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.

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