Remote teaching and learning during a pandemic
Two professors, a PhD student and two interns overcame the challenges of remote working to produce a series of teaching resources on battery science.
With the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in closures of research labs across the UK, supervisors offering undergraduate summer internships have had to adapt to this new working landscape, to allow students the opportunity to join the active research groups, rather than taking the easy route of cancelling these placements.
In light of this challenge, and with funding provided from the Faraday Institution, Professor Peter Slater at the University of Birmingham decided to run two remote internships to work on educational resources for battery education and to ultimately inspire the next generation of chemists.
With the support of Professor Emma Kendrick and Peter’s PhD student, Lizzie Driscoll, across the summer, these placements have proved a real success.
"With the challenge of running anything for the first time, you never know how well it’s going to work and this was a real learning experience for both Peter and me", said Lizzie. "But after two 2 months I think we can both agree it has been very successful!"
"Remote working definitely has its benefits. I, myself, am not a fan of micromanaging, so I believe the virtual internships have the benefit of giving students a lot more freedom in their working style and can exploit their own creativity within the project concept."
Interns Sophia and Emily were tasked with creating educational resources for teaching the science of batteries. "I think also that the beauty of creating educational resources", says Lizzie, "is that students will have different interpretations. Sophia and Emily have both created excellent resources but in different mediums."
Emily created resources for a variety of age groups, beginning by expanding on Lizzie’s "Battery Jenga" outreach work, with an updated version that demonstrates the use of graphite and LiFePO4. She also made a "steady hand" game, where pupils have to disassemble a simplified model of an electric vehicle battery without touching the sides of the box.
She said her favourite thing about the internship was the freedom she was given. "It allowed me to create things – playing to my strengths and interests that a lab-based placement wouldn’t have allowed for."
"I learned a huge amount throughout", she continued. "Having not had any experience in batteries before, the project began with a lot of reading and learning before being able to produce anything. It taught me a lot about the science research community in general and has led to new opportunities within my University to continue working on outreach activities. Overall, it was a fantastic experience and has resulted in me wanting to complete a PhD after I finish my masters in two years' time."
Sophia produced a series of 10 infographics and a podcast consisting of four episodes. The infographics – aimed at GCSE, A-level and undergraduate students – used the analogy of a cake to represent a battery, whilst the podcast covered battery manufacturing from the points of view of science education, outreach, ethics and patent law.
"I loved having the opportunity to create a podcast!” she said. “I had never worked on a podcast before, so this internship was a steep learning curve for me. For two of the podcast episodes, I was able to interview people doing different projects for the Faraday Institution. I really enjoyed learning about their projects and how different subjects can be related to battery manufacturing – before making the podcast I had never considered the role of law in manufacturing and scientific research."
She found working remotely to be a challenge, but quickly came up with methods to overcome these challenges: "I am quite an extroverted person and I struggled with the lack of face-to-face contact that you would normally get in a work environment. Seeing people energises me and so I found working from home to be more tiring than I expected. I overcame this by talking to my friends in my lunch breaks and having regular contact with my supervisors. Despite working from home, I was still able to meet plenty of interesting people. I took every opportunity to attend seminars and engage in social calls with the other interns. Not only did I learn a lot about battery manufacturing, I felt happier when I was able to interact with other people."
Lizzie has this advice for any supervisors considering remote teaching over the coming months: "You need to make sure you still provide the time to support students in the virtual landscape, regardless of there being no face-to-face teaching. In person, it’s quite easy to go to someone’s desk and have a brief chat, but when the project is a virtual one, it’s a lot harder."
The internships worked so well that Lizzie and Peter plan to offer a virtual battery resource masters project going forward.
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