Teaching biochemistry differently: collaborative peer group activities in large classes

Marian Dobos, Baden Rumble, Carmel McNaught

Abstract


Traditional university teaching of undergraduate biochemistry is generally delivered in lectures and laboratory classes. Online teaching environments have recently enabled different approaches to content delivery and assessment. By developing an online repository of content (lecture notes, exercises, formative and summative assessment), the academic can now construct new teaching and learning methodologies and experiences for the student, since formal lecture time can be reduced and replaced by other learning activities that promote active student involvement. We have designed and implemented a new teaching and learning initiative for second year Biochemistry involving collaborative learning in Peer Groups (Dobos, Grinpukel, Rumble and McNaught 1999; Dobos 2001). In this program, students are engaged in structured discussions, problem solving and concept mapping exercises, and seminar preparation, in a collaborative group setting. Additional sharing of ideas occurs through student-generated materials, Web Board online asynchronous discussions and group seminars. The Peer Groups are facilitated and managed by the students. The Peer Group program enables the students to actively engage in a discourse on biochemical concepts and adopt different approaches to learning. Furthermore, through participation and practice, the students are improving their communication and teamwork skills necessary in the workforce. In this paper we report on further developments of the program in response to student feedback, and its implementation in large classes. Our findings indicate that the group activities need to be carefully designed and structured, and closely aligned to the other learning activities of the curriculum, in order to provide maximum benefit to the students. The timetabling of classes, institutional infrastructure and student resources are critical to the efficacy of the program and the learning experience of the student.

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