Wednesday, August 20, 2008

First year undergraduate practicals

Report In April 2008 the Centre for Bioscience arranged a workshop involving 32 bioscience staff from across UK HE, to discuss the topic of first year undergraduate work in the biosciences. Participants shared experiences of delivering practical classes where problem solving, research investigation, creativity and innovation are key features, before redesigning a number of current practicals in an investigative mode and in light of the needs expressed by students in a prior survey.

The report contains a summary of the main points, a list of recommendations, and a number of practicals, from the workshop, and the presentations and copies of the practicals from the workshop can be viewed on the Centre of Bioscience website.
  • What are (should be?) the learning objectives of 1st year practicals?
  • Do we want to teach 1st year students specific laboratory skills since it will be 3 years before they reach employment?
  • Should we be challenging students more and letting them make mistakes? Do they see such mistakes as learning opportunities or as badly designed practicals which do not work?
  • Are we providing a taste for what laboratories are like and therefore informing career choices?
  • Are we trying to engender enthusiasm and interest in laboratory work?
  • Have we got the right balance between these different issues?
  • Not adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, can we introduce choice into practicals?
  • The transition from school to university laboratory work. This is a big jump; can we help students make it in easy steps over a period of time?
  • Can we reduce the ‘worst’ things about practicals while capitalising on the ‘best’ things to improve the student experience of laboratory classes and so stimulate student interest and motivation for laboratory based careers?
  • Is there an alternative approach (which may be very time consuming) in which staff talk to students about a negatively perceived laboratory class to show where learning can be extracted?