It is the time of year when we are all swimming in a pool of assessments – exams, essays, and lab reports, hence this is a timely article. Since my beginnings as a lecturer I have always sought to use innovative assessments to captivate students whilst facilitating exploration their own interests. I now rely less on traditional modes of assessment (essays, scientific reports, etc) that students frequently encounter throughout their program and look toward innovative and outward facing mechanisms for assessment. This year, I merged all my ideas and practice from my career to date (and went all out) with the One Health Antibiotic Resistance Science Fair. The fair aligned to One Health day (November 3, 2018) and Antibiotic resistance awareness week (November 12-18) and was the major assessment for third-year undergraduates taking BIOL364 Symbiosis in Health and Disease.

20181106 One Health Student Science FairThe concept

 The Antibiotic Resistance Science Fair was the culmination of unit activities and group work completed over the preceding seven weeks of the session. The overarching learning and teaching strategy was to integrate research, teaching and outreach in assessment and provide deep connection to the global issue of antibiotic resistance, or bacteria’s ability to overcome the action of the compounds used to clear infection and treat disease. Over the weeks dedicated to this activity, the BIOL364 cohort studied the global issue of antibiotic resistance in lectures, practicals and lectorials; lectures outlined the issue of antibiotic resistance and students learnt of research being undertaken from different MQ researchers in this area. In the practical classes students contributed to antibiotic resistance research through the Scoop a Poop citizen science project where they collected a possum poop sample and performed tests for genetic determinants of antibiotic resistance. In lectorials students examined Australia’s actions to this issue through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy. Students were then required to ascertain community perceptions of antibiotic resistance and use this information to develop an activity to engage the community in the issue. These activities were delivered to the university community at the science fair. Students were assessed on their various aspects of the group activity and and individual component relaying community perceptions, interpretation and reflection on the group aspect.

For my practice, this assessment merged many of learning and teaching innovations I had used over the years; such as the Advanced Science (Biology) National Science week events with Taronga Zoo (Wild Science Race 2016 and 2017) and Royal Botanic Garden (Science Safari 2018), and the Scoop a Poop: citizens tackle antibiotic resistance in the wild project that formed practical work in BIOL364 in 2017. Given that this was a large independent group project, I aimed to prepare the cohort for the major group through weekly group activities in the lectorials in the first six weeks of the unit. The goal here was to facilitate solid and functional groups that were used to working together, at times groups were challenged using jigsaw learning and rotating group members for parts of the activity. Interestingly, when I tried to reduce a few groups to lower numbers (groups determined by classroom layout in active learning space) it was requested that groups be maintained as they had worked so well together over the session. I decided to view this as co-creation and let them keep the larger groups (7-8) and the benefits were clear at the Science Fair.

This assessment aligned to community-based awareness events. There are so many of these awareness day that could be embraced within assessment practice, especially in the health and medical related fields. Many awareness days / events allow for registration, providing external recognition of activities. Such activities shift learning beyond the classroom and create context for learner, and such assessments would be excellent additions for PACE or capstone units.

Student experience

It is a little too soon for student survey results and I have 130 individual reflective reports waiting to be marked, so I am unable to comment on how the science fair went for students. However, directly after the event the atmosphere was amazing, and informal comments from students conveyed their excitement and pride in their work and the event. Many students expressed to me that it was a great way to finish university and that it should happen again next year.

An important aspect of the assessment was engaging the students in a real-world issue, and one that is very relevant to their life-time. This message went beyond students and through to their friends and family:

‘The AR fair was a good starting point for such change [antibiotic awareness and stewardship] as it gets students thinking about how to tackle this problem and also helps to spread awareness to friends and families of the students’ , said Michaela Burchell, BIOL364 student.

The event

The Antibiotic Resistance Science Fair was delivered to the University community on November 6, in the Biology Courtyard. The courtyard was abuzz from around 10.30am when student groups were setting up their activities. The event kicked off at 12pm and Prof. Barbara Messerle (Dean of FSE), Prof. Mariella Herberstein (Chair of Senate), Dr Justin Clarke (University Veterinarian), Dr Liette Vandine (University Biosafety Officer), Prof. Michelle Leishman (Biology HoD) and many other staff and students were seen participating in student activities. It was clear from the efforts and activities that the BIOL364 cohort embraced this activity; it would be unfair of me to single out any one student group as they were all fantastic – so come along next year and experience the 2nd One Health Antibiotic Resistance Science Fair for yourselves.

Posted by Michelle Power

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