Proceedings of The Physiological Society

Europhysiology 2018 (London, UK) (2018) Proc Physiol Soc 41, PL001

Prize Lectures

Harnessing digital technologies to enhance student learning

L. Robson1

1. Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom.


As a Physiologist with over twenty years' experience in learning and teaching one of the major challenges I have experienced is how to address the fear that undergraduate students have around mathematical skills, a recognised issue across the sector (Koenig, 2012). By its very nature Physiology is a mathematical discipline, and for students to develop an advanced understanding of Physiological principles they need to be able use mathematics to develop data handling skills across a range of techniques. Understanding how to analyse data, and more importantly being able to apply it to solve problems is a key graduate skill. As academics aiming to produce the very best Physiology graduates we therefore need to support and enhance student learning in this area. At the University of Sheffield I run three final year modules, covering ion channel physiology and pathophysiology. These modules develop knowledge and understanding, and also enhance student data handling skills around patch clamp, Ussing chamber and renal clearance approaches. Although students find such areas challenging, I utilise a blended approach to their learning, matching traditional approaches with digital technologies. This allows them to get to grips with the work, and me to fulfil my learning and teaching ethos, which is to always push and challenge students to achieve their best. Traditional lectures introduce the calculations and analysis that underpin the different methods, with lectures recorded, so that students can review and strengthen their understanding. We also record the more traditional topic based sessions, and integrate these areas into our problem solving sessions (application). The use of lecture capture has led to a vigorous debate over the years around the potential impact on student attainment and attendance (Pursel and Fang, 2012). However, within my modules it is clear that the use of lecture capture is of extreme benefit to students. In the current academic year 97% of the students on my modules have accessed the lecture captures, and all students who completed a survey agreed (19%) or strongly agreed (81%) that lecture capture was useful. An analysis of student attainment in essay and problem based exercises taken two years before and after the introduction of lecture capture in one of my modules shows a clear uplift in student performance, with a higher number of students awarded upper second and first class grades. Support for students is also provided using short "dynamic" mathematical videos, made using the iPad app Explain Everything. Previous work has highlighted the value of such recordings in enhancing student learning (Hsin and Cigas, 2013). These videos highlight the key mathematical steps the students must master, with students indicating they value this approach to explaining the calculations. These approaches are supported with problem solving sessions where students complete a formative exercise (the best way to learn is to do), that links to lecture content and provides additional guidance. This allows students to develop their skillset in a low risk environment. Personal feedback on the work in group problem solving sessions allows students to feed forward and improve for the summative assessments. The final module session helps them test their knowledge and understanding of the module, using Lecture Tools to run an interactive session. Students use their electronic devices to answer formative questions that test knowledge and understanding. Within the question set some free text questions allow the students to assess higher level skills around synthesis, and these answers are downloaded and feedback provided to the group via the virtual learning environment. Of course there are always student questions, often sent via e-mail, and sometimes the same question is asked by several different students (adding to the academic workload). To address this issue in Biomedical Science at Sheffield we have brought in "communities of learning" using the Google+ community app. This app allows us to post e-mailed questions and answers to the whole community, meaning that e-mail traffic (and time spend on answering e-mails) is reduced. We also encourage students to participate by posting their own questions, and answers. The blended approach I have taken to delivery of my final year modules has provided an enhanced learning experience for the students, allowing them to strengthen their knowledge and understanding of physiological experimental approaches, and develop an ability to apply this in scientific problem solving exercises. Their enhanced experience is evidenced by module feedback, which rate my modules and my teaching at the very top within my department. In my talk I will cover how I brought in this blended approach, identifying some of the issues and challenges, and also the benefits to myself as well as the students.

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