Thursday, October 23, 2014

Developing Skills in Second Year Biological Science Undergraduates

Kingfisher Something not a million miles away from what is occupying most of my time this term - an undergraduate skills development module. We'd love the luxury of a mere 150 students in a "large" class (that would have been large for us a few years ago - large is now twice that size). We are also taking a PBL type approach, in our case, writing a 5,000 word research proposal, a challenging class for second year students, but our USP is a team-based approach. It remains to be seem how that will work out. Hopefully it will be as effective as this module.

Rosanna L. Robinson and James E. McDonald (2014) Developing Skills in Second Year Biological Science Undergraduates. Bioscience Education 22(1), 42-53. doi: 10.11120/beej.2014.00026
Development of skills in bioscience undergraduates is seen as desirable by academic staff, students and employers, and this is reflected across most degree programmes. However, providing the opportunity for students to practise skills may alone be insufficient for their development. With an evident discrepancy between the skills expected of students and those exhibited, there is a clear argument for explicit teaching of skills in degree programmes. However, student engagement with such modules can be low and with large class sizes, this can be a particular challenge. We designed a module to develop a range of skills for bioscience students, from information gathering, literacy, time management, independence and teamwork, to higher levels skills such as critical and creative thinking and practise of the scientific approach. We provided a framework of lectures to introduce each component of the module, but our approach relied on small group sessions with problem-based activities and self-directed learning supported by computer-based resources. There are frequent, varied, low-stakes assessments, including peer evaluation with rapid feedback. This module builds on skills acquired by students in their first year, links to other second year modules and culminates in preparation of individual student plans for third year projects or dissertations. The module is very popular with students, and the increase in marks for student assignments (particularly the project plan), are evidence of its effectiveness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Negative feedback

Feedback We are just about to plunge into our first use of marking rubrics (bated breath). This paper makes clear that rubrics are not a magic bullet solution to the problem of transmission philosophy feedback.

Nevertheless, I think it's fairly clear that rubrics "save time". Therefore expect their use to grow and grow in coming years.

Using statement banks to return online feedback: limitations of the transmission approach in a credit-bearing assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 17 Oct 2014 doi: 10.1080/02602938.2014.970124
Electronic marking tools that incorporate statement banks have become increasingly prevalent within higher education. In an experiment, printed and emailed feedback was returned to 243 first-year students on a credit-bearing laboratory report assessment. A transmission approach was used, students being provided with comments on their work, but no guidance as to how they should use these remarks. A multiple-choice question test, undertaken before and after the return of feedback, was used to measure learning. Although returned comments included model answers, test scores showed no overall enhancement, even when students’ marks for their laboratory reports were initially hidden. A negative and significant (p = .010) linear trend between relative test scores and test date suggests that even modest improvements in subject knowledge were lost over time. Despite this, students could accurately guess their mark based on emailed feedback alone, estimated and awarded marks being linearly correlated (p < .001). It is concluded that statement banks organised according to published assessment criteria can ultimately help students to appreciate how their work was graded. However, students should be encouraged to produce a structured response to received feedback if self-assessment is to occur.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

R for Everyone?

R for Everyone R for Everyone: Advanced Analytics and Graphics (Addison-Wesley Data and Analytics). Jared P. Lander. Addison-Wesley (2014) ISBN 0321888030

I've spent quite a few years searching for the perfect R textbook. Jared Lander's R for Everyone has been a revelation to me - I've finally realized there isn't one. Not that that going to stop me writing my own R textbook over the next few months. So how does that make any sense?

R for Everyone is probably the best R textbook I've found yet. But I still can't recommend it to my first year students because although parts of it are ideal, most of it is not. It's a good book but it makes the classic error of trying to be both an R manual and a statistics textbook - even though that's what I've been looking for for years. If you're an advanced statistician/R power user, you'll be looking for something like Michael J. Crawley's The R Book - but that's way over the top for my purposes.

So it looks like I'll have to proceed with my intention of scraping my R/statistics lecture notes together into a more presentable format and then publishing it online. And it will be the best R textbook for my needs. But it probably won't suit anyone else. Because the perfect R textbook is a mythical beast.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Taking Notes

PowerPoint I've been slightly concerned over the last few days about the number of students in my lectures, all of which have PowerPoint notes online, sitting passively rather than actively taking notes. This has spawned thoughts about the omnipresence of PowerPoint (which is not new) and lecture capture (which is new, at least for us). My first reaction was to have a bit of a rant, but like a good student, instead I went off and trawled the literature for some data.

And the literature is fairly clear that overall, providing PowerPoint notes does not ultimately affect student academic performance. Having said that, there may be some personal benefit in the reverse chic of being the lone PowerPoint standout (Nouri, H., & Shahid, A. (2008). The effects of PowerPoint lecture notes on student performance and attitudes. The Accounting Educators' Journal, 18).

But in spite of that, I still have my doubts. First, I wonder if there is a publication bias against negative results about academic performance and lecture room technologies such as PowerPoint and lecture capture. Second, most of the studies in the literature (as is typical for educational research), have very low statistical power, and I wonder if they are sufficient to overcome the whizzbang shiny effect of high investment technologies. The solution to this problem is a large, multi-centre and possible muti-discipinary study on this issue. But with no supporting evidence in the literature, how could that be justified? I can't find enough negative evidence to conduct my own study on the corrosiveness of PowerPoint. Even if I feel that the world would be a better place without it. And reality television. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sigh, lectures

Five Guys Named Moe The subject of lectures as an instructional medium generates far more heat than light. It's actually simple - good lectures, used in moderation - are good, bad lectures are always bad. Having said that, this post of the SEDA blog is balanced and worth reading:
Lectures are used far too often

Graham Gibbs - who else writes about education with this much sense?