03 September 2021

Making a new exercise

 One of my tasks this summer was filling a pair of rather large shoes. They are only large metaphorically: they are my colleague Suzie's. Or ex-colleague, as I should call her. Her specialism is flocculation, and she did a practical with a big cohort of second-year students that involved that process. But unfortunately, she is gone now. And I know very little of flocculation. But someone needed to do something to fill that hole in the module. And I ended up being that person.

The good news is: I know what I want to do. My former colleague James had done a lot of work in the Celtic Sea, using a plethora of proxies to reconstruct the state of the water. Was it mixed, was it stratified? And if it went from one state to the other, when did it do that? This sounds, perhaps, like a rather academic question, but I assure you it isn't. It matters enormously for the amount of primary productivity in the water column whether it is seasonally stratified or not. And primary productivity is, of course, crucial for sequestration of carbon. And it is also the base of the food chain. So if you want to understand how the carbon cycle worked, and changed, on the timescale of thousands to tens of thousands of years, you had better learn how to recognise seasonal stratification in the fossil record. And James is just the kind of man to find that sort of things out. And my plan was to make the students work through what he had done, understand what he had done, and then apply his methods to a different sea. They would have learned from the best, so they should then be able to apply their knowledge anywhere!

The exercise in which they work through James's data is structurally complete. It doesn't look good yet! And even though that is not crucial, it is nice if your Sway documents look attractive.

Do I have a dataset from another sea ready for the second part? No, not yet. Do I have the assignment ready? No, not yet. The summer looks so long and empty, but it is not. Before you know it you have to submit your timetabling requests for the New Year, and that means you need to already know exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. And over summer I am always busy getting all the staff and all the documentation ready for the dissertation module. And then there is welcome week! And this year, I got the full responsibility for our fieldwork module. So I had to park my practical for a bit. It is actually quite interesting to design a new exercise from scratch. I just wish we would ever have sufficient time for doing that sort of thing!

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