Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer
Search the Staffnet siteSearch StaffNet
Search type

Engagement rates soar in Materials since moving online

14 Dec 2020

The preliminary physics module for first year Materials students has seen significant increases in engagement levels this academic year.

Attendance figures have in recent years been temperamental and tended to drop off as the semester progresses. However, numbers this year have started high and are continuing to remain high.

Dr Andrew Thomas, Research Fellow in the Department of Materials tell us more.

“I teach a course for first year Materials students who didn’t take A-level Physics to bring their physics knowledge up to the required levels. There is no assessment for this course and in previous years when teaching face-to-face, we have struggled to maintain attendance levels. There tends to be around 10 students at the beginning of the year and then once other coursework deadlines that do count towards final marks start looming, numbers would start to fall sometimes to as low as one or two students.

Even before COVID, I had spoken to the programme manager and we had agreed to start looking in to moving this course online. The pandemic gave us the final impetus to make this transition. I inherited this unit six years ago and although the content has gradually been evolving over the years, I saw the transition to blended learning as an opportunity to really understand whether we were equipping students with the level of knowledge they needed for their degree. I therefore emailed all of the year one lecturers to find out exactly what kind of physics they needed to be covered to support their programmes and this has been reflected in the course content.  

The course features a combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching. The asynchronous element has taken the form of videos and pre-recorded demonstrations, one of which involved my 18 year old son in our back garden using a slinky to demonstrate wave behaviour! The lectures have either been delivered synchronously, so are online but in real time, or via pre-recorded videos which are broken down into short chunks to make them easy to access in between other study commitments. I also ran a workshop session where students were set a worksheet and then given the opportunity ask questions or provide feedback. This was very well received and I was pleased to see students coming up with some really good questions.

I have been tracking engagement with the online materials and the online tests and I am pleased to see that of the 30 students that started the unit at the beginning of the year, the majority have continued to engage with the unit throughout the semester. The number of students taking the tests is slightly lower at the moment but we appreciate that they have coursework deadlines approaching which are no doubt taking priority.

I think the increase in engagement that we’re seeing is down to a number things. The timetabling of this unit was always critical to engagement and I used to find the 9am slot on a Friday was never well attended. I also used to find that I would see better attendance levels if students were on campus in lectures immediately prior to mine. I think the fact that students can complete this unit in their own time has had a major impact on engagement. They can take a break when their other deadlines need to take priority and then come back to this unit as all of the material is online and available for them to complete when it suits them.”

You can watch one of Andrew’s lectures here.