Science teaching resources at the Annual STEM Conference

In April the Biology Courses team talked about their science teaching resources and open education projects at three conferences in the UK.

The first was the first Higher Education Academy Annual STEM Conference in support of science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. This was held at Imperial College, London, on 12-13th April 2012.

The team had one full presentation and one poster to talk about the “biology courses” project and how it is working with external collaborators to produce high-quality and exciting science teaching resources to benefit student education. The materials include patient case studies, laboratory data and images, all of which weren’t openly available for us to use in our teaching before this project started. The best bit is we can package these materials up into open educational resources (OER) and then share them around the world.

In the talk which lasted 30 minutes Dr Viv Rolfe explained how the project has established a number of local links for example with hospitals, the police and private sector companies. These relationships are mutually beneficial – yes, we get interesting learning materials and our external contacts get training materials for use with their own staff. For example, histology OER that we can use on our Biomedical Science and Medical Science degree programmes are also useful to trainee bioscientists in the hospital laboratories.

You’d have thought that setting up these partnerships would be a time consuming process? In fact, where I did imagine long discussions sorting out copyright and ownership of the materials, the individuals and their teams immediately understood the whole philosophy behind open education, and were more than happy to share their photographs, data and other materials under a Creative Commons License. Clearly, we look at every item very carefully to ensure that any patient data is confidential, and every photograph or video that may contain identifiable information is either not released, or we gain the permissions from those people photographed to use their picture for our project.

What has been interesting in working with local contacts are the unexpected benefits. Talking about open education has led to discussions about research, shared teaching and how we can work together at post-graduate level on masters programmes and sharing PhD students. You might therefore ask why haven’t universities done this before? Well we have of course. We collaborate externally all the time, but before the open education projects, discussions were hardly ever about sharing teaching and learning ideas. Unless you had funding or were established in a research field, you probably wouldn’t have had a reason to go knocking on people’s doors. So open education for me and the “Biology Courses” team has created a buzz in the local Leicester community and with local employers.

To view the slides on involving external partners in generating science teaching resources from the STEM conference, go to Slideshare:

http://www.slideshare.net/viv_rolfe/v-rolfe-stem-2012-employer-engagement-in-oer-12april2012

 

Science teaching resources

The Biology Courses team have just returned from two conferences in London and Cambridge in the UK where they have been talking about their science teaching resources that are being shared around the world. De Montfort University is one of many UK universities opening up the doors to education, hence the term “open educational resources” or OER which refers to resources and materials that are being shared.

science teaching resources

CC BY-SA: Cambridge by Viv Rolfe.

What makes something “open”?

Science teaching resources and learning materials such as lecture notes, PowerPoint slides and video on any subject can be made “open” by applying an open license like Creative Commons. In the past, these materials were copyright © of the university or the individual lecturer, and this mostly meant that sharing them was not permitted. For OER, copyright still stays with the university or individual, but they have signed permission to license the resource for open use. The photograph above for example is “BY-SA”. “BY” means please attribute the author or photographer and “SA” means share alike and gives you permission to adapt and modify the OER if you then share it back with everyone.

Why are we sharing our science teaching resources?

The simple answer to that is why not! The same subjects are taught all over the world so why don’t we all help each other and save time by sharing our teaching materials? This saves me time as a lecturer and also the OER are available to all learners so the ability to learn about new subjects whoever you are, and wherever you are in the world, is suddenly an option.

We have focused on our health and life science teaching resources because we specialise in some areas so can also share our expertise for example in forensic science, midwifery and biomedical science. The resources we share come in a range of useful formats so they can be used as they are on computers or mobile devices, but hopefully, if someone wanted to alter them or update them, they could take the file and amend it themselves.

There are also wider national reasons why sharing science teaching resources is important. The government are keen to support STEM education – that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This includes encouraging pupils in schools to study STEM, to continue to improve university education and also to provide STEM employers with the high-quality graduates they require. By sharing good quality teaching materials, this can give young people a taste of science to hopefully inspire and encourage them; OER can provide existing students with supplementary resources to support their studies; and some specialist OER can also be used for work-based training.

As open education in the UK continues to grow as part of the government-supported OER programme run by the JISC and the HEA, there will be increasing numbers of learning materials to use for free on the internet. Our “Biology Courses” website which was only launched this year will continue to be populated with university taster materials and a range of science teaching resources available for everyone to use.

 

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.