Dr John Barrow & Dr Derek Scott, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, tell us about how they implemented a series of Honours project skills development workshops into the final year curriculum.

Below, hear how Dr Barrow and Dr Scott respond to some questions about their interesting, innovative teaching practice.

What did you do?

 

Implemented a series of Honours project skills development workshops into our final year curriculum.

Why did you do it? Skills development is seen as a crucial part of the educational landscape that our current students find themselves in, with various learned societies like the Physiological Society and Biochemical Society having benchmarking statements that put skills training firmly at the centre of what a science degree should involve.  In addition, student and staff feedback over recent years has increasingly shown a desire for more training in practically useful skills.  So, these two drivers were the catalyst for creating a new series of skills development workshops.

How did you develop the idea?

 

 

Through conversations with many colleagues and students we decided on four main themes for the workshops.  The four themes that emerged from all of this networking were ‘Professionalism’, ‘Data and Information’, ‘Project Skills’ and ‘Thesis Skills’.  Once these areas were identified we were then able to flesh them out with hands-on activities, some of which were published case studies, and some were entirely new activities we developed in-house.

What were the challenges?

 

 

 

Working up a series of activities entirely from scratch was a difficult thing to do for 8 hours of face to face teaching.  Often in teaching we inherit the materials required or the material is within our area of expertise, which makes it easier to create new content.  For these workshop sessions development of the materials was a challenge as we are not trained skills development advisors so this did not come naturally to us.

 

What did make the process that bit easier was that we had a very clear idea of what was required to be delivered in each session, which makes it much easier to create new content or find existing content from external sources.

What were the benefits to you?

 

 

 

One definite benefit was the ability to work on a project that was a little different from the ‘norm’.

 

It was also really nice to see the students get stuck in and really push themselves on a series of topics that they wouldn’t have otherwise attempted, especially those areas not necessarily linked to science.

What was the impact on student learning?

 

These workshops allowed students to develop a diverse set of skills through hands-on activities that are not degree programme specific, definitely challenging and really take them outside of their comfort zone.

How did your students evaluate the experience?

 

 

 

We used anonymous pre- and post-workshop questionnaires in which students rated their perceived ability in 15 different skill areas that were both science and non-science related.  This allowed us to evaluate the potential impact of the workshops on these different skill areas.  In the post-workshop questionnaire we also included some feedback questions to gauge student views and allowed them to submit free text comments if they wanted to provide more detail.

What did your students say? (feedback/comments from students to share?)

Over 50% of students rated the workshops (on a 7 point Likert scale) as being 5 out of 7 or better, with three out of the four workshops scoring very positively in terms of student opinion.  The workshop that had the lowest scores was the Professionaism workshop, which following discussions with students is likely to come from the students not seeing the relevance of this to their projects.

 

Some selected student feedback is below…

 

“Thought at times it was excellent (final session was fantastic) but at other times felt a bit forced - HOWEVER I feel it is worthwhile and with further refinement and adjustment could well be an excellent addition to help round off the honours course.”

 

“Three of the sessions were very good but the session on professionalism could be made shorter.”

 

“I think the sessions were very well delivered and the content was probably very useful for those completing lab projects.”

What hints/tips do you have for others in the future?

 

Additional information?

Make sure you manage student expectations and explain clearly why you are doing an activity, especially to explain why a particular skill is beneficial to them.  This was one drawback of the professionalism session as students were asked to carry out a teamwork exercise, the purpose of which was misunderstood by many.

 

Overall, these sessions were a positive contribution the project preparations of our students, and as a pilot was a useful exercise to understand our future direction.  There will be changes implemented, as with any teaching and learning exercise, that will hopefully enhance them further, and benefit many more students over the coming years.

For further information contact:

 

John Barrow (j.barrow@abdn.ac.uk)

Derek Scott (d.scott@abdn.ac.uk)