Open Educational Resources to Support Biology Courses and Prospective Students

The aim of this website is to share university learning materials to support biology courses not just in the UK but around the globe. The HALS OER project staff are academics and researchers in Biomedical Science, Medical Science, Forensic Science and Midwifery.

Why are we doing this biology courses website?

Many universities and colleges in the UK and indeed around the globe have started to share their academic resources with each other. As a lecturer involved in delivering biology courses, there is nothing worse than writing resources for students knowing that the work you are doing is duplicating the efforts of many other people involved in the same subject. The move to start sharing at least some of what we do makes perfect sense economically and for purposes of efficiency. I can take someone else’s materials as a starting point and then spend time enhancing and updating them to suit my purpose, thus benefiting both me and my students. I save time, and they get better quality assistance. This works well at a basic level teaching fundamental skills and principles. Think about how often for example the anatomy of the heart must be taught in biology courses not just in the UK but globally? The same basic material must be being duplicated thousands of times.

Biology courses open

What is different about our biology courses project?

Of course there are plenty of resources, tutorials and materials already available on the internet. There are two things wrong with these however. Many resources are not accessible and are locked behind passwords on institutional repositories. Many more biology courses materials that are on the web are simply not copyrighted for use. You may be able to show a website in a lecture but you cannot download the resource and add to it. I suppose an additional problem is the author and therefore credibility of the resource is sometimes also hard to judge.

Our HALSOER project funded by the JISC and HEA in the UK (Open Educational Resource Programme Phase 3 2011-2012) has opened the doors to college and university learning materials and is helping to make these available to all learners and educators via our biology courses website. They key to this is dealing with the copyright by using a Creative Commons Licence (CC). The copyright is still ours – De Montfort University, but the licence opens up the content to everyone. Many of our users are just enquiring members of the public. One user of our laboratory skills website VAL (Virtual Analytical Laboratory) said:

“I always wondered how a microscope worked”. Trash collector, New Jersey.

We use a CC BY SA (attribute and share alike) licence – so you can take our stuff, link to it, down load it and edit it; the only requirement is that you attribute or reference us at biology courses, and share the new resource back via the web.

What resources are we going to share?

We aim to produce biology courses materials in a range of file formats. Here are some currently being developed:

  • A series of parasitology interactive PDF files – with photographs and videos and animations.
  • Basic microbiology skills – videos and demonstrations.
  • Forensic science photo gallery – a bundle of JPEG assets for other forensic academics and students to use in their lectures and studies.
  • A series of histology resources – JPEGs and animations for undergraduate bioscience students and to serve biomedical science training.

When we are sharing our materials on biology courses we use a range of formats so that people can access them by both computer and mobile devices. We also know how to design resources to be effective educational tools – for example multimedia formats combing images and sound, and the inclusion of quizzes to test understanding.

Who else is involved in the HALSOER Biology Courses project?

We are working with employers – for example the NHS and the Leicestershire Constabulary who are providing case study and data for us to adapt. We are working with Oxford University Press publishers as a collaborative venture using our biology courses resources to support a series of biomedical science text books. This external input is very exciting and is providing real – life scenarios that are meaningful to students. Also having these conversations is also mutually beneficial and is leading to other opportunities in research and other aspects of work.

And finally……

Around 10% of people going to university take biology in the UK – be they life science, healthcare sciences or medicine. As part of this project we are also working with local Leicester schools and colleges to help young people make choices about their futures and help generate interest in biology courses and the wide range of exciting career opportunities available.

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