Proceedings of The Physiological Society

Europhysiology 2018 (London, UK) (2018) Proc Physiol Soc 41, C125

Oral Communications

How can we help undergraduate students in large cohorts identify as Physiologists?

S. L. Amici-Dargan1, A. M. Moorcroft2, E. Pattison Vieira Da Silva1, S. M. Rutherford1, Z. C. Prytherch1, S. Hall1

1. School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom. 2. School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.


Many higher education institutions (including ours) no longer offer Physiology as an ‘entry' degree, and first year undergraduate students (UG) are often taught Physiology in large mixed cohorts (e.g. Biomedicine or Bioscience). This situation poses significant challenges for new undergraduates who want to identify and network with peer- and near-peers who have a shared interest in Physiology. Student-led collaborative learning communities can enhance student engagement and improve module outcomes (Rutherford et al. 2015; Amici-Dargan et al. in press). We are currently using outputs of student-led focus groups to empower students to establish their own ‘Communities of Practice' (Wenger 1998; Webber 2016), to enable them to identify as Physiologists whilst studying in large mixed cohorts. Constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014) was the chosen methodological approach for this study, because it focuses on developing theory from rich qualitative data rather than aiming to prove or disprove a hypothesis. This study involved 8 participants: 2 students with an interest in Physiology from each UG year group, and 2 Physiology graduates (both did a placement year). Focus groups were conducted, transcribed and anonymised by a student researcher, and transcripts coded by 2 independent researchers. Emerging themes were identified and are currently being used to inform the establishment of a student-led ‘Community of Practice' for UG Physiology students. Four dominant themes emerged from student-led focus groups: (1) Any UG Physiology community should have shared ‘cross-year group' leadership by a small group of students representing different stages of study (2) The community should hold regular informal Physiology-focused activities, run by near-peer students with occasional input from invited academics (3) A virtual community should be developed in parallel; online platforms should be chosen by students and must be intuitive to use with good functionality on different electronic devices (4) Academics should provide background support, validate the initiative and encourage student engagement Student-led focus groups are an excellent way to facilitate the development of novel initiatives that engage and meet the actual needs of existing cohorts. Our findings reveal that the level of academic input in any UG community of practice needs to be very carefully considered and agreed by the students, and will depend on the main aims of the scheme. Expectations of staff and students need to be clearly set and new initiatives work best if launched at the beginning of an academic year. Any online platforms should be pre-populated with information and, in our experience, sign up should be voluntary to get a good level of engagement. These findings provide a foundation for developing effective collaborative learning communities to support students with an interest in Physiology.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements