University of Canterbury

Innovations in teaching overcome lockdown challenges at University of Canterbury

May 20, 2020

When New Zealand went into COVID-19 lockdown, the University of Canterbury staff had to quickly find new ways to teach and support students remotely. This was a particular challenge for lab-based courses. However, unique solutions have enabled students to carry on learning in lockdown.

In the UC School of Earth and Environment, staff and postgraduate students have been working together to develop a virtual demonstrator that can be used to explore three-dimensional rocks and up-close using interactive images of very thin slices of rock taken under a microscope. The virtual demonstrator is the latest in a suite of similar tools that UC has developed for students using state of the art digital interfaces alongside traditional field trips.

“This one is particularly exciting for us; one of our Masters’ degree students in geo-education will be conducting a study to assess its effectiveness as a teaching intervention,” says crustal geology modelling technician Jonathan Davidson. The development team are Senior Lecturer Alex Nichols, Associate Professor Ben Kennedy, and postgraduate students Kamen Engel and Sriparna Saha.

The aim of the virtual demonstrator is to enhance lab skills by aiding students in mineral observation and identification. It is being used in combination with live online feedback from the lecturer and demonstrators to give students studying remotely the same or even better levels of feedback and with added flexibility compared to ‘normal’ on-campus lab sessions.

Along with senior lecturer Dr Tim Stahl, Jonathan has also been hard at work developing resources for Christchurch geology and geomorphology trips. “There will be a virtual component, but some students will also be able to self-guide themselves using their devices around town, (thereby avoiding the need for students to crowd together in vans).”

Making scents with fragrance sample kits

Learning how to sniff out the difference between lemon and bergamot and other fragrances is a key requirement for UC product formulation students studying fragrance design. The COVID-19 lockdown created a problem for lecturers who would usually teach fragrance fundamentals at on-campus lab sessions. Second year students learn about 25 fragrance compound classes before using them to make a perfume of their choice. At third year level, another 40 fragrance compounds are added in preparation for advanced fragrance design.

With so much of this learning based on practical experience, staff had to get creative with solutions to help students. Their response has been exceptional.

“Two technicians and I spent three days creating sample kits for all these students, involving over 1600 fragrance samples in total plus sets of mixing pots, eye droppers, smelling strips and more,” explains Professor Conan Fee, head of the UC School of Product Design.

The kits were then packaged up – using cardboard tube-holder racks laser-cut by a technician – and mailed to individual students. Supersets were also sent to four lecturers including two industry guests.

Through live lab sessions on Zoom, students have been able to experience fragrance samples, and learn how to blend them into sophisticated fragrances or various personal care products.

Student internships

Professional and Community Engagement (PACE) internship arrangements for UC students have adapted rapidly to the COVID-19 situation. Internships prepare students to make a difference by creating real world opportunities for them to work on projects with local businesses and community organisations.

“We are delighted at how our PACE internships are continuing remotely, thanks to huge goodwill from partner organisations,” says UC Partnerships manager Clare Murray. “Our students remain strongly committed to their projects and everyone has a determination to see them through for the benefit of all.”

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