First-year Human Biology students in the ivory tower

Eleanor Peirce, Mario Ricci, Irene Lee, John Willison

Abstract


University academics have frequently been characterised as having esoteric, blue-sky research agendas that
are unconnected with the real world. Moreover, these same agendas are said to frequently clash with and impede quality teaching, impacting negatively on undergraduate students’ learning of science content and skills. But what happens when the skills associated with research in a science academic’s discipline are explicitly identified, fostered and assessed in large first-year science courses? And what are students’ long-term, well-considered perspectives of the benefits and downsides of these research-skill-building experiences?

This paper presents findings from interviews with 3 cohorts of students that were conducted 1 year after completion of 2 consecutive first-year human biology courses that were designed to explicitly develop student research skills. Students from 2005 and 2006, interviewed in 2006 and 2007 respectively, provided a perspective that the academics coordinating the courses needed to make the purpose and process of developing student research skills more obvious to students. The changes to the curriculum were then gauged through the interviews with the 2007 cohort of students, conducted in 2008. Findings include that the majority of students perceived that the research skills they developed in first year human biology were very useful for their subsequent study, but also in their proposed or realised employment. These findings have been fed back into the course, to motivate present students about the benefits of a focus on their research skill development.

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