04 December 2021

Trying a new practical

I had made a new assignment! And it was time to put it to the test. A three-hour practical was booked for this, or rather; two three-hour practicals, as it is a rather large student group, so they were split in two. The idea was they would just work on the assignment with me there to answer questions. I had no idea how it would go! Maybe they wouldn't need me at all. I didn't think it was very complicated.
What I had basically done was give them one Excel sheet with various data from the Irish Sea, and a big Sway document that talked them through how to process their data in order to reconstruct the stratification history of that sea. And then another Excel sheet with similar data from the North Sea. And the task to then present me with the stratification history of that second basin. That was all there was to it!

It started. And there are quite a lot of questions! Some were really about understanding the assignment, but quite a lot of them are actually about how to organise, plot, and interpret the data. I had done the exercise in Excel myself. And there were a lot of students who struggled with that! So I think I taught a lot of students things such as what graph type works for what purpose, how you create a secondary y-axis, and things like that. Nothing to do with understanding shelf sea processes! But still very useful skills.

This was also an opportunity to iron out some flaws. One of my datasets turned out to have a rogue cell with non-numeric data in it. And there was a mistake due to careless copying and pasting in the Sway document. And the worst was that two column labels were the wrong way around. But it was all sorted and I think it is all okay now.

It took them longer than I thought to plough through the Sway document. That is useful to know for next year! But if you struggle with Excel, and you're not very proficient either with any other software who can do this like Rstudio, Matlab, or any of the other software that the University has available, all data processing takes a lot of time. In data processing is important. In that sense, I was probably doing more of a job of preparing them for their dissertation, for which they also have to process data, than to increase their understanding of shelf seas on millennial timescales.

Then the first session was over, and I had some lunch. And then I did it all again in the afternoon. The second batch of students was a bit quieter than the first; maybe they had already used up a lot of energy in the morning. But the issues were largely the same. And some of the students were present online; I was answering their questions in the chat of the Blackboard Collaborate session.

I think it went okay; I don't think it was too easy, but I also think it wasn't too hard. But I will see the true results when the actual assignment is due and I can see how they did! I hope they will do well!

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