Cross-institutional student-led collaborative learning of physiology

Amici-Dargan, S.L., Birch A, Malone K, Cassels L, Andrew Doherty, Joanna Howarth, Hall S, Hughes M, Allen J, Shaw H, Steve Fitzjohn, Palmer Z, Moore C, Rutherford S

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Poster


Encouraging students to engage fully with the learning experience in higher education (HE) is a challenge. With secondary schools increasingly "teaching to the test" and large class sizes in HE often necessitating the use of more didactic teaching methods, there is a significant risk of students becoming passive consumers of information, rather than developing into self-regulated independent learners. Recently there has been a drive towards development of openly-shared online resources (e.g. MOOCs, iTunesU and Khan Academy) to support learning, but these are traditionally designed by academic staff based on their perceptions of what students need. A more beneficial approach is for students to work as partners in curriculum design and support of teaching. The main aim of this project is to establish and evaluate the effectiveness of cross-institutional student-led collaborative learning environments (CLEs) to support the learning of Physiology in HE. We have evaluated the use of three online platforms (Facebook, Blackboard CourseSites and Learnium) for running Cardiovascular Physiology CLEs within one partner HE institution. These pilot studies involved three student cohorts: first year medical students (n=297), first year bioscience students (n=414) and second year biomedical students (n=137). Surveys and semi-structured interviews were conducted to evaluate the dynamics of engagement and explore student attitudes towards collaborative learning. 25% of the medical cohort, 34% of the first year bioscience students and 31% of the second year biomedical students signed up to the CLEs. The main reason for non-participation was "not knowing it existed" (84% medic; 76% bioscience). The main motivations for joining the online CLEs were to "get help with hard topics" (76% medic; 61% bioscience), "curiosity" (61% medic; 54% bioscience) and "support from peers" (55% medic; 50% bioscience). Students who joined a CLE but did not engage in online activities felt they "had nothing of value to post" (68% medic; 86% bioscience), but did like looking at other student's posts. Other key reasons for lack of engagement were "need to focus on other coursework" and "haven't started revision yet". Other dominant themes emerging are that students want CLEs to cover more physiology topics and desire more input from academic staff. Organising small group meetings facilitated by near-peer students increased engagement with the online CLEs. Learnium (an online social network tool for learning and teaching) was the most popular platform, but training was required for staff and students to use the communities, boards and collaborative documents. Facebook and CourseSites were less popular due to their overly social and overly academic nature, respectively. We have recently built on this pilot study to establish three cross-institutional CLEs and will also present the outputs of these projects at the meeting.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2016


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