Ellie Dommett's design narrative: Contemporary Issues in Neuroscience
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27 March 2017
My role was to design and deliver a 15 credit module. For delivery I had support of graduate teaching assistants (normally PhD students).
This module is for the second year of a BSc Psychology degree at King's College London. The only neuroscience students have previously studied is the 'Psychology and the Brain' first year module (which I also developed and deliver the majority of). The module is an option and I did not expect it to be hugely popular so assumed a minimum of 10 students and a maximum of 40 from a cohort of ~120 students. Teaching spaces are as expected so availability of a lecture room, seminar rooms and a computing lab as well as the VLE. I very much wanted this module to be a break for the normal didactic teaching and one that delivered, very clearly, skills in information literacy to the students as well as some content. I wanted it to be driven by contemporary issues and part of this needed to involve the students finding contemporary material. This is in quite stark contrast to the first neuroscience option which is basically a lot of content to get to grips with the brain and all core reading is in textbooks aimed at undergrads.
I was trying to achieve two main things in terms of the student learning:
1. An understanding of how neuroscience is, and can be, applied to different areas including law and education.
2. An ability to systematically search for primary research literature and to be able to use techniques to do this efficiently.
My measures of success were student feedback and assessment results.
To plan the module I began with learning outcomes and how they could be assessed. I wanted to assess skills development as well as the content to encourage student engagement. The module I developed at the following elements:
- 5 x 1 hour lectures (which were also lecture captured). One on the fundamentals and then covering neuroeducation, neurolaw, mental health and neuromarketing. It was hard to plan all of these to fit the necessary content in and attendance at the lectures after the first one was low, not helped by the Monday 9am slot. Lectures were captured and these were watched but I think once students found a topic they wanted to focus on they just used that one.
- 5 x 1 hour seminars where students worked in groups to produce presentations on set papers - facilitated by a GTA. Despite very low attendance at lectures, attendance here was better ~60-75% and students produced some excellent presentation. One problem we encountered was a last minute surge in numbers. This was caused by students changing modules and was not something we had predicted. It meant seminars were larger ~25 students and this was not ideal. In future we will run more sessions and combined rather than remove if needed. Another point was that students only had 4 hours between the lecture and seminar so not much prep time - this was again out of our control. Note one seminar was around sex-offenders and warning email was sent out giving students permission to skip this without it being noted as absence if they found the topic uncomfortable or distressing - we had the highest numbers attend!
- Formative assessment in the form of a structured 500 word essay plan in which they plan out their chosen essay (on one of the four topics). This was given rapid feedback (Thursday to Monday) to ensure that they can have feedback ahead of skills development sessions. Feedback was using in text comments, summary comments, audio feedback and a rubric. 38/50 submitted this and they used the template effectively. By having the template I was able to ensure a minimum amount of information so there was something to feedback back. Generally students were appreciative of the differnet modes of feedback and, I think becaue it was just a plan, they were happy about not receiving a grade (which they are not always).
- 3 x Skills development sessions - flipped sessions with a narrated power point in advance to teach: database searching; citation searching; keeping up to date (shamelessly based on some work I did when at the OU). These walk students through KCL library facilities and how to use them to address their essay topic. There are also online moodle questions to complete before and after the learning to help them reflect later. During the session facilitated by me and a GTA students attempted to use these techniques to research their essay. We had some timetabling issues for this which meant the first session was a bit of disaster but around 50-60% of students attended and those that did seemed to have done the flipped lesson and were giving a lot of thought to these skills. The timetabling error meant that we ended up in a bigger room so students could stay after their session (when the next one was starting) if they wanted and a number did. Some commented on how useful it was and how they had not known how to do these things before.
- Summative assessment in which students: produce a record of the skills they have developed, a reflection on this and their 2000 word essay. The deadline has not passed yet so I cannot be sure on this one.
I have had some limted student feedback before the skills sessions and formative so quite early on. At this point students liked the organisation of the module but felt it was too contact light. I did advertise the structure but perhaps this is just not what they are used to. I am hoping the feedback and interactive nature of the second half of the module will have made them see contact time is not just measured in hours but we will see! I am expecting a reasonably high pass rate but also that the skills development log will be a good differentiator.
- Timetabling makes a massive difference - having 9 am one hour lecture on a monday is not well received!
- A gap of 1 day might be better between lectures and seminars, even though the students did excellent presentations.
- Students like controversy in topics
- Students appreciated varied and rapidly produced feedback. This has to be offset with the size of the assessment but they did like it and it was really enjoyable to do.
- If you want students to realise certain skills are transferable you have to do more than call them transferable skills - you have to actually give them solid concrete examples of where else they could use the skill.
- Students wanted to know it was real - one actually asked me whether I use the techniques and I explained which ones I used and why. I think this gave them a sense of the authenticity of the activity.
- Blended learning is great but it is time spent physically with a student that they see as contact time, That said, the audio feedback was well-received presumably because it felt more personal than text (even though that was personalised as well).