The University of Southampton

Innovative teaching on the early universe recognised at Excellence in VLE Awards

Published: 9 August 2019
Illustration
(L-R) Dr Francesco Shankar and Professor Alexander Belyaev

Live polls and video summaries are making a big bang at the University of Southampton, where interactive teaching on the early universe has been honoured with an Excellence in VLE Award.

The School of Physics and Astronomy module was nominated by its students for the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) accolade, which celebrates effective online learning materials and student support.

The popularity of the course has prompted lecturers to split the content into two modules covering Cosmology and Physics of the Early Universe for the 2019/20 academic year.

The topics are available to third and fourth year students and taught by Dr Francesco Shankar and Professor Alexander Belyaev.

“We are honoured that our efforts have been awarded as one of just three prizes across the education of the whole University,” Alexander says. “I believe that the quality of teaching in Physics and Astronomy is always improving and it’s pleasing to know that our innovative methods in this fascinating and contemporary module are being welcomed by students.”

Around 50 students attended the course in 2018/19 and benefited from short 10-15 minute video summaries of lectures as well as ‘Explain everything’ videos of the topic’s complex mathematical content.

The lecturers also utilised a real-time polling app to ask the group questions during the sessions which were then answered by phone and displayed live at the front of the venue.

Comments from Physics and Astronomy students on completion of the course included: ‘Outstanding content organisation and feedback’, ‘The lecture summary videos were helpful’ and ‘The quantity of useful supporting content was on another level’.

The module content is divided across its two expert speakers, with Francesco covering cosmological principles and observables, geometry and the Friedman expansion of the universe, while Alexander teaches the Big Bang model, the early stage of universe expansion, inflation, dark matter and the concept of Big Bang nucleosynthesis.

This year saw the seventh VLE Awards hosted by the University’s Digital Learning team. Students are involved in the nominating, shortlisting and judging of the scheme, which is finalised in its latter stages with input from the University’s Associate Deans for Education and partnered online learning specialists.

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