FMHS Teacher Feature #4: Dr Danè Turner & Dr Ben Heng
Reflective practitioners, Ben and Danè co-convene an MRes Unit, MEDI711 (Research Frontiers in Medical Science 1). The learning and teaching issue for Ben and Danè are two sides of the same coin: How to encourage invited guest researchers to deliver a presentation that is meaningful for student learning; and facilitating a valuable student learning opportunity delivered by guest lecturers.
2019 is the fourth offering of MEDI711. After every offering, the convenors sit down together, evaluate delivery of the Unit and often introduce improvements to ensure it becomes even more student-centred and relevant than the last iteration. Danè and Ben believe that the changes have been well-received by students, noting students are far more focused and engaged during lectures. The most recent intervention strategy requires guest lecturers to ‘punctuate’ their presentation with ‘active learning’ activities. For example, presenters are encouraged to: ask students questions, provide application exercises, ask students to discuss/reflect on topics or ideas with their peers, relate the new knowledge or ideas to another situation, etc.
Some presenters now even take students on field trips to their laboratories to show students where and how the research takes place. Such learning activities are purposefully designed to maintain student interest and engagement in the research field being presented.
“… the learning activities also help to clarify any misconceptions the students may have about what is being presented.”Dr Ben Heng
Research tells us that students learn more easily when they are actively engaged in the learning process. Active and engaged learning (AEL) happens when teaching engages students in the learning process. In AEL, students do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing (Prince, 2004). AEL improves retention of ideas, motivating students to do further study, and developing thinking skills compared to more traditional methods of ‘teaching’.
Student learning is further facilitated in MEDI711 by the alignment of assessment tasks to learning outcomes. In addition to the log book attendance record, students must prepare a detailed critique/reflection for five out of the 15 attended seminars (worth 20% of their final grade). These seminars can include Research Seminars hosted by Biomedical Sciences, AIHI, the Department of Health Professions or other MQ Faculties. In some cases, webinars may be accepted. A grading rubric is provided to students; along with support resources for improving/deepening reflective writing practice.
MRes Units MEDI711, MEDI712 AND MEDI715 have many guest lecturers, covering a lot of different content. The purpose of integrating guest lecturers presenting on their research is to expose students to a breadth of research fields and methodologies in the MRes course and thereby prepare students for their own research projects. Some students resolve or change their research field as a result of connecting with a guest lecture research topic in MEDI711. There is motivation for guest lecturers to clearly communicate their research, and introduce students to the purpose, impact and outcomes of their research topic. Danè and Ben look at the cohort before deciding on which guest lecturers to invite to speak to ensure that students are exposed to a range of relevant research topics. They also provide presenters with feedback on their presentation, thereby ensuring a continuous improvement cycle.
In earlier offerings of MEDI711, only one guest lecturer presented for 2 hours on their research; now three research groups occupy the same 2-hour spot. The reduced time for each topic ensures that presenters focus on the most salient points and students receive a variety of research topics. The changes to MEDI711 help to ensure that students now give their full attention to guest lecturers.
In 2018, Danè, and her previous colleague Dr Marina Santiago, introduced a Kahoot quiz for questioning students about the presentations they attend (questions are provided by the presenter). Danè believes this strategy has had a large impact on students’ enthusiasm and attention to speakers, even if the topic is outside the student’s field of interest.