J_BarrowDr John Barrow, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition tells us about the introduction of a project skills workshop series prior to students undertaking their Honours research projects. 

Poster presentation of the final year project

The problem

All final year Medical Science students undertake an Honours research project that requires skills acquired throughout the various degree programmes that constitute the Medical Science disciplines.  For several years project supervisors for both laboratory-based and library-based projects have highlighted concerns that many students do not possess the relevant skills that they should have picked up over their degree.  The main reason for this is not that students do not get taught the skills required, but that they do not always see the relevance of these skills.  Therefore for this current academic year (2017-18) we introduced a pilot of a project skills workshop series prior to students undertaking their Honours research projects.

The solution

Honours projects run in the second half-session, so we ran the workshop series at the end of the first half-session prior to the Christmas break.  There were four skills workshops in the series (Professionalism, Data and Information, Project Skills and Thesis Skills) that were delivered every second day in groups of ~40 students, all from mixed degree programmes.  We purposefully mixed the degree programmes to allow students to interact with others who they may not know to emphasise that they would have to do this when they started in their Honours projects, either with other laboratory staff or supervisory staff.  All sessions also made use of the Med-Chi Digitally Enhanced Learning Space (DELS) at Foresterhill, which allowed for a more engaging and collaborative  delivery of the workshop material.

Evaluation

To assess the effectiveness of the workshop sessions students were surveyed before and after the workshop series, with 210 and 171 respondents respectively, from a class of 231.  All questions were a 7-point Likert scale asking students to rate their personal effectiveness in 15 different skill sets.  From this three skill sets showed a significant improvement in student confidence for graph drawing, experimental design and data analysis (see Fig. 1 below).

Figure 1 – Skills confidence before and after skills workshops

Students were surveyed before and after the skills workshops using a 7-point Likert scale, asking students to rate their confidence in 15 different skill sets.

Although only three areas showed a significant improvement in student confidence ratings, 10 out of the 15 skill sets showed improved scores which was promising.

Further to surveying the impact of the workshops, students were also asked for feedback on the workshops, which was positive with over 50% of respondents scoring 5 out of 7 or higher for satisfaction (see Fig. 2 below) for all workshops, and three out of the four workshops scoring over 65% of respondents scoring 5 or higher.  All workshops had very few (less than 10%) of respondents scoring negatively with scores of 3 or less.

 

Figure 2 – Student opinion of the four workshops

Students were surveyed after the skills workshops using a 7-point Likert scale, asking students to rate how much they liked each session. 1 = poor; 7 = excellent.

Students had mixed views on the workshop series, with some struggling to see the relevance of the professionalism workshop in particular.  We also sought informal feedback from staff who were involved in delivering each session, so this coupled with student feedback has led to some suggested changes for subsequent years, including more emphasis on maths skills and data interpretation which is assessed through an examination at the end of the second half-session.  The data analysis exam always causes stress and anxiety as it is unknown and therefore students cannot revise as they would normally for taught material.  There is also a view amongst staff that students need to be able to cope with resilience, so this will also be incorporated into the workshops moving forward.

Impact

Overall, the inclusion of these workshops was positive, with some areas of improvement needed, so they are definitely a worthwhile addition to our Honours project teaching and will be maintained over coming years.