Remote connections provide the right chemistry
Chemistry is the study of the composition, behaviour and properties of matter and the changes they undergo. The School of Chemistry, like the entire University, has undertaken many changes over the past few weeks.
Staff have tackled the adjustment to working environments by implementing online resources that have been commended by students.
Students can now access more academic and personal support online, get advice on how to deal with increased levels of communication and receive crucial information about navigating online assessments.
Charlie Simms, fifth year MChem Chemistry student, said: “The School of Chemistry have been incredible in their response to the pandemic. Over the past month they have been in constant communication with students, both through supportive and informative emails and twice-weekly web chats.”
“The openness and transparency of members of staff within the School has really made the students feel comfortable to get in touch with any anxieties and that, even in isolation, we feel included in the School of Chemistry community.”
The new support systems help students manage the increased level of information-heavy emails, provide access to their personal tutor system, offer Q&A webchats, and prepare for online open-book assessments.
Professor Michael Seery, Director of Teaching at the School of Chemistry, said: “The end of academic year is a busy time for students in normal circumstances, but this year, due to Covid-19, there is a swell in information relating to alternative arrangements that our students have to process.”
To provide easy access to key information, Michael and his team are circulating single page documents compiling messages from various key emails.
Michael said: “Student email boxes are busy at the best of times with University communications, but at the moment there are some really important emails coming from the Principal and Vice-Principal at University level and at School level regarding revised arrangements, new protocols and processes.”
The intention is to create a single source for students, summarising all the important information they need to know.
Personal Tutor System
Like all Schools, the School of Chemistry has a Personal Tutor system that underpins the established staff-student networks.
The School has moved quickly to brief personal tutors on enquiries regarding assessments and to answer the types of requests that have been emerging.
Dr Chris Mowat, Senior Personal Tutor at the School, said: “We want to emphasise to students that we want them to contact us. We know there are queries and concerns and we want to address them.”
“We’re also working on some career guidance webinars and discussions around things like CV clinics, interview strategies, and in collaboration with the Careers Service, navigating the current uncertainty from a careers perspective.”
The School have also been running twice-weekly Q&A webchats that provide a vital forum for students and staff to preserve a sense of belonging to their community.
Chris said: “I have always been confident in the strength of our staff-student relationships, and proud of our sense of community, but it has never been tested like this. Students and staff alike have made the best of a surreal and difficult situation with good humour and patience.”
Open-book assessments will take the place of traditional exams during the Covid-19 crisis. The assessments are timed exams offered remotely for which students may use texts or material they have been studying.
Michael said: “Students have a good conception of what an exam hall setting looks and feels like, and we wanted to replicate that awareness for the new arrangements.”
“We’re well aware of the text-heavy nature of a lot of communications, so we made a video explaining how the open-book assessment protocol will work, how they should get access to their exam paper, and how they upload their answers.”
As students and staff alike come to terms with new working arrangements, the resilience and work ethic of both has been noted, with over 100 students writing to the Principal to thank staff for the work being done in the School of Chemistry.
Michael said: “It’s been a roller-coaster few weeks, but it’s been fantastic to see everyone come together. While this is my job, seeing how hard students are working to just get on with things makes me want to reciprocate and work as hard to help them as much as we can.”