Dr Philippa Cranwell, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy
Year(s) of activity: 2014/15
The project assessed the impact of the intake of a cohort of 16 3+1 BSc Applied Chemistry students on the existing undergraduate students on programmes within the Department of Chemistry (approximately 72 students, on both BSc and MChem programmes), and determined any preconceptions each cohort may have had about each other or the course.
- Determine the impact of intake of students from Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST) on existing Part Three Chemistry students.
- Discover what preconceptions current Chemistry students held.
- Determine what aspects of their year at the University of Reading students from NUIST found the most challenging, and what support could be offered to future students.
The 3+1 BSc Applied Chemistry is a dual award degree delivered in partnership by the University of Reading and the NUIST. Students currently study for three years at NUIST in the People’s Republic of China before transferring to the University of Reading to complete their final year, with successful students being awarded a Bachelor of Science from each institution. This study was undertaken because integration of two cohorts on this scale had not been undertaken before in Chemistry at the University of Reading. There was a desire to ensure that existing students were not adversely affected by the intake of Chinese students because they would have to share resources, such as lectures, workshops and tutorials, and also to ensure the Chinese students felt they were adequately supported whilst in the UK.
The findings were derived from focus groups held with Part Two students (30 students), Part Three domestic students (30 students) and the Part Three NUIST students (12 students). During the focus groups, the students were posed questions about different aspects of the year and wrote responses on giant sticky notes. The questions were designed such that they were open and allowed students to give as much information as they wanted. In the case of the NUIST students the focus groups were not very successful due to a reluctance to speak out. In addition, therefore, anonymous questionnaires that the students could fill in and return were distributed. During the focus group session, lunch was provided to thank the students for their time.
The study achieved its objectives, although not in the manner originally perceived. It had not been anticipated that the NUIST students would be so reluctant to speak out. It was quickly realised, however, that the best way to obtain meaningful data from the NUIST cohort was to offer anonymised questionnaires. This approach will be used in the future. Additionally, the study was useful in that it showed that there was one overriding theme for good integration; the importance of language skills. Although it was known that the students all fulfilled the University’s requirement for English language proficiency, it had not been anticipated how difficult it would be for them in a lecture situation.
This project was successful in that it managed to gather the necessary information. If the project were to be repeated again, there would be more awareness of the fact that the Chinese students were less forthcoming with their views and anonymous questionnaires would have been used from the beginning. It might also have been useful to pose the questions in Mandarin, therefore avoiding any confusion or misunderstandings. With regards to the UK students, the session was well-received and students were happy to have the opportunity to give their opinions so no changes to this are necessary.
Outcomes from the activity have led to a reassessment of the way the initial three years of the programme are taught in the People’s Republic of China, and an emphasis on the importance of a good grasp of the English language; both in academic and in social situations. The Department of Chemistry is working towards providing:
- Additional exam-style questions for the students to practice while they are in the UK.
- Input into exam questions in the People’s Republic of China so students are better prepared for what to expect when in the UK.
- A greater emphasis on the technical language required for the study of Chemistry.