Diane is a Lecturer in Reproductive & Developmental Biology School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science.
BTEC101 Introduction to Biotechnology aims to provide a solid understanding of the pure and applied science underlying the biotechnology industry, and to provide insight into the cultural and ethical values, and economic and political issues, that this science must align with. Diane has developed a structure for her biology courses in which teaching and assessment are directly linked to Victoria’s graduate attributes, which has led to the development of her own pedagogical research project. She is keen to develop creative thinking in her students that bridges their personal lived experiences to biology careers outside of University, whilst encouraging autonomous learning. In addition, Diane aims to assist postgraduate students’ abilities in critical thinking and sharing their insights to a diverse range of audiences though BMSC406 Advanced topics in Biomedical Science.
There are several key innovative practices which Diane has developed to achieve her aims. The first is ‘coffee and craic’ (Craic is Irish for conversation) sessions where students are invited to join her and ask questions over an informal cup of coffee. She surveys the student body to find out the most convenient day and time on which to meet weekly. After experimenting with several locations she meets with students in the Hub, which seems to work because of its central location and proximity to cafés. The number of students attending each session varies, however it appears to be most attractive to students with inclusive education requirements, such as Māori and Pasifika students, and mature students.
Secondly, Diane has developed a culture of communication between herself and her students, allowing her to connect quickly with them and continously enhance her practices. For instance, she frequently gives them feedback forms to give them opportunity to highlight areas of the course in which they experience difficulty; sometimes this is topic based and sometimes it might include pedagogical issues such as the clarity of powerpoint slides. She directly asks for feedback in her lectures and while moving around groups during group-work, and uses gentle humour to make it a safe environment for students to give it.
Thirdly, Diane prepares novel, hands-on learning experiences for students to engage with during lectures so that they can consolidate key learning. Such experiences might include colourful worksheets, such as one that required them to draw around their hand and depict the development of digits. Other experiences might involve the use of tactile resources, such as creating models for biological phenomena using playdough. She has found that discussing content using graphic illustrations is a useful way to break down communication barriers. During class, Diane also makes use of GoSoapBox, which allows students to work in small groups to complete quizzes.
For a postgraduate course, Diane initiated a fully catered, conference-style event where the students presented their work to secondary school students. This event is very popular, and her students have gained many skills from this practical event. It was also an important opportunity for the students to gain feedback from experts in the field. A further outcome is that the secondary school students experience Victoria University, thus contributing to the relationship between the School of Biology and the secondary schools in the region.
Beyond these innovations, connections between students and employers are fostered by organising a careers forum with guest speakers from industry. Diane is very keen to develop employable skills and dispositions in her students.
Diane has found that at the ‘coffee and craic’ sessions in particular, students will open up more about content they are finding difficult. An analysis showed that students attending these sessions achieved higher grades. She has noticed that her specific methods for facilitating discussion are appreciated particularly by Māori and Pasifika students. She has also found students are more motivated and interested in her subject areas when they get the chance to explain the content to another audience, such as the secondary students.
Diane uses educational research to inform her teaching practice. She is committed to student engagement and enhancing connections that assist student learning. Her approaches reflect a social constructivist influence where interaction and active learning are promoted. Moving learning opportunities into more informal spaces is beneficial for students who are first in family to attend university, or have less cultural capital for tertiary education.
Diane has shifted away from a didactic approach to teaching and has developed effective communication methods both with students and between students. These methods have set in place a more informal learning environment that is yielding better achievement and satisfaction for her students.
This case study was written as part of the Innovative Pedagogies research project.