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.

Biology courses introduction

Lecturers at De Montfort University involved in a number of biology courses in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences have been working for several years to make their learning resources open for everyone to use on the web. We started in 2009 by sharing courses and materials to teach laboratory skills. In 2010 we shared learning resources on the subject of blood disorders, namely sickle cell disease and thalassaemia. This year we have just started another project to release our health and life science materials and courses more widely. All of this work has been funded by HEFCE as part of their Open Educational Resource programme run by the JISC and the HEA. As part of our latest project – Health and Life Science Open Educational Resources (HALS OER), academic staff will be working with commercial and non-commercial external partners to share high-quality learning materials outside of the university via the biology courses website.

Biology courses logo

We have good working links with the Leicester Constabulary and local hospitals including the Leicester Royal Infirmary already. Our contacts there are enthusiastic about providing us with information, case studies and even simple photographs that we can then package up as resources to support student learning as part of our portfolio of biology courses. These resources will be useful for university level students, and we will develop taster materials for students and instructors at schools and colleges. We also know from our previous projects that our resources are used by the general public and by people who are just inquisitive and want to learn more about science and technology from all over the world.

We are focusing on a number of very popular university subjects – Forensic Science, Biomedical Science, Medical Science and Midwifery. All of these biology courses at degree level at most UK universities will require biology A level, and the laboratory sciences (all except Midwifery) may well also require chemistry. Prospective students interested in finding out more specific details should visit the UCAS website – the University Central Admissions Service in the UK.

Health and Life Science staff already work closely with local Leicester schools and colleges and run workshops for pupils and students. We will turn some of our workshops into on-line university taster biology courses, so that more people considering coming to university can see the types of subjects that are studied and the types of approaches that are used, not just at De Montfort but all other UK universities.

Biology courses at DeMontfort university sign

As with our past projects we are keen to get students involved! Students are already starting to contribute resources themselves, such as fantastic biology courses artwork from Jacob Escott from the Faculty of Arts. A student from the Faculty of Technology will be producing a game! As always it seems those with the creative juices are off to a quick start. Students in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences on our biology courses are also involved in producing quiz questions to accompany the resources.

How can you use the biology courses learning resources?

All our open educational resources and taster biology courses are openly available to use. The secret to this is the Creative Commons open licence. Look for the “CC” logo on each resource and read more on our COPYRIGHT page.

“BY” this means just attribute who the resource was by i.e. HALSOER at De Montfort University, Leicester.
“BY SA” you must attribute the biology courses site but you are also free to download the resource, edit it and do what you like but you must SA or share alike – or share it back on the web or by emailing it to us.