An online activity developing student-driven learning in molecular biology

Susan Cossetto, Paula Newitt

Abstract


An online tutorial activity TOOL (Tutorial Originating OnLine) was developed to extend both interested and at-risk students in a first year molecular biology course. This course is a pre-requisite course for subsequent study in molecular biology fields and is characterised by a major laboratory focus, somewhat at the cost of not offering face-to-face tutorials. An online tutorial activity was developed to meet an identified need for some tutorial follow-up to lecture material. TOOL consists of two complementary online activities: just-in-time tutorials on the theme of the week’s lectures; and a specific activity aimed at building understanding of the language of the discipline through student-supplied glossary entries to a WebCT site. The novel aspect of TOOL is that both activities are maintained by the students themselves. The tutorial component involves students within an online discussion forum being rostered to provide a question relating to the week’s theme and the other students researching answers to be posted via a threaded discussion board activity. The glossary entry involved students (again in turn) uploading relevant terms and definitions into the public Glossary database for the online course site, via an unusual application of the WebCT presentation tool. The glossary terms had student identifiers, providing indirect, but positive feedback for those who contributed. Student response to the TOOL pilot study has been very encouraging, with several at-risk students (who had previously failed the course) volunteering for the project. 100% of the participants agreed they would seek to be involved in a similar tutorial system if offered in later year courses.

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