Coffee Morning 3- Socially Distanced Science- a brief note.

Members of the Foundation Year Network met for our 3rd ‘coffee morning’. Discussion focused upon the transition to online or more socially distanced teaching and the particular challenges that this brought for practitioners in the sciences.

We reflected upon lessons learned from the second half of this academic year, when teaching was hastily transferred to online provision. This had involved firefighting in an exceptional set of circumstances, with students working with tutors who were already familiar to them. In some cases it had involved liaison with professional bodies to consider what leeway there was to practical requirements

There were clear issues caused by levels of digital ability and accessibility, and students being unable to  have the tangible support that is present in laboratories, despite there being a large number of online resources available. There had been space for innovation and learning by educators, in terms of considering how you can undertake simple experiments remotely, and how you could make use of citizen science, and other tools for experimental work


We then went on to consider how academic year 2020/21 may look. This is obviously a rapidly changing situation, and most institutions are still developing guiding principles for teaching, but it is likely that many of us will be having to adjust to a very different mode of delivery. 

A number of things were discussed including:

  • How you ‘chunk up’ curriculum, at  a variety of scales, from the academic year to the modular and at the session level. We talked about the need for ‘data bursts’ – short sections of content followed by time for discussion
  • Accessibility issues – in terms of online teaching for the visually or hearing impaired, and those with limited IT capabilities. 
  • Many learning outcomes are around data analysis and understanding, rather than the demonstration of practical skills, but laboratory skills, safety and ‘experiment craft’ are important too.
  • How do you build trust and cohort identity remotely? This is a particular challenge in the sciences where laboratory or fieldwork can be very important for students from more practical backgrounds.
  • What might ‘built’ solutions look like when we return to laboratories. None of the Unis represented have their own dedicated foundation lab space, so how can we ensure there’s space for us?
  • Social distancing is likely to be in place, forcing repeats of sessions and increased pressure on timetabling (could lab sessions run in holidays, the semester one exam period)

We then went on to discuss some of the resources which may be good to use, and ways in which network members could work collaboratively. Some suggestions already mooted include:

  • Use of Slido – an online polling tool which enables anonymous interaction
  • The use of Gopros or other similar cameras for filming laboratory work
  • Google meet as a filming tool 
  • Virtual Reality- this has been trialled with some success in Chemistry. 
  • Open Broadcast Software Studio (OBS Studio) was demoed to show the display of a video with live streaming.
  • The new PHYSICS-LTHE network (#lthephysics for Twitter users) will cover a wide range of Physics Education topics
  • The potential to engage with the Chemistry community around drylabs 

We agreed that in many cases we were waiting for further institutional guidance as to the shape of teaching and the technology available, but that this was a topic that merited much more discussion. A further coffee meeting will therefore be set up in mid-June, please keep an eye on your emails and our Twitter account for details as necessary.

In the meantime, please do go to the resources section of the foundation year slack channel and add any resources / case studies which you feel may be of interest. 

Please join us at next coffee morning on “Transition to Level 1” on Tuesday 16th June, 11am-12noon. Get in touch with Rachel ( for a link to the Zoom meeting. 

We’d love to hear suggestions for future discussions and topics you’d be interested in – particularly and also if you have an interest in leading the discussion. We have had some suggestions and will add a coffee morning on “International students”, and one on “Virtual Induction” focusing on the challenges we face in welcoming students for the 2020-21 academic year.

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