Biology Courses in Las Vegas Days 2 and 3

Well being a biomedical scientist I am still dying to call it Las Vagus! (One of the most important nerves in the body!) But day two of the biology courses team attending the SLOAN-c conference continues to be an awesome experience, as do the sights of Vegas by night. It is very easy to lose track of it being day or night, especially as my body clock is completely upside down.

I spoke to someone from Grand Canyon University today which not only sounds like a fabulous place to work but talked about one of their distance learning courses that caters for 50,000 students. Everything seems to be on such a vast scale over here. Walk up Vegas high street and you have erupting volcanos, gondolas,  water fountains and fireworks. They clearly aren’t bothered about their carbon footprint, but hey, you’ve got to have some fun in the world and stop taking it all so seriously.



My presentation was on day three at 11am Friday 27th July which coincided with the opening of the Olympic Games in London. My talk explained about the biology courses open education project and it went down well as I described open education activities in the UK and at De Montfort University. There were a range of subject specialists in the audience from maths and statistics, to life sciences and chemistry. They seemed to share the opinion that open educational resources can help meet basic skills deficits in laboratory techniques, and there is a real move to “flip” education – that is, to give the learning materials before teaching sessions and practicals to then give more time for discussion and interaction. I’m not sure how this might work with a lecture theatre full of nearly 200 students studying our biology courses like Medical Science and Biomedical Science, but hey I might give it a go.

So what will I do differently when I get home? I will try “flipping” at least for some sessions. I will look into eBooks and magazines as a way of delivering materials to students, and this seems to be the growing thing here with all students kitted out with iPads at some institutions! I think this would be a great concept for our own biology courses if students could have their laboratory schedules and help materials on iPads in the lab – although they will have to be waterproof! Are iPads waterproof by the way? They look pretty indestructible although I have had one crack on me! I’m adamant that we need electronic systems to track student achievement and progression and I have an APP to try out that achieves that in a very simple way.

So I will be sad to leave Vegas and leave behind some good friends from the conference. Next stop Boston over on the East Coast where I will be meeting people to talk more about our Biology Courses project.

Open education news from Las Vegas conference

Open education conference news

Students making their own textbooks with open content!
(Afnan-Manns, Mickelsen and Medrano, Paradise Valley Community College, US).

This talk on open education from Paradise Valley Community College ( was a nice example of students being involved in open educational activities and gaining many benefits. Library staff worked with students to provide them with digital literacy skills to search for open educational materials and content on the internet, and then worked with them to evaluate the quality and critically appraise the content. These skills themselves are critical today for our information-driven society and are important for all university leavers to grasp.

Open Education

How did they change their courses?

They replaced face-to-face lectures on international business with interactive sessions supplemented with lectures. Through this, students became curators of their digital information and compiled an open textbook to replace an existing recommended text. Why do this? It seems that with high fees, the prospects of students buying expensive course books is a barrier to them enrolling and taking courses in the US. Also in some subjects, the books cannot keep up with say medical advances, current affairs and global activities. This is where open education has the advantage of being continually shared and added and updated on the internet.

How were the teaching sessions structured? Students formed teams and each decided upon a book chapter, e.g. product life cycles, globalisation etc. They then searched for OER and retrieved a bundle of good quality materials. As their text book chapter contribution they reviewed the OER with a summary, wrote keywords and a headline. The chapter was correctly cited and referenced to attribute the OER. Students produced their work in Blackboard on a WIKI so could view each others work and provide comments.

The work was monitored by library team and module academic Dr Morano. As he commented, the wealth of material retrieved by the students was amazing, and found new items and information that he couldn’t have possibly read. Also, the module was brought alive by real-time events and news.

Open education practices – the downside?

As always, new advances take an investment of time, and open education practices are no exception. Time was required to up-skill the students in digital literacy, and time was needed to encourage them to write WIKIS and comment. Dr Morano to transfer from a diactic content delivery to more interactive teaching sessions, which were backed up by lectures. This resulted in changes to module assessment because learning outcomes were not static year on year and changed with the nature of the resources found. This would have implications for writing examination questions early in the year before content was delivered.

The upside!

Through being involved in open education and by becoming partners in learning, the business students learnt practical skills of managing information, and experienced team-working and working collaboratively in an on-line environment. Their test scores improved, although the longer term impact on enrollment or retention where “text book-free” courses are seen as a popular choice remains to be seen.


Biology Courses in Las Vegas Day 1

Biology Courses in Vegas!

I can hardly believe I’m here and what a contrast to the peace of the Vale of Belvoir in Leicestershire where you are occasionally disturbed only by the clip clop of horses hooves. Here you are continually disturbed by erupting volcanoes, fireworks and the rattle of slot machines 24-7. I have already lost track of what is night or day. There are continual crowds of people but the great thing about the Venetian Hotel is that it is full of Italian music and Louis Prima on a permanent loop…..”Angelina, the waitress at the pizzaria”. Fantastic.

Biology Courses Vegas Trip

The Venetian Hotel is based on something between The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. There is marble everywhere, fountains in the foyer and, and wall and ceiling frescoes copied from Michelangelo;s work that go on forever. Or are they murals? I wouldn’t dare call them that. My hotel room is larger than my entire house, with two plasma televisions and gold plated taps in the bathroom! The hotel the size of a small town. But I could get used to it if I had to! And restaurants, bars and shops open 24 hours a day, I could certainly get used to that.

La Venetian Hotel

The hotel is better than your average Holiday Inn I guess. It contains two theatres, a Madame Taussards, art gallery, a golf course and three swimming pools including one beach. Oh and I think there are two nightclubs and numerous casinos. Did I say it was like a small town, well actually, it is more like a small city, in fact I think already has more attractions than Nottingham. And yes it does have a river running through it with gondola rides.

Last night I spoke to a lovely Italian gentleman who for $400 a month rents an apartment with swimming pool which is both considerably cheaper and larger than my rented property back home. Would I swap places, well I’d give it some serious thought.

Post by Viv