Author: Ines Fürtbauer
Practical classes are key elements across year 1 and year 2 Biosciences modules. Surprisingly, in year 3, modules which are typically research-led, lack practicals. However, the inclusion of practical components could lead to a better learning experience, critical analysis, and understanding of current developments as well as theoretical frameworks in the respective field. BIO333 is a research-led year 3 module on the thriving field of animal personality, new for 2016/17. The module includes two associated practical elements aiming to enhance the students’ understanding of the relationship between personality and physiological stress levels (cortisol), hence linking biology, endocrinology, and psychology. During the first element, students collect their own saliva samples for non-invasive cortisol analysis and they fill in a self-rating personality questionnaire. Students are asked to write a 1-page report (10% of the overall module mark) summarising their independent analysis of the pooled data. The second element is an interactive group discussion, where data and results are discussed and interpreted. Feedback from students (n=31/47) was obtained using an anonymous questionnaire relating to Biosciences QAA Subject Benchmark Statements. Students judged the practical to be good (26%), very good (45%), or excellent (29%). The majority of the class agreed or strongly agreed that practical elements enabled them to link data to a theoretical framework (94%) and that the learning experience and critical analysis enhanced their understanding of the subject area (90%). The overwhelming success of the approach adopted in BIO333 serves as a model for other research-led year 3 modules in Biosciences.