynor on using wikis (with a useful reference3) which I would have liked to have been a full talk as he had some nice stuff to talk about on self- and peer-assessment. 

My podcasting workshop reduced some people to song, better than tears I suppose. Lorraine McCormack nearly had us all in tears with an excellent talk on the gap between what Piaget says should be the cognitive development of our students and what her results actually find. 

Ends of eras

This Variety was the last one to be organised by the amazingly excellent UK Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences Centre, which has closed following a reorganisation of structure at the HEA. Variety will continue though under the auspices of the RSC Tertiary Education Group, which is good news. 

Stephen Breuer, co-editor of the excellent Chemistry EducationResearch and Practice4 journal will also be missed, as he hands his editorship over to Keith Taber. CERP, and its predecessor University Chemistry Education are a place where reports on the scholarship and practice of teaching in chemistry had a good home. Stephen, along with his co-editor, Georgios Tsaparlis brought the journal into the ISI citations and saw it get an excellent impact factor - a real testament to the editors' dedication to the promotion of the journal among all interested in chemistry education.Looking forward to ViCE 2012 already!  

Chemistry Education Research and Practice

The journal for teachers, researchers and other practitioners in chemistry education

 Michael Seery's Blog 

Read this article in fill on Michael's blog

 Organic chemistry lectures - Southampton 

Sample videos of organic chemistry lectures at the University of Southampton


Interactive 3D animations and chemical structures