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by Caroline Baillie and Leone Burton, Editors

Many of our community, lecturers in the disciplines of and relating to Materials Science and Engineering, have expressed interest in simple-to-use guides to support the workshops we run on learning and teaching. As part of our 'Thematic Groups' scheme, we have established 12 themes for this special focussed support, each of which is led by a 'Thematic Group Leader'. During the first two years of the scheme, workshops have been held on these themes and this has enabled the leaders to further explore relevant issues with lecturers and feed the results into this series of guides.

Learning and teaching is a continuous cycle. We can start at any point around the cycle. If we are in the business of teaching it certainly helps if there is someone to teach! Not such a funny joke in the current climate with reducing numbers of students in technical disciplines. Hence one of our main concerns is how can we approach schools and work with school students to attract them into Materials areas. 'Attracting Materials Students' by Cheryl Anderson explores how we can work with schools and the wider community to ensure a diverse and inclusive group of able students on our courses. Once we have a class to teach, what would we like to teach them? The first reaction to such a question is to make a list of topics or knowledge. However, this is only a beginning, and a very limited one. Not only are there many skills and attitudes that we would like them to develop, but learning is more complex than simply the what. It also involves the how. 'Developing Professional Skills'; by John Wilcox explores the approach to empowering students to track their own skills development as they progress. 'Materials for Engineers' by Mike Bramhall, 'Materials Chemistry' by Stephen Skinner and 'Environmental Materials' by Cris Arnold, focus on what we might like to include in a specialised curriculum, for targeted students. The knowledge, skills and attitudes or learning objectives identified for each course must be assessed if we are going to give credit to students for learning what we want them to learn. 'Assessing Materials Students' by Lewis Elton gives support to the development of assessments and assignments that do in fact give marks for those things we want to acknowledge, rather than those aspects that are simply easy to assess!

Believe it or not it is only at this stage that we can really consider how we should teach the students to learn these things. We all know about lectures but will we use in addition or instead: tutorials ('Tutoring Materials' by Adam Mannis and Shanaka Katuwawala), labs ('Teaching Materials Lab Classes' by Caroline Baillie), case studies ('Teaching Materials Using Case Studies' by Claire Davis and Elizabeth Wilcock), problem based learning ('Learning Materials in a Problem Based Course' by James Busfield and Ton Peijs) or even learning at a distance ('Learning Materials at a Distance' by Mark Endean)?

The final stage before we start all over again is to see if we have done what we intended to do. We may have already found out whether, and how effectively, the students learnt what we wanted them to (i.e. if the assessment matched the learning objectives and if our teaching methods suited the students' learning approaches). If this has not proved to be as ideal a scenario as we would have wished we will need further input to analyse what has happened. 'Were the course objectives inappropriate?', 'Am I sure that the assessment did not force my students into taking a surface approach?', 'Did the students take on surface approaches to learning because of my teaching?' Ivan Moore's 'Evaluating a Materials Course' will give you the tools of the trade to conduct your own thorough evaluation and enable you to develop an improved course for next year's cohort. Which brings us back to the beginning of the cycle. 'Are we attracting students with appropriate abilities for this course?' And on it goes ....

In writing these guides, and running the workshops we have had a lot of fun and we hope that you catch the flavour of this in using them. Stay in touch and give us feedback about your ideas in implementing any of the suggestions. As a community we can learn most from each other.