My blog

Creativity in science teaching

Yesterday I facilitated a workshop at the SEB 'Creativity in Science Teaching' 2016 conference in London.  My teaching and learning colleagues worked in teams to generate ideas for student collaboration, in answer to the question "What challenge or goal would each of you like students to tackle collaboratively?".

The six teams came up with some fantastically innovative and diverse ideas for collaborative learning activities in the (very!) short time I gave them.  I can see plenty of scope for adapting their ideas to other disciplines and learning objectives, and I hope you are inspired by them too!

I'll shortly be posting the teams' ideas, plus the structure of the workshop itself, as Open Educational Resources (OER) on the #101CreativeIdeas blog created by Eleanor Hannan and Chrissi Nerantzi.  Feel free to comment below or tweet in response, using the hashtags #SEBCST16 and #101creativeideas.

'Online learning: How can we best use it for conservation capacity-building?'

This is the title of the talk I gave at the 2015 ICCB-ECCB in Montpellier earlier this month.  I've been wanting to create more multi-media resources for my online courses, so to become familiar with the process and software, I set myself the challenge of creating a recording of this talk and making it available to other people interested in using online learning to enhance skills for conservation.

The slideshow with voice-over is now available on YouTube, and you can download the transcript here.

I used the following workflow to create my YouTube video:

  1. Recorded the presentation as I gave it, using my mobile phone - terrible audio quality but created a record of what I said on the day,
  2. Created a transcript by re-speaking to Windows Sound Recorder,
  3. Read the transcript aloud and recorded in Audacity using a good quality shotgun microphone,
  4. Added labels in Audacity indicating when I changed slides,
  5. Exported the narration from Audacity to .mp3 format,
  6. Exported the slides from Powerpoint to .jpeg format,
  7. Created a narrated slideshow in Windows Live Movie Maker from the images and soundtrack, adjusting the duration of each slide to match the timing of slide transitions,
  8. Exported the slideshow from Movie Maker to .wmv format,
  9. Uploaded to my YouTube channel.

Do comment if you have any suggestions for stream-lining this workflow, or using open-source cross-platform alternatives to the Windows software.


My second online course is drafted and ready for testing!  Could you be one of my next students?

I’m looking for developing-country conservation professionals to try out my online course introducing the basics of GIS using the free, open-source software QGIS.  This 3-week part-time course will run from Monday 31st August to Sunday 20th September.


Learning objectives

After completing this short course, you will be able to:

  • Source and manage spatial data from field surveys and online data repositories
  • Use QGIS to create, save and navigate around a GIS project
  • Distinguish between vector and raster data models
  • Distinguish between geographic and projected coordinate systems
  • Determine an appropriate spatial reference system for your study area
  • View a data layer’s properties and attributes, including its spatial reference system
  • Add raster and vector layers to your project and adjust the way they are drawn
  • Symbolise and label vector features according to information in the attributes table
  • Describe sources of uncertainty in your spatial data

Studying the course

You can study from anywhere in the world, provided you have a reliable internet connection and can commit 8-10 hours per week to the reading, online discussions, computer-based exercises and group work.  Within each week, the timing of your study is flexible – you can choose when to study, provided you complete the exercises and are involved in the group work for that week.  Places are limited to 25 participants to allow for individual support and feedback by the tutor.

This is a great chance to boost your career skills at no financial cost, accessing learning materials and tutor expertise usually only available to students and staff at the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit!

How to apply

If you are interested, please email me at with a brief description of your experience and current job/student status (one paragraph), and how you will use your new GIS skills to benefit conservation (second paragraph).  Successful applicants will be informed by Friday 28th August, 12 noon GMT.  Demand is likely to be high so I may not be able to respond to every application/query.

The course is free and in return you commit to studying the weekly topics, and providing me with feedback on how useful and engaging the learning materials are, and where they could be improved.

This opportunity is available to conservation professionals and students working in bio-diverse countries, with first-hand experience of fieldwork and conservation issues. You can be at any stage in your career, but priority will be given to early-career professionals and graduate students who are active in conservation within their own country, and who have had limited opportunity to study at overseas academic institutions.


I've had so many fun new learning experiences this week!

My first experience of FOS (Free, Open and Social learning), my first encounter with a Google plus community , my first twitter showers, and now my first blog post, online collaboration, and cartoon creation!

Sara Houston and I teamed up to create a response to the scenario for Day 4's theme of Collaboration, and challenged ourselves with doing this in cartoon form...

We hooked up via Skype, brainstormed in a Google doc to decide what we wanted to say and how to portray it as a cartoon, and then used Pixton to animate our ideas.

Turns out that collaboration is a lot of fun (who'd have guessed?).  Having Sara's perspective on the benefits of collaboration for our students (and us) definitely broadened my understanding and strengthened my resolve to develop that side of my teaching.  Talk about active learning!  🙂

Here's my cartoon:

And here is Sara's: