The first year Cell Biology module, taken by all undergraduate students in the School of Life Sciences, reached the final for outstanding innovative practice in teaching and learning in the Science Teaching Innovation Awards.

Finalist certificate for teaching innovation from Learning Science

The Learning Science Teaching Innovation Awards aim to support innovation to positively impact the quality of teaching and improve student learning. Winners of the awards are chosen by a panel of science education experts, and are selected through their demonstration of innovation in teaching using Learning Science resources. 

The School of Life Sciences Cell Biology module is taken by more than 600 students each year, and the team implemented pre-lab simulations into their teaching to help familiarise students with the concepts and equipment required in the laboratory session and encouraged active learning. The pre-lab simulations were also utilised within the lab classes, using projection screens to demonstrate sterile techniques as part of an introductory briefing.

The pre-lab simulations have enabled students to arrive for laboratory classes more prepared and has also improved engagement. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the course team were able to expand their experience of pre-lab tools within online classes, giving students additional understanding of how equipment is utilised despite the reduction of in-person lab classes.

Innovative teaching techniques were also utilised for marking in this large module. In the Cell Biology module there are three laboratory classes, each of which require a report to check student understanding and assess data analysis and calculations. In the former version of this module the reports had a lengthy marking process which led to a slow coursework return.

As a result, the Life Sciences team worked with Learning Science to design post-laboratory auto-marked smart worksheets, reducing staff marking time and ensuring parity of marks across the cohort. Each of the smart worksheet classes mirrored the original laboratory reports, and used missing word completion tasks, multiple choice and short answers to address theoretical understanding. Students benefitted from a fast release of marks and instant feedback, resulting in increased student satisfaction and module pass rate.

Talking about the award, Dr Caroline Smith, Assistant Head of the School of Life Sciences, said: “We’re really pleased that our efforts to support the student experience in Cell Biology have been recognised by external education experts and will continue to explore innovations that can provide our students with timely, good quality feedback during their time in the School of Life Sciences”.

Find out more about Biological and Biomedical Sciences courses at the University of Westminster.

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