Notes on engaging Biosciences’ students during lectures

This is all Patrick Clarkin’s fault!

Last year, in one of his modules (in the US they’re called “courses”), Patrick organized his students in groups. He named each group after a Human Biologist or a Biological Anthropologist, and he challenged his students to learn as much as possible about the scientists that gave name to their groups.

His students also had to do class exercises that were formatively assessed, graded, and given a certain amount of points. By actively participating in the activities during lectures, students would aim to get the highest possible amount of points for their scientists. It was a system similar to the one used in Hogwarts – with no magic wands or invisibility cloaks, but equally cool.

I was one of the researchers included in Patrick’s list. When he told me about it I felt, of course, very honoured. I also thought this was a great idea for me to try with my Part A (first year) students.

We are on our first week of teaching and I have just launched the “My Scientist” scheme, among Loughborough University students attending the module “Data Analysis and Study Skills”. This module includes students from three programmes: Human Biology, Biological Sciences, and Biochemistry. It was challenging to organize class activities with the potential to equally motivate students in all programmes and that’s where the “My Scientist” scheme turned out to be very helpful. The choice of the scientists took a while to be fully done. Many amazing colleagues were not included because there were only 10 groups to be named after but, if this scheme proves successful, there will be another round next year and more awesome people will be included.

I aimed for a group of researchers that would be equally relevant for students in all programmes, and as diverse as possible. After careful consideration, this was the final list for this academic year:

Starting next week, students will work in groups and, in some occasions, will answer questions using the electronic voting system Meetoo. They will connect with the system using their scientist’s last name. Scores will be given by group, and individual anonymity will be preserved. Hopefully, this will promote group discussion and allow for greater participation in class. Furthermore, students will have to go through three stages during the “My Scientist” scheme, according to the following guidelines:

Stage 1 (weeks 1-7). Find the following:

  • Details of your scientist current academic/scientific post
  • Their main area(s) of research
  • A photo (to show on lecture 2)
  • Their career trajectory
  • One publication
  • One detail that is NOT on their institutional website
  • Their social media presence

Stage 2 (weeks 8-10). Aggregate this information in one or two sentences and be ready to read it in class. I’m hoping this will generate further discussion and more interaction among students.

Stage 3 (week 11). Summarize your scientist in a tweet. We hope it goes viral!

To be continued (hopefully)…

2 thoughts on “Notes on engaging Biosciences’ students during lectures

    1. Patrick, there are five students under your name. They are lucky students. Your posts regarding the state of the world are accurate, thoughtful, and critically analysed a great deal of issues that university students should keep an eye on.

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