A themed edition of a biotechnology e-journal as the assessment for a level 6 case studies module

Case study authors: Sheila Hope

School of Life Science, Faculty of Natural Sciences

CDF Framework: Authentic Assessment, Global Perspectives

Project Summary

In a level 6 module, single honours Biochemistry and Biology students investigate the applications of biotechnology to address problems of pressing global concern. The topics of pollution, food security and health security are introduced by expert speakers and students follow up with a group discussion, scan the literature to find biotechnology solutions and report back on their findings. Students are tasked with being the editor of a themed edition of a biotechnology journal. They decide on their own themes and select 6 biotechnology papers, 2 from each topics, that all fit with their theme. The themes have ranged from nebulous ones like global warming, to really niche themes like bees, or fungi. For one of the chosen papers the students write a review of the paper in the style of a Nature News and Views article i.e. for a scientific but non expert audience. Additionally the students write an editorial introducing their theme and justifying their choice of papers. The final output is an e-journal (collated either in PebblePad or a Sway) containing the editorial, News and Views and links to the chosen papers. The assessment is supported by 2 workshops and 2 asynchronous Sways.

This module, along with several others, was introduced as part of the single honours biochemistry programme, which was developed to meet the criteria for accreditation by the Royal Society of Biology. All new modules were planned to fill perceived gaps in the curriculum and all had innovative assessments designed to foster both creativity and the development of communication skills. This module enhances coverage of sustainability issues and encourages students to think about the global impact of science and, in line with the decolonising the curriculum agenda, exposes students to issues like inequalities in global health. Additionally, the module promotes much deeper engagement with the primary literature and the different types of article found therein.

Feedback from students has generally been very positive. They enjoy the freedom to develop their own interests within the field and to be chance creative. In the groups discussions, because each group member is finding papers to suit their own interests, the other group members are being exposed to a much wider view of the current literature than they would have been able to cover individually. They see the benefits of different writing styles and the need to target different audiences. They feel much more confident navigating the primary literature and in the critical analysis of research papers, which they feel will be of benefit to them in other modules. The assessment was very much part of the learning experience and with no end of module exam, the assessment was completed during the semester.

The assessment has been commended by the biochemistry external examiner as an innovative and relevant exercise.

This type of assessment could easily transferred, with just minor tweaks, to other science disciplines, and possibly adapted for some humanities disciplines. In its current form, the marking burden is high because markers need to read the research paper that the News and Views article is based on to properly assess the student'sinterpretation of the paper and quickly scan the other 5 chosen papers to check for suitability and match to theme. This makes it less suitable for very large cohorts, unless there is a big marking team. An alternative, but more restrictive version, for larger cohorts would prescribe a few themes and have one pre-chosen paper per theme as the News and Views paper.

LSC-30051 Selecting appropriate literature sway

LSC-30051 News and Views sway

This type of assessment is very new to the students and so to combat any assessment anxiety, we run two workshops and have two formative sway exercises, one of which they completed in group during the workshop and one of which they completed in their own time. Happy to chat with anyone thinking of using this type of assessment and to give access to workshop materials.