M. O'Brien

Queensland University of Technology (AUSTRALIA)
Perceiving students, science students especially, as mere consumers of facts and information belies the importance of a need to engage them with the principles underlying those facts and is counterintuitive to the facilitation of understanding. A science classroom where fact memorisation and regurgitation in assessments is given priority at the expense of engagement and concept understanding is a classroom where the process of real learning is devalued in order to expedite more pragmatic outcomes.

In our undergraduate biomedical science programs across Years 1, 2 and 3 in the Faculty of Health at QUT, we have implemented a suite of pedagogical strategies that both encourage and support engagement as well as enhance active learning. The objectives underpinning those strategies are designed to enable students to:
(1) connect scientific theory with scientific practice in a more direct and authentic way,
(2) construct their factual knowledge and facilitate a deeper understanding, and
(3) develop and refine their higher order flexible thinking and problem solving skills, both semi-independently and independently.

The role of the teaching staff is critical to this approach since for the strategy to be successful teachers need to abandon traditional instructional modalities based on one-way information delivery. Face-to-face interactions between students and teacher enable realisation of pedagogical objectives (1), (2) and (3). The strategy we have adopted encourages teachers to view themselves more as expert guides in what is very much a student-focused process of scientific exploration and learning.

The suite of pedagogical tools we have developed are specifically designed to enable their translation, with appropriate fine-tuning, to most biomedical and allied health discipline teaching and learning contexts.

The pedagogy includes:
(i) interactive lecture-tutorial hybrids or lectorials featuring teacher role-plays as well as interactive Q&A sessions,
(ii) inclusion of “dry” laboratory activities during lectorials to prepare students for the wet laboratory to follow,
(iii) real-world problem-solving exercises conducted during both lectorials and wet labs, and
(iv) designing formative and summative assessments that probe a student’s higher order flexible thinking skills. Flexible thinking in this context encompasses analytical, critical, deductive, scientific and professional thinking modes.

The approach outlined above is designed to provide multiple opportunities for students to apply principles flexibly according to a given situation or context, to adapt methods of inquiry strategically, to go beyond mechanical application of formulaic approaches, and to as much as possible self-appraise their own thinking and problem solving.

The pedagogical tools have been developed within both workplace (real world) and theoretical frameworks. The philosophical core of the pedagogy is a coherent pathway of teaching and learning which we, and many of our students, believe is more conducive to student engagement and active learning. For the past five years, qualitative and quantitative data derived from online and hardcopy evaluations, solicited and unsolicited student and graduate feedback, anecdotal evidence as well as peer review indicate that:
(i) our students are engaging with the pedagogy,
(ii) a constructivist, authentic-learning approach promotes active learning, and
(iii) students are better prepared for workplace transition.