Dr Jean-Christophe Jacquier

Lecturer, School of Agriculture and Food Science

I have lectured in Food Science at UCD for the past 15 years. The last two years have been like nothing my students and I have experienced before.

I set out in my Innovation Fellowship to undertake what seemed like a straightforward task: to update two Food Analysis modules I had inherited from retiring colleagues more than a decade ago.

The pandemic and the upheaval it has caused across the lives of students meant the outcome was not what I expected. However the insights my colleagues and I collected in the process might prove more valuable.

But first the Food Analysis modules. The aim of these modules is to provide third year students from the BSC in Food Science with the theoretical background and applications of a wide range of instrumental analytical techniques used in modern food analysis. 

While teaching food analysis instrumentation to a small group of a dozen students a year may have been a great practical way to initiate them to analytical techniques in the past, the sheer number of students now enrolled in the course prevents us from any meaningful hands-on classes. This has caused a growing disconnect between the teaching material and the learning experience, leading students to disengage from these two courses. 

A deep overhaul of the two modules was necessary, in line with the more recent scientific and technical advances in food analysis, that could instead reflect the more topical issues of food fraud, food authenticity, toxicity, allergenicity etc. that are now at the forefront of many businesses in the Irish Food and Drink Industry. 

But changing the learning material of such a large part of the third year food science programme would have implications for the learning outcomes at year and programme levels. Consultation with my colleagues was necessary to bring this change about for the benefit of the students. I hoped this change would initiate a greater discussion about our approach to teaching third year modules, and could even be the catalyst to a deeper change in the way teaching and learning are happening at programme level.

I approached past and recent graduates who are now involved with industry and regulatory agencies to get a more general view on graduates attributes and learning outcomes in these specific topics. I also approached colleagues involved in the delivery of Food Science modules to see how teaching and learning changes could be practically implemented at programme level. 

“It’s not what I set out to do on my Fellowship but it’s a challenge educators need to address.”

This approach resulted in a step change in the delivery of the first of these two modules this term. The module has now been split in two. Students can access a theoretical approach to food analysis through written lecture notes, supported by tutorial videos and in-class explanations of difficult points. A more practical and applied approach, dealing with the topical issues of food authenticity and fraud, supported with trade articles, food analysis industry white papers and technical documents, takes place through in-class tutorials and guest lectures.

The redesigned module was implemented this term by a Teaching Fellow from industry who brought extensive hands-on experience of topical issues relating to the analysis of food in an industrial context. 

The result?

Students failed to engage, with participation rates one of the lowest ever recorded, not only in this, but across all modules delivered to 3rd and 4th year food science students this term.

My colleagues and I had invested energy in cultivating engagement, often a difficult and fraught exercise, when students are in the classroom, real or remote. We had not invested energy in ensuring they turn up to the classroom.

When we dug deeper we saw that students are commuting long distances due to the housing crisis; they are working part-time; they are disconnected from their classmates after a full year of being taught online; they are not engaging with peers in group or team activities; some do not even know the names of other students in their class. All of this has resulted in poor participation rates and most likely significant failure rates.

My colleagues and I are now prioritising how to integrate a more blended approach to teaching with the reality of student engagement, how to understand it and improve it.

Dr Jean-Christophe Jacquier was one of 11 Convene Innovation Fellows to participate in the inaugural Convene Fellowship in 2021 at UCD Innovation Academy. Convene is a collaboration between UCD Innovation Academy and TU Dublin funded under Human Capital Initiative Pillar III. HCI seeks, among other aims, to promote innovative methods of teaching and delivery.