“Using technology to engage students” a Biochemical Society Workshop

Guest post by Mark Roberts (Queen Mary University of London) who attended the workshop.

The Biochemical Society held a one day workshop at Charles Darwin House on using technology to engage students. It was aimed to demonstrate how different technologies can be used to enhance teaching. I was interested in attending given the wide range of ways you can use technologies to hear from others how they are using technologies in their teaching and learn from their experiences.

The day opened with Professor Rob Beynon from Liverpool giving an interesting demonstration of livecode for writing small applications for both teaching and research. One nice thing of this demonstration was the ease of writing such small programs. Discussions of their use over lunch covered such as programs as a happy/ok/unhappy feedback clicker for lecture feedback or a bespoke data entry system to support a practical.

Dr Emma Taylor from Exeter spoke about how she is integrating mind maps to improve the problem based learning process (PBL) and help overcome some of the problems of the traditional PBL approach, in particular dealing with student anxiety of differences in learning objectives between groups. The approach employed at Exeter made use of technology to enhance a large group feedback session using interactive surface tables upon which students can display and discuss the research they have done on the PBL learning objectives.

Professor Neil Morris from Leeds lead a fascinating afternoon session covering a wide range of uses of technology that he has applied in his own teaching at Leeds and how he is now involved in the production of MOOCs. This resulted in a very interesting discussion about ensuring ‘digital equality’, that is not disadvantaging students because of the technology.  Neil discussed his experiences of using technology in his own teaching, in particular using tablets for discrete teaching sessions and for longer periods. He presented the findings from evaluations of those projects and provided an interesting insight of how such technologies could be deployed within a university setting and how they enhance teaching. One clear message from these projects was about app curation, guiding students to suitable apps as you would guide them to papers and text books on a reading list.

In the final session we looked at using tables both as a method for generating small pieces of teaching content and for delivering small teaching sessions using a range of apps. As highlighted in the previous session, there is a wide range of apps available, however, as with the plethora of text books covering an area which apps you choose may also be down to personal taste as well as function.

The workshop highlighted the range of different ways we can use technology to enhance learning. It provoked a lot of questions around access, ownership of equipment and openness of resources and certainly gave me a lot to think about in terms of different methods and opportunities to use technology to enhance my teaching. I look forward to future events like this including the joint biochemical society FEBS conference on bioscience education next spring.

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