A Reflection on a Students Teaching Philosophy
I think I should begin this reflection on my teaching philosophy by outlining what my objectives are as a teacher. At the most basic level I want my students to learn the fundamental content of the modules which I teach. However beyond this basic objective I would hope to be able to instil the following qualities in my students; critical thinking, the development of problem-solving strategies, the facilitation of the acquisition of life-long learning skills and to prepare them to function effectively in the world outside University.
The way I try to instil these qualities in the students I teach is by making my lectures very much research based. Students become quickly bored by the transmission approach to teaching. I hope I can foster real excitement in the subjects I teach by relating them to real world examples of the research being carried out in the University both by myself and my colleagues. I do not want to be seen as a talking textbook, projecting the pages of the book onto the projector screen. I want to be showing examples of how we can take that knowledge and carry out experiments to test new and novel hypotheses. It is my belief that this will inspire a new generation of scientists to see how knowledge can be translated into practice.
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Ultimately students learn what we examine for. If we test for learning of facts, students will learn facts. If we test for problem solving, they will learn to be better problem solvers....My long-term goal is to learn more about and then to implement improved mechanisms for assessment of students, likely in the realm of ability-based or performance-based assessment.
For each individual student I hope to convey an understanding of why they need to know the information in the modules I teach, when and how to use it and the location of further information should they need it. This will aid them as they follow whatever path they intend beyond university and, should that path involve the skills I am teaching, will provide them with the basic foundations needed to gain mastery in those skills.
The rationale behind CiLT module 2 is to reflect on the design of a particular module of teaching as opposed to the practical details of teaching in the classroom. Module 2 can be considered as the macro element of teaching practice. As a probationary lecturer I have no practical experience of module design or making changes to the curriculum. Therefore for the purpose of this portfolio I intend to describe the current design of the undergraduate module I teach on. I will then reflect on why I feel the module I teach on is only partially constructively aligned and go onto speculate on some of the changes I believe could be made to the design of the module to better align the curriculum of the module. I will also describe why I believe a postgraduate module I teach on is a good example of an inquiry based learning project. Finally I will highlight using evidence from student feedback how some of the changes already implemented on the undergraduate module have had a positive impact on the student learning experience.
Reproduced from http://kellimarshall.net/unmuzzledthoughts/teaching/attendance
2. MBB334 Curriculum Design
My formal undergraduate teaching is composed of lecturing on the 3rd year Molecular Biology and Biochemistry module. I have lectured on this module for the past four years. The module title is MBB 334: The Biochemistry of Human Disease. This module is entirely taught by a series of lectures given by six different lecturers from the School of Medicine. This module was originally conceived as a way of giving junior staff members from the Medical School a chance to gain teaching experience as there is limited scope for teaching on the MBChB course for non-clinical members of staff. As well as lecturing on this module I am responsible for setting and marking a final exam question.
The module is presented by a number of lecturers who are active in their field and has been established in its current format for a number of years. A description of the module and how it is currently organised can be seen in Appendix 1. In summary the module reinforces student's basic knowledge of with cell proliferation and the importance of this system in human disease. Subsequent lectures deal with the uses and shortcomings of animal models, the methods by which human diseases are dissected. The remainder of the module consists of lectures dealing with major topics in human disease, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, autoimmunity, kidney disease, and transplantation. Â The objective of these lectures is to (a) illustrate what is known of how abnormal proliferation/differentiation can occur in these conditions, (b) look at current clinical approaches to the treatment of the problems and (c) describe a few of the approaches to ongoing research in these areas. The aim is to provide a research driven teaching experience and give students an insight into current medical research and the application of biochemical knowledge in the area of human disease.
Neumann first defined the phrase "research-teaching nexus" to demonstrate the connections between research and student teaching and learning (Neumann, 1994). Research driven teaching is meant to be central to the learning experience at the University of Sheffield. This involves students being taught by some of the leading researchers in their fields. A research driven teaching experience will enable students to learn how scientific research leads to knowledge creation and encourages a critical inquiry based approach to learning. In addition it will introduce them to current research being carried out and the methods utilised by researchers in the field. Linking research and teaching makes a module more interesting and relevant for our students. I think the module we teach is a good example of research led teaching due to the diversity of lecturers who teach on the module and the content we present. On reflection one major issue with improving the teaching experience for my students is the fact that the relationship between teaching and research is not an equal one. This is a problem many academics feel as universities adopt much more of business model with students seen as consumers and academics as not just knowledge generators but more and more as wealth generators (Kartagiannis, 2009). As a probationary academic at a research intensive Russell group university I am judged almost exclusively on my research output. My role is to carry out research leading to strong publications in high impact factor journals which leads to the generation of externally funded grants to generate revenue for the University. This intense pressure for research output leaves precious little time to devote to the planning and execution of effective teaching methods. Balanced against this is the fact that students now are paying large sums in tuition fees which mean that they see themselves as consumers and as such demand higher quality learning experiences (Furedi, 2002). My career progression at Sheffield is directly related to the quality of research output for the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and the income generated for the department therefore like most academics the temptation is to see teaching as time away from my research activities. However my own experiences as well as those of academics questioned about their experiences of linking teaching and research (Robertson and Bond, 2001) highlight the positive aspects of combining your research interests more closely with your teaching methods. This module gives me an opportunity to teach on a subject I actively pursue research in where I can bring my experiences at the lab bench into the lecture which benefits the students learning experience as it makes me more enthusiastic about my teaching. I also feel that research driven teaching makes it much more interesting for me as a teacher and forces me to keep up to date with the very latest findings in my field rather than falling into the trap of teaching from a textbook. This then improves my own research. Ultimately in order to deliver research driven teaching it is important that the lecturer's research interests are aligned with their teaching activity. I think that this is a real strength of this module I teach on.
This essay is an example of a student's work
To help the students understand that this module is a research driven teaching experience it begins with an introduction by the module leader where he takes time to explain to the students the rationale behind the module, introducing the researchers who will be teaching on the module and describing their research interests. At our module meetings which we have at the beginning of each academic year we made the decision to adapt this strategy in response to student feedback who complained that the module was too fragmented and whilst they enjoyed being taught by a number of different teachers they struggle to fit the module together as a coherent story. I will reflect on this response to student feedback in section 5.
This first lecture then acts as a focal point, helping the students to understand the purpose of the module and why it is being delivered as it is. In addition the module leader uses an example of a common disease, diabetes as an example of the process by which a disease can be characterised and then subject to laboratory analysis. There then follows a series of four lectures which reinforce some of the students basic knowledge of cell and molecular biology which will then act as a strong foundation for the rest of the module. From this introduction the majority of the lectures on the module go onto describe how the power of biochemistry and genetics can be applied to guiding our understanding of different disease pathogenesis and production of novel therapeutic approaches. These lectures are taken by experts in the particular diseases being discussed. Each lecturer takes considerable time to demonstrate to our students the way in which scientists apply hypothesis driven research to understand how human diseases arise. This is the main thesis of the module.
Each of the four main diseases discussed on the module are presented as small blocks of lectures which begin by introducing the organ or biological system in question and how it functions normally. These are then be followed by a discussion on the factors which contribute to disease pathogenesis and finally a discussion on the ways in which our knowledge of the biochemistry of each disease can lead to the development of new therapeutic approaches giving specific examples. The design of the module is meant to engage with the students by showing how, often abstract biochemistry, can have real relevance to things which they may have experience of in their own lives, for example they may know someone with the diseases being discussed. Indeed in feedback students have commented on how they found the module to be interesting and more relevant to their everyday lives than some of the other modules they undertake on the degree module. In addition as the module is very much research driven it introduces students to the novel cutting edge research which is being carried out here at the University as well as elsewhere. This makes the students aware that universities like Sheffield are not simply places that teach students but places where lecturers are actively engaged in scientific research. This has had the knock on effect of encouraging a number of students to go onto PhD's with lecturers on the module. I would suggest that our course represents the scholarship of discovery with a strong pursuit of discipline based knowledge. However we do try to apply some elements of the scholarship of application by teaching our students how biochemical knowledge can be applied to the real world problems of human disease.
Assessment of the module takes two forms comprised of a multiple choice self assessment scheme which is made available on MOLE and formal assessment where lecture content and student's background reading are assessed by a 2 hour examination consisting of 2 essay questions chosen from a total of 4 (Appendix 2). Exam questions have to framed in such a way to emphasise critical thinking and problem solving rather that regurgitating facts. This then allows us to recognise the students who can demonstrate these skills and award them the highest marks.
3. Improving MBB334 Curriculum Design
The main problem as I see it with our module is the very limited scope for student interaction with the lecturers. The module is purely lecture driven with no small group teaching or tutorials timetabled. This leads to the problem of how students are able to assess their understanding of the subjects being taught before the final assessment of examination essay questions. The module leader has introduced multiple choice questions which are available on MOLE. These act as a form of self assessment, however these are not compulsory. I would say that the module has not really been designed in a way which promotes constructive alignment. Constructive alignment was first described by John Biggs and is currently one of the most influential ideas in higher education (Biggs, 1996). The main tenets of constructive alignment as realised by Biggs are that students construct meaning from what they do to learn and the teacher aligns the planned learning activities with the learning outcomes. The basic premise of the theory of constructive alignment is that the curriculum is designed in such a way that the learning activities and assessment tasks are aligned with the learning outcomes that were intended from the module. This has the effect of achieving consistency between what the teachers want the students to learn and what the students themselves feel motivated to learn. I currently feel that the module as it is designed promotes passive learning due to it being completely lecture based. We may want our students to develop higher level learning by exploring concepts and linking them together but without organising tasks which promote these activities such as mini-lab projects or case studies this will not be easy. Lectures by their very nature are based very much on a transmission or surface type of learning rather that encouraging a deeper form of learning. Therefore the question remains how the module could be improved. I will use the next few pages to reflect upon the design of the module and what; in an ideal world I believe should be altered to improve it.
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One of the key tenets of curriculum design is the principle that a course or module should be aligned. The definition of alignment means that the assessment, learning activities and module content match and support the intended learning objectives. Studies have shown that this form of alignment will produce much more effective learning and teaching enabling students to gain a deeper understanding of their chosen subject. A curriculum should be a journey for the students. This means that the teacher acts as a facilitator, taking the students through a series of experiences which will lead to them using those experiences to learn the objectives of the course. Experiences can include the lecture, small group teaching, projects, private study and even the assessments chosen. Curriculum design can be broken down into a number of constituent parts. I will break these down and highlight areas where the design of our module could be improved.
The design of a module starts with a description of its aims. These are the reason for embarking on the journey of discovery and provide the student with an idea of what the module will offer them. The aims of module MBB334 can be seen in Appendix 1. I feel these could be improved in order to better engage and inform the students. Aim 1 tells the students that the aim of the course is to give the students a research driven experience which will give them an insight into current medical research and the application of biochemical knowledge in the area of human disease. Aim 2 reads more like a description of the course rather than an aim or objective and could be removed. Aims should be clear and concise, giving the student a clear understanding of the purpose of the module they are about to start. Therefore I think the aims of the module could be better defined as follows:
The aims of this module are
To provide a research led teaching experience giving students an insight into current medical research.
To demonstrate how biochemical knowledge can be applied to the study of human disease.
The next phase of good curriculum design is a statement of intended learning outcomes (ILO). It can be seen from appendix 1 that the module does not have a clearly defined set of intended learning outcomes. Currently each individual lecturer may include a set of learning outcomes for their individual lecture but there is no set of ILO's for the module as a whole. As I see it the learning outcomes must be aligned with the aims of the module and could be phrased as follows:
On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:
Describe the concepts of cell proliferation and apoptosis and how these are critically important in human disease.
Outline the biochemical basis of a number of common human diseases.
Assess how the knowledge of biochemistry is able to inform the rational design of novel therapies for the treatment of human disease.
These general ILOs can then be backed up by each individual lecturer having their own ILOs for each individual lecture. For example my own lecture has the following ILOs:
At the end of this lecture students should be able to:
Describe the process of apoptosis and illustrate its role in normal development.
Describe the molecular pathways involved in apoptosis and how they are controlled.
Illustrate how knowledge of the molecular biology of apoptosis can be used to design new therapies.
Evaluate the success of current apoptosis therapies.
I believe that phrasing the ILOs in this way will help students to understand what it is we want them to achieve by the end of the module. They can also help to frame assessments which in my case mean the exam questions I set at the end of the course.
The next step in the design of an aligned curriculum should be the syllabus or content of the module. The course content should be aligned to the ILOs of the curriculum which allows the students to clearly focus on the important elements of the curriculum which we want them to learn. Our module doesn't have ILOs specifically stated however I believe the ILOs which I have quoted above are aligned with the course content as it stands. An effective and aligned curriculum should also allow students learning to develop over time. The course content should evolve and lay building blocks of knowledge which can be taken forward to the next stage of the course. I believe our module currently does this quite well for the reasons discussed on page 5. A good syllabus should also be current and more importantly research driven. How much current research to put into a module depends on the subject but I believe all students should be made aware of the methods used to obtain knowledge. Our module is very much research driven and we include a lot of current research in the lectures which makes the module one of the most popular on the MBB course.
An aligned curriculum should include learning activities which help to support the achievement of the ILOs. These should ideally be varied to include a range of learning experiences which may include lectures, small group work, private study and online learning. Our module currently relies on the lecture as the teaching method. This is supplemented by online self assessment tasks which are important in allowing the student to monitor their own learning and assess their progress. The major issue with teaching science and medicine is the rapid accumulation of new scientific knowledge and technological developments. This has lead to the understanding that trying to impart or transmit all this new information to students is futile. In medicine for example there is a move to reduce the factual content contained within the module and delivered in traditional lectures. To counter this it would seem advantageous to use other forms of teaching in addition to traditional lectures in the design of an aligned curriculum. These could include things like problem based learning (PBL) which has been widely implemented in the teaching of medicine (Norman and Schmidt, 2000). Problem based learning encourages students to take control of their own learning and has been shown to increase student enthusiasm and interest in the module. Examples include the use of patient case histories to introduce concepts of biochemistry and molecular biology which previously would have been introduced as a series of facts in a traditional lecture module. PBL encourages students to place their knowledge in some sort of relevant context which is thought to encourage a deeper form of learning (Smith, 2002). However there is also an issue raised when it comes to the teaching of subjects like the sciences (Jervis and Jervis, 2005). The theory of constructive alignment suggests that we cannot simply transmit knowledge to our students and the learning process can only be effective if the students gain knowledge through their own personal construction. However how are students meant to construct their own meaning of complex scientific theories which have taken many years to develop and then only after rigorous scientific experimentation? Many of these basic scientific theories are not open to interpretation and must be understood as is by students in order to give them a solid grounding in their chosen subject, be it physics, chemistry, biology or medicine. The following quote is taken from a paper by Matthews (2000) and perfectly encapsulates the problem of constructivism with regards to science education: "It seems difficult to imagine how we can ask students to construct their own meaning when being taught a body of scientific knowledge that is in large part abstract (depending on notions such as velocity, acceleration, force, gene) and that is removed from experience (propositions about atomic structure, cellular processes, astronomic events)". Our students need to acquire a good basic grounding in scientific theory which is best delivered in the form of an unambiguous lecture. In this way the teacher knows that each student has had access to the same information. This basic knowledge can then be used to demonstrate its application in a broader context, for example in the development of novel ways to treat human diseases. In an ideal world we would offer the chance for our students to engage in small group teaching however this is currently not possible within the current time allocated to the module and the number of students. Examples of this form of teaching which I would like to include are using the lectures to concentrate on getting the factual information across, but also discuss the experimental basis of the topics. The students could then be put into small groups and given scientific papers which describe some key experiments relevant to the lecture in more detail. The students then have to analyse the paper and summarise the findings so they have to understand how the experiments and the conclusions are related and what experimental approaches can be taken to answer a particular problem. They could also have a small group session on choosing the right experimental approaches to particular developmental questions set by the teacher. In addition a number of different techniques can be employed to encourage deeper learning by our students in order to improve science teaching. We can attempt to explain difficult concepts more clearly, make use of metaphors, use demonstrations and practical work to flesh out abstract concepts and utilise projects and discussions to involve students in the subject.
It is important that students receive appropriate feedback on their learning. This is important as it enables students to reflect on their own learning and see areas which need improvement. The main way students receive feedback is through assessment which can either by formative (feedback which enables the student to reflect on their learning and improve their performance from the current level to the expected level) or summative (where the teacher grades the students against a set of expected criteria). One important point to bear in mind when designing an aligned curriculum is that student learning is directly influenced by what they perceive to be the assessment criteria. Therefore it is essential to design the module in such a way that the learning outcomes are aligned with the assessment criteria. If this is not done then students will make their own assumptions of what they believe to be important and may miss the most important learning outcomes (in the view of the teacher). Ultimately students learn what we examine for. If we test for learning of facts, students will learn facts. If we test for problem solving, they will learn to be better problem solvers. Unfortunately from the exam papers I mark it seems as though the majority of students still believe we will be using the exam questions to test for facts and therefore they learn facts and write these as the answer to the question without too much thought. However on reflection this is probably not the students fault. Having an unseen two hour traditional essay question as the only method of assessment probably encourages the students to believe they are being assessed for factual recall and do not allow us to test the ability of students to demonstrate problem solving skills. My long-term goal for the assessment of this module would be is to learn more about and then to implement improved mechanisms for assessment of students. Improved assessments could include some of the examples seen on the previous page where students work in small groups to critically appraise scientific papers and give a presentation to the rest of the group. In the formal exam setting students could be presented with a scenario and asked to set out how they would design and conduct experiments to test that hypothesis. In this way we may be able to emphasise the student's problem solving skills rather than their ability to recall facts which may be forgotten a few days after the examination.
I would conclude by saying that our module is very much a traditional lecture based module with limited scope for student interaction. If it is to improve in the future we may need to implement some elements of small group teaching which would encourage the attainment of higher level skills by our students, which is what we want to achieve. However on the flip side our module is very popular with the students, so much so that it has gone from being an optional module to a core module such was its popularity. It seems that the fact it is closely linked to real life experiences during the discussion of human disease makes it an interesting module for the students. In aligned teaching, there is maximum consistency throughout the system. The curriculum is stated in the form of clear objectives, teaching methods are chosen that are likely to realise those objectives, the assessment tasks test to see if the students have learned what the objectives state they should be learning. All components in the curriculum address the same agenda and support each other.
4. Design of a postgraduate module
My formal postgraduate teaching is composed of being the academic project supervisor for a student on the MSc in Molecular Medicine module. Project supervisors are responsible for supervising the student through two modules of the MSc, the Project presentation (MED6013/6023/6033) and the Laboratory research project (MED6014/6024/6034). In the first module, the student is asked to prepare and present an oral presentation on the background and aims of their research project. The second module corresponds to the actual research project and is assessed by a dissertation and, in some cases, a viva voce examination. For the first module of the MSc the students must prepare a project presentation. I believe this is a good example of an inquiry based learning project for the following reasons:
The student is expected to prepare and present an oral presentation on the background, aims, methods and possible outcomes of their chosen research project. This module is primarily designed to develop the student's skills in oral presentation and communication as well as providing further training in background reading and devising experimental strategies. This module enables the student to frame their own questions and develop their own ideas. Research is uncertain, therefore the student will need to explore different possibilities as there is no obvious correct answer. The students are expected to develop and test their own hypothesis which will lead to the students feeling empowered by having ownership in their own projects. My aim is to encourage the students to think like a researcher and pursue their own original ideas with only a small degree of facilitation by the supervisor. In many conventional traditional undergraduate science experiments, students are told what the outcome of an experiment will be, or is expected to be, and the student is simply expected to 'confirm' this. By encouraging students to frame their own research questions it means students do not simply perform experiments in a routine like fashion, but actually think about the results they collect and what they mean. With traditional closed experiments there is a tendency for students to say that the experiment 'went wrong' when they collect results contrary to what they are told to expect. In real research there are no wrong results, and students have to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the results they collect themselves and decide their value.
The student would be expected to use information resources including the library and electronic journals to gain a good background to the subject. This would allow them to identify areas where current knowledge is weak or lacking. This could then be used to inform their research question. Students would be expected to develop information literacy skills, including the ability to search journal databases. The student would also be expected to generate their own research questions based on the knowledge they have acquired.
The student will then be expected to be able to produce a short presentation using PowerPoint and present their findings to a group of their peers. One of the most important attitudes which I hope this module will instil in my students is for them to develop a critical thinking mindset. Within the context of this module this means that they learn to be able to place their own research question in the context of current knowledge and critically assess the literature. This critical assessment will then aid them in framing their own research questions. Students will have to gain an understanding of how to carry out literature searches to obtain background knowledge relevant to their own research question. In addition students will have to be able to learn the skills required to produce and deliver an interesting and informative PowerPoint presentation based on their own research question. They will be supported in this by the project supervisor on a one to one basis. Resources will be provided in the laboratory which will include access to computers, E-journals and the ability to practise oral presentations. Tutoring will be provided on a one to one basis by the project supervisor.
Facilitation will be more to guide the student towards framing their research question rather than being too prescriptive. Learning will take place both in the laboratory as well as using the students own computer facilities or within the University library. Contact will take place at least every week for the 3 week duration of the module and time will also be allocated for practise presentations with feedback. Assessment will be by oral presentation. Students must present their own presentation and participate fully throughout the week. Full attendance is mandatory and students will be awarded marks for this. Each student is expected to Chair one presentation. Presentations will comprise a 15 minutes talk and 5 minutes for questions. Examiners will be present and be able to ask one question after all the student questions. Examiners will also be asked to complete a paper mark sheet with written feedback before leaving the room. As supervisor, you are invited to the session but are not allowed to answer questions directed to your student. This form of assessment means that all the students feel included as they all get the chance to question their peers as well as chair a session.
5. Reflection on the Positive Use of Student Feedback
The following is a critical reflection on the use of student feedback to improve the teaching delivery and content of the module I teach on. I have enclosed in the Appendix complete copies of student feedback questionnaires about the module I teach on from teaching years 2007/2008 and the following year 2008/2009. The feedback which the students are asked to provide is designed by the module leaders in MBB and as such we do not have any influence on the questions set. These questions can be seen in Appendix 3. Having said this, the questions seem to be phrased well giving the students plenty of opportunity to address any concerns they may have with the delivery of the module.
The responses to these questions in 2007/2008 can be seen in Appendix 4. The module had broadly comparable scores when compared to the average scores obtained by other level 3 modules on the MBB module (Appendix 5). However it can be seen that the module I teach on scored below average when students were asked whether the module was well taught or whether clear aims and objectives were provided. These issues were highlighted in the comments from the forms written by students. Most comments were negative, highlighting the lack of a coherent structure to the module as well as the amount of information contained in some of the lectures. In addition the teaching methods of some of the lecturers on the module were criticised. As a result of this disappointing feedback a module meeting was held at the end of the semester and it was decided that the structure of the module needed changing to address the concerns of the students.
The main points were addressed as follows:
Students concern over the structure of the module, the main issue being the disjointed way the module was put together with topics "all over the place".
This was addressed by revising the running order of the lectures; the lectures were reorganised to form a more coherent path through the material we wanted to cover. It is difficult however as we all are teaching on different diseases so to some students the lectures may seem disjointed. The major change we have made to the module is to include an introductory lecture delivered at the beginning of the module by the module leader. This introduces the topics to be covered, and explain to the students that the module is research driven which is why it is being taught by a number of different lecturers who are all research active.
Students were concerned about the amount of material being presented to them and felt it was too much information in a single lecture.
The students were critical of the fact that some of the lectures seemed rushed with far too much information in each lecture. In the module meeting we agreed that sometimes less is more and we would all try to streamline our lectures a bit more. Personally I changed the structure of my lecture away from an unbroken 50 minute lecture as it is generally agreed that an uninterrupted fifty-minute lecture is a poor method of learning; there is usually no student participation, no rehearsal of what is learned and no feedback to the lecturer. There is a sharp decline in student performance (expressed as the ability to recall information) as the lecturer proceeds. For example, in one study students were able to recall 70 per cent of the content of the first ten minutes of a lecture but could only recall 20 per cent of the last ten minutes (Bligh, 1998; Brown and Atkins, 1988). I therefore divided my lecture into three distinct sections. Each section has a defined end to where I recap the previous 15 minutes with a brief question and answer session before introducing the next session.
The main difficulty with teaching on our module is the scale of it. There have literally been thousands of papers published in the last 30 years and it would be impossible to try and teach everything. Our challenge has been to distil all this information into 50 min lectures which not only hold the students interest yet manage to convey the most useful and important pieces of work to them.
Students were concerned that lectures weren't aware of their previous knowledge.
The question of what prior knowledge our students have is an issue. Since the module is modular in design some students had covered module elements which other students have not. In this case it is difficult to strike a balance between covering material which some students would have already done or assuming all students start form the same level. Personally I think it is better not to assume to much prior knowledge and start from scratch. In this way no one is disadvantaged. The subject that I teach is apoptosis, or the study of programmed cell death. The subject requires some degree of prior knowledge of biochemistry and molecular cell biology. The students I teach are all in their 3rd year and as such have a good understanding of the basics of cell biology. I have confirmed this on the MBB undergraduate module website and with the module coordinator. However the actual lecture material would be brand new to them and as such I have to give a certain amount of introductory material at the beginning of the lecture. This point highlights the difficulty in teaching a module in an outside department where we have little input into how the module as a whole is designed. Maybe we need to be more closely involved in the teaching decisions and also find out more about which particular modules our students have taken.
Were we successful?
The measures we took to improve the teaching of this module can be seen in the improved scores obtained in the results of student's feedback in the following year 2008/2009 (Appendix 6). Student's comments were very favourable including a comment about my own lecture which was pleasing based on the improvements I had made since last year. The results of the feedback showed good improvement on the previous year with significant increases in the students' scores in response to questions regarding how well the module was taught, whether it was interesting and perhaps most importantly whether students had understood the module content. In addition we had improved from the previous year in whether the module had clear aims. All the lecturers on the module also significantly improved there personal teaching feedback score. This exercise has demonstrated how student's feedback can be used in a positive way to enable us as teachers to reflect on the design of the module and improve the teaching experience for our students. This should be an ongoing process and we must not stand still but continue to try and improve and adapt our teaching to the needs of our students whilst maintaining academic standards.
Before setting out on the CiLT course I had not really thought in any great detail about the theory of curriculum design. The course has opened my eyes to the need to improve the way we teach our students and how alignment of module content with the intended learning outcomes can improve the learning experiences of our students. I intend to push for the improvements I have suggested to the module I teach on to be incorporated into next year's curriculum.
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