Teaching animal nutrition through product development and design

Abstract to be presented at #SEBCST16

Students enrolled on Veterinary Physiotherapy, Animal Therapy or HE Equine courses at Writtle University College share an introductory animal nutrition module in the second semester of their first year. In order to encourage development of both subject-related and transferable skills in their curriculum, this module includes coursework which asks the students to analyse a new animal feed in the laboratory, after which they are required to design a package and a commercial video for this product. This was a group exercise.

The assessment was supported by lectures on nutrition for various life-stages in dogs and horses and legal requirements for packaging, lab practical sessions to help understand the nutritional values, and workshops to support the design process and use of various software packages involved in video editing.  At the end of the semester, student groups were asked to present their commercial video, submit a hard copy of their package and were questioned on various nutritional aspects of their product. They received peer feedback and staff feedback on their work, covering both product design and subject-specific matter.

Student feedback on this assignment was positive. They enjoyed the opportunity to be creative and demonstrate their understanding through product design. Some students went as far as to role-play their commercial video or create a 3D model a feed package. There was a good spread of marks, and staff feedback was very positive.


Organised crime against the academic peer review system

This is what I think about when I hear “organised crime”.

The following is an excellent read on how the academic peer-review system was abused and cheated, and how a journal editing team takes responsibility, investigates and is completely transparent.

Cohen et al. (2016) ‘Organised crime against the academic peer review system‘. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 81(6), 1012-1017. DOI: 10.1111/bcp.12992

It is a pity this happened, but by going through this route, the academic community can learn from their mistakes, and hopefully make the chance of this happening again smaller. You can never completely prevent these things from happening, because organised crime will always try to find new ways of cheating the system. However, as the authors quite rightly state, a select minority should not be allowed to make life more difficult for the well-intended majority.

Thanks to Terry McGlynn at Small Pond Science for posting about this.

I participated in HEA ResearchWebinar 10

HEA Research Webinar 10

Due to enormous marking loads, reflection on this webinar will follow later, but I couldn’t resist highligting the supporting information, which can be found here: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/research/research-webinars

It was a very informative webinar, and the toolkit should be of use for future CPD events: I am planning to do a follow-up of the CPD session on systematic reviews for undergraduate dissertations I delivered earlier this year and this will help with evaluating.

I feel these reflective questions are also useful for HE teaching sessions

CPD: Making the most of Moodle

During the past week I have followed a bitesize online CPD event  offered by Writtle College’s Centre for Academic Standards, Teaching and Learning (CASTLe). The course was a collection of five daily short-ish activities focussing on various aspects of Moodle, the VLE used by the College.


Although i was familiar with some aspects, and have used quite a few features of Moodle over the past few years, it was mainly very useful to discuss with colleagues the merits of embedding video, using forums to engage students and the pros and cons of various menu styles. It it good to discuss these things in Moodle forums, because we don’t get to sit down much to discuss ideas and concerns due to heavy workloads. In a way, it was nice to be a Moodle-using student for a few days.

It has made me think more about the design decisions I have made and will be making in the future: I am currently working on the course-level Moodle page for a new course I am developing, and have started using a lot more advanced features. Not just because it is nice to show off (admit it, that’s why we all want fancy VLE pages), but mainly because well designed pages engage students more, and effective page design will cause less work for academics.

I have a few ideas which I would like to discuss further with colleagues, and which will require a meeting with our IT team to make happen. For example, I discovered today that it is now possible to link external blogs with Moodle. This means students could post to their blog via Moodle. Although this does not immediately sound exciting, it is because I plan on getting students to develop a course-level reflective blog which lasts for the full four years of their course, and which is integrated with the assessment for various modules.

These are exciting times. When I finished my degree in 2009, none of this existed, whereas now, only 6-7 years later, we work on the ever blurring border between virtual and physical learning and teaching, and have new challenges to fully engage and submerge into the subject the 21st century student.

My badge

I will post more on this in the future. For now, I am enjoying the badge I earned for completing the CPD (yes, I admit, a certain degree of gamification in Higher Education is appropriate, and to be honest, just plain cool!) and try to make sense of the ideas racing through my head. I need a white board… and a cold beer! Happy weekend all!

Don’t judge a scientist by their degree grade

Originally publised in The Biologist (link), written by Francis Hooton.
(Hooton, F. (2016) ‘Don’t judge a scientist by their degree grade’. The Biologist 63(1), p7)

A survey of Fellows of the Royal Society reveals many distinguished scientists might struggle to get a research post nowadays

Many people, for many reasons, have failed to get the grades they are capable of, or messed up their degrees completely.

Yet throughout history, people have pursued scientific investigation or engineering, often through the help of others, with poor grades or having never studied science formally at all. These people have gone on to develop world changing technologies or made great breakthroughs in our understanding of the natural world.

Eminent examples include three Copley Medal winners: Michael Faraday, who did an apprenticeship, and had no degree; Charles Darwin, who got an ‘ordinary’ degree in theology; and James Joule, who had no degree. John Walker, who won the Copley Medal and the Nobel Prize, got a third class honours degree due to illness; and Admiral Henry Jackson, who invented radio communication between ships, did not have a degree.

Is it possible that these pioneers in science would struggle to get a research placement today, where research councils demand no less than a 2:1 BSc honours degree? (Exceptions to this entry requirement do occur, but only where laboratory leaders are well funded and know the student.)

I decided to look more closely at the degree grades of Fellows of the Royal Society (FRS) who worked in the experimental sciences*. It is, of course, difficult to compare the grades of people studying centuries apart, because degree terminology has changed significantly. But of nearly 300 surveyed, 18% achieved third class honours or worse, and even more had ‘ordinary’ degrees (the definition of which has changed over time, but generally means a pass without honours).

Contrary to the general belief that 70% to 80% of experimental scientists at FRS level have first class honours, I found the figure is closer to half (54%); 10% of these distinguished scientists never did degrees, and almost a third (30%) have a second, 2:2 or lower. Many of the most well known scientists on my list got the lowest grades.

The findings have important implications for decision making when offering PhD places and research jobs: clearly degree grades are not a reliable indicator of research ability and potential. A similar study to mine by Liam Hudson in 1960[1] reached similar conclusions, and although his sample was a fairly small cohort of Oxbridge graduates, his message has clearly been ignored.

A more thoughtful approach needs to be adopted by academics, industry and the research councils when selecting and interviewing students for research jobs. The system should mean students who have potential and are motivated, but have lower grades, can still get jobs, while those with firsts who are not suited to research are prevented from entering the system.

Students being interviewed for PhDs or research jobs could be given some new data to analyse or problems to solve. Those who have research ability, creativity or can think laterally are more likely to come up with interesting analyses or solutions; those who memorised their way to a first might not. If the quality of undergraduate research projects and theses are considered too, degree grades could almost be ignored.

I am told certain institutions such as Imperial College do employ similar sounding methods, but in my experience of meeting PhD and research supervisors I have never been given a problem to solve or take away to work on.

And do employers or academics do enough to understand a student’s motivation? Those with a first who just want to get their PhD may not be as valuable as those with worse grades but a dedication to a life in research.

The UK faces a skills shortage in science and other STEM subjects. Why would any academic institutions want to turn away people who could be very good at research? Looking at some of the great scientists of the last two centuries, it would be madness to shut the door to their potential modern day equivalents because of a couple of percentage points on their degree.

*Download a full breakdown of Francis’ survey data 

Full details of the survey methodology can be obtained by emailing the editor, Tom Ireland.

1) Hudson, L. Degree Class and Attainment In Scientific Research. The British Psychological Society51(1) 67-73 (1960)

About 30-40% of the names in the survey replied to email. The rest were obtained from Royal Society biographical memoirs, Science Vega videos and other biographies. Thanks to Frederick Vine FRS and Steve Busby FRS for their help and support and to all the Fellows who replied. Thanks also to the Cambridge and Oxford student offices, and to Dr Paul Johnston at Glasgow Ecology and Tropical diseases department for helpful discussions and statistics advice. Special thanks to Donald Grierson FRS for help, criticisms and discussions and to Dr Steve Catterall and Professor Paul Barlow at Edinburgh University. Thanks to all Fellows of the Royal Society who replied to email.

Francis Hooton is doing an ecology research internship with the University of Glasgow. He has Asperger’s syndrome, which affected his original biochemistry degree from the University of Aberdeen. After being diagnosed and given the appropriate support, he completed a master’s in biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Nottingham University.

Writing inspiration

Yesterday I spent most of the day preparing the first draft of a manuscript. This invariably meant that my wife and son had to entertain themselves. They went on a hike with a friend and afterwards the four of us went for lunch at a local pub.

I was struggling quite a bit before I went for lunch, but a good craft ale, some soul food in the form of a great burger, and ofcourse the lovely sunny day, gave me lots of inspiration and motivation to finish the paper. I left my wife, son and friend at the pub and by the end of the afternoon the first draft was ready.

I’m going to leave it for a few days and then have another look at it, but I am pretty happy as is. I might need to go to the pub more often, perhaps Rachael Cayley () over at Explorations of Style needs to do an article on it…