Monday, April 16, 2012

HEA STEM conference 2012

The HEA STEM conference took place at Imperial College on the 12th and 13th April. The conference was divided into 13 threads covering the range of STEM subjects as well as STEM learning & teaching issues. For me, an Engineer and Biologist who works in IT and is involved in Maths support projects, there was far more of interest than I could possibly attend - fortunatly most of the papers were included on the conference USB stick.

On day one I attended parts of Biosciences thread 1 on Innovative Practice. Anne Tierney presented on how she is using ideas from Illinois Initiative on Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. I liked her approach of getting the students to think about how they extracted information from a short clip from Sherlock Holmes to help them understand Bloom's taxonomy. Cas Kramer from Leicester presented on his board game GENIE, which helps students understand evolution and genetics.

On day two I attended the BioMaths session first, and then the Mathematics and Statistics in Context session where we were presenting. The theme of contextualizing maths to ensure it is visibly relevant to the students was a key part of both sessions. Jenny Koenig's presentation covered her report "A survey of the mathematics landscape within bioscience undergraduate and postgraduate UK higher education" - I found it surprising how varied the maths entry requirements for bioscience are across UK universities, and also worrying how basic the maths understanding of those with a GCSE in maths can be. Marcus Tindall from Reading gets biology to learn maths by giving them appropriate material - his Hodgkins/Huxley example was familiar from when I was teaching in Zoology, however we missed out most of the maths. I like the approach, but I think Marcus is probably teaching students at the upper end of the entry maths spectrum.

In our session we were preceded by Martin Greenhow who demonstrated questions from his Maths E. G. database. This is an excelent resource, though sadly JISC didn't fund our plans to update and furure-proof it. Perhaps we can revisit that after QTIDI. Our demonstration of Uniqurate and QTIDI felt a bit rushed, so probably not as good as it could have been, however I was able to demonstrate QTI 2.1 being played inside a live University VLE for the first time ever. This is quite a big step towards getting good quality formative assessment more widely available.