Teaching Biomolecules & Cells with PebblePad

For the new Biomolecules and Cells module that launched in this 2017/18 academic year, I decided that the workshop sessions would be more effective if they were done using PebblePad. The workshops in this module introduce students to drawing biomolecules in ChemDraw and using other visualisation software to build, view and manipulate experimental biomolecule structures. This year I selected Jmol as the tool to introduce our undergraduates to protein structures and nucleic acid visualisation.

Learning how to use Pebblepad allowed me to create an interactive workbook that contained background information for the workshop, instructions and exercise directions, question sections to check the student’s understanding and a personal note area to allow students to create their own content to support their learning and, later, revision of the material. An additional bonus to using Pebblepad meant that the students work could be viewed in real time and I was able to leave them comments to correct their work or ask follow up questions to push their understanding along.

The students, a mix of stage 1 and stage 2 students, were new to Pebblepad but managed to grasp how it worked quickly and soon moved on to performing the exercises I’d set for them in ChemDraw and Jmol. I had worried that it wouldn’t run smoothly, but it was the easiest workshop I’ve ever run. The students enjoyed the interaction via the comments section and, while I kept it to a minimum during the class, knowing I could see their work and help them along online, as well as in person, helped to keep them engaged. It was really helpful as a single tutor with a large group to be able to fire out comments to the students in a short amount of time, compared to just engaging in person which can leave some students waiting for help and unable to do anything until you get to them. A mix of circuiting the room talking to the students and having the ability to comment really kept the energy up in the room.

Another thing that I found beneficial was that, having a group of mixed abilities, I could design a workshop that could address the different skill levels. Advanced students could skip the beginner material and I ensured there was enough material to keep them going after the workshop. In this way the students could go along at their own speed and complete the exercises during their own study time so that, while it may take some longer, they will hopefully develop comparable abilities over the next few weeks.

Now all I have to do is create my next workbook for workshop 2!