Our Life Sciences Programmes will be teaching core academic skills in ‘intensive practical weeks’ in Semester 1. 

Requirements for social distancing in laboratories have led the Team to radically rethink their teaching. 

Because laboratories and equipment will need to cleaned between each use, it quickly became clear that students’ laboratory time would need to be timetabled in week-long blocks.  The Team realised that it would be easier to comply with social distancing if lab time was skills-based, rather than module/content-based. 

The Team looked across all Programmes and modules, deconstructing the content to identify common laboratory skills.  For example, using a pipette correctly is a skill common to many Programmes and modules, as is microscopy, producing a standard curve, titrations and serial dilutions.  Whilst the subject content and the reasons for using pipettes and microscopes may differ, the core skills are the same. 

From this, the Team developed a common skills package of teaching, which will be delivered to all students in each Level.  Students will continue to receive Programme and module-specific lectures and workshops, timetabled across the Semester, alongside the intensive practical weeks.   

Dr Carol Trim suggests that there have been many unanticipated benefits of this approach.  The benefits are such that the team would consider using intensive practical weeks, post-lockdown. 

For example, the intensive practical labs will enable students to focus on developing laboratory skills to a deeper level than would ordinarily be possible.  These are invaluable employability skills, which will give our graduates the edge as they move into employment. 

Students will be spending 6 hours together each day during their practical weeks.  From previous experience, the Team knows that time in the lab builds a close learning community, as students actively work together to achieve a common outcome.  This community can only be enhanced through more intense working practices. 

Students will also benefit from cross-disciplinary working, learning skills that they would not previously have been exposed to.  For example, the Human Biology and Animal Sciences students have been brough together for their skills teaching, enabling Animal Scientists to gain skills in histology.  These are valuable additional employability skills; and the students are now part of a valuable, serendipitous new learning community. 

Finally, colleagues have worked intensively together as a team, which has enhanced existing academic communities and built new, cross-disciplinary communities.  Colleagues have far greater knowledge of each others’ modules and research interests.  This cross-disciplinary working has highlighted the potential for new research collaborations, which could result in new opportunities for funded research. 

Dr Carol Trim has the following tips for developing skills-based teaching. 

  • Collaboration is essential.  Take the time to build working relationships with colleagues who you haven’t worked with before. 
  • Working intensively over Teams is a challenge, but persevere – it will be worth it! 
  • Involve students, if you can.  This can help to ensure that your skills programme is truly student-centred. 

For more information on cross-module skills-based learning, please contact Carol.Trim@Canterbury.ac.uk

For more information on L&T in the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Social Sciences, contact Susan.Kenyon@Canterbury.ac.uk.  

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