De Cel

Course Inleiding Biomedische Wetenschappen en De Cel
Lecturer Nina Scheres, Monique Quaedackers,
Context BSc Biomedische Wetenschappen
Challenge Creating a student centered learning environment that sends first year students off to a flying start.
Intervention Highly interactive course in which focus of lectures is based on student input.
Evaluation Students were very enthusiastic about this course. They appreciated the structure and clarity, and the combination of a good atmosphere and learning environment.
Related Topics Student activationFlipped ClassroomMethods to enhance interaction in the classroom

Interview with Nina Scheres & Monique Quaedackers

Could you tell something about this new course? (e.g. context and learning goals)
With this course we wanted to give first year BSc students a flying start into academic life in general, and Biomedical Sciences in particular; just fresh from high school, the switch to academic learning can be a big one. We aimed to create a course in which the students:

  1. Gain basic knowledge in cell biology;
  2. Get introduced to the university in general and what learning at the university means;
  3. Get motivated for their studies and get stimulated to engage in their studies and connect with their fellow students.

To achieve the goals listed above, period 1 was split in two interconnected sub courses:

  1. Inleiding Biomedische Wetenschapping: A short introductory course (3 EC)
    A two-week course which emphasised on getting to know each other, the university, and the bachelor. They also get a quick refresher on basic cell biology. By having an exam already after these two weeks, students quickly have the experience of doing an exam. Next to that, we aimed to give confidence and send the message that active participation in general will lead to passing the exam.
  2. De Cel: An in-depth course on cell biology for Ba’s (6 EC)
    In this course the topic of cell biology was covered, laying an important foundation for the courses that will follow.
    Both courses ensured that students needed to pursue active self-study, and we made use of highly interactive lecture days, with a clear structure. Last but not least, students could choose the focus of our lectures!

In what way was this course blended? Why did you choose this approach?
First of all, lecture-days didn’t start with lectures in the morning. It started with a seminar, and students were expected to study the contents for that day beforehand. They then worked in small groups on theoretical problems, guided by teachers (about 40 students per teacher). Meanwhile, they could send in questions that they want to be answered in a lecture later on the day, via Canvas. At the end of the seminar, all students individually performed an online (non-graded) knowledge quiz. The results of this quiz and the students’ questions were used by the teachers to focus the lecture of that day. Yes, this means that there is only a really short time for us teachers to prepare the lecture, but it’s fun and keeps the lecturer focussed. That is why the running title for this type of lecturing became JiTT: Just in time Teaching.

We used the catch-box microphone as a way to not only to make a question hearable for everyone, but also to appoint students to give an opinion (also those students that hope to get overlooked, sitting all the way in the back of the room). Furthermore, we used the Shakespeak voting tool, not only during the lectures to test understanding of the topics, but also in a ‘surprise practice exam’ and to get an idea of their basic opinion on non-content related topics (study pressure, enthusiasm, etc.).
As the lectures were based on active student input and participation, forming and steering a large part of a complete lecture day, lectures were not recorded; PowerPoint presentations were available afterwards.

Are you satisfied with the result? (e.g. design, learning activities, student participation)
We are very much satisfied with the result. During the course, we noticed a high attendance and active participation during the lectures. Students asked good questions and the atmosphere was pleasant. The passing rate of both courses was high: ~90% for the short introductory course and ~80% for the in depth course. Even a long time after the course we noticed or heard from other teachers that the students were more active, for example by asking for study contents to prepare before lectures and asking many questions during lectures.

How was the students’ experience?
In the student evaluation, students graded the courses 7,5 or higher. They really appreciated a number of aspects of the two courses:

  1. The clarity about what they were expected to prepare and do during lecture days (we provided students with a syllabus containing a clear overview of which contents to study and by what moment);
  2. The structure of the course;
  3. The online quizzes;
  4. The ease with which they could approach teachers;
  5. The interactive lectures which provided them with the opportunity to steer contents and discussion.

What did you think of the process? Did you like creating a course in this way?
The development of this course was a big investment in time, people, and effort, but it was definitely worth it. Starting from scratch meant to select study content, collect and create assignments, create the online quizzes, create basic lectures that could form the backbone of the interactive JitT lectures, plan highlight lectures, laboratory tours, develop exams, etc. But it also means that there is ample room to try new ways to improve active student involvement and freedom to create your own teaching style.

Is there anything you learned that you would like to share with other teachers?
The key to this success was the intensive collaboration between two expert teams: the expert team Academic Skills and Student Centered Education and the expert team Genome Technology and Bio-informatics, headed by Timo Breit.

Would you recommend this approach/design to other teachers?
Yes definately! It was a great experience – which we really would like to share with others!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Although it’s a bit old-school, the syllabus we created was a big success. This syllabus did not provide a summary of the book. Rather, it provided students with an overview of what parts of the book to study.
The student centered approach in these two courses did not mean that we arranged everything for them! It actually means quit the opposite: teachers provide certain tools and guidelines but students were ultimately responsible for using these tools in order to achieve results.