Dr Kirsty Kiezebrink, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition tells us about the development of an online Access to Biomedical Science course for students who do not have sufficient science background to allow them to meet their conditional offer of study.

Problem

Each year we have students applying to take one of our MSc programmes who do not have sufficient science background to allow them access to our programmes. Previously, we would make them a conditional offer.  The condition was that over the summer they obtain some additional science training. Unfortunately, many of the students would then undertake a science summer school with an alternative university, and then apply to that university to carry on their studies.  So would not then take up our offer.  We did not have capacity to run our own summer science school.

Solution

As a team, we had good experience of teaching online. Therefore, we decided to develop an online access to biomedical science course.  We decided to build this on the future learn platform, as this would allow us to direct our conditional offers here, and would also open this up to a much wider market through the MOOC approach, which would therefore enable a more interactive online experience for the students.  We, therefore, developed a programme of studies consisting of 3 MOOCs (massive online courses) and a final assessment course (via MyAberdeen). These are scheduled to run sequentially throughout the year with the 2 assessment course dates planned to allow international students to obtain their visas, and for home students to have completed their undergraduate finals.

Evaluation

Course 1 – “Understanding the Body” had 3094 students enrolled (with a run retention index of 14%)  and 25 students who paid for the upgrade to obtain the certificate.  Course 2 – “How Does the Body Use DNA as a Blueprint?”, had 2356 students enrolled (with a run retention index of 47%) and 27 students paying for the upgrade. The third course: “What Drives the Body?” with 2448 students enrolled (run retention index 39%) and 21 upgrades purchased. 

Feedback form students

“I also have completed all three courses on Understanding the body. I do not have a science background, so on occasions these have proved quite challenging. But they have been so clear and well structured that I feel I have learned a lot - and am inspired to go on to increase my understanding further. Thanks very much to the team who put this together, you have done a great job. “

“I commend Dr Lynsey and her Mentors at the University of Aberdeen for condensing all this information and delivering it to the comfort of our homes. It is such a privilege to be able to enjoy lectures in my dressing gown! Most of all I thank them for their timely feedback to questions raised by course participants. That feedback is key to making the system work. Keep up the good work. “

“I have enjoyed all three courses in "Understanding the body". Quite an achievement for the University team to put all the relevant information for the course in the short time period of three weeks for each course in the program. Well done!”

“This is by far the best course I have ever taken on DNA, and that is surprising considering how few videos there were. The articles are an excellent media because we don't have to wait for videos to load (Internet in the Philippines, not so good), but they were so well written, they managed to make their point as well as videos normally do. The comments section was also very helpful, and I don't know what magic this course had, to have such a vibrant comments section. Perhaps it is the fact that the educators and mentors are so diligent in replying, or because the comments section is so easy to access. I have never before been interested in participating in discussions, but this course's discussions pulled me in, and I have found that I learned nearly as much from the discussions as from the main materials. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Great job! “

“Thanks for this excellent course. I really appreciate the care and enthusiasm that has gone into it. As a result of this course, and other MOOCs on similar subjects, I am planning to study biology more formally.”

“I've enjoyed doing the course, and have been impressed by the wealth of comments from the educators and mentors. For a free course this is very generous. I'm going to look out for 'What drives the body' Thanks to everyone. “

“This has been a very good course, if difficult at times. I've done several FutureLearn courses, but this is by far the best for involvement and feedback from the course team.”

There are pages more of this type of feedback from students.

Impact

We are currently running the assessment course and have 6 students enrolled (we currently have 9 conditional  offers out).  We will not know until September how many of these will enrol on one of our programmes. However, so far, all indications are that they all intend to complete their studies with us.  Although the initial plan for this course was to support access to our programmes, a secondary factor has occurred which is acting as public engagement with science.  With each course reaching over 2000 students from across the world, ranging in age from 13 to 85, with all levels of educational achievement.  We were able to interact with a huge number of people engaging with and learning about science.