Education for the masses! Developments in effective large group field based teaching

POSTER

Author (s) : Laura Roberts, Neyland PJ, Harris WE, Bull JC, Devine AP, Froyd C, Thomas GR, Forman DW

Abstract

Large cohorts present inherent challenges to field teaching activities yet form a critical aspect of Biosciences degrees. We developed a 15 credit Year 2 residential field course for 145 students aiming to provide the high quality learning experience with larger numbers that is only generally achievable within small groups. The course employed a carousel system to enable smaller, focused group activities and was repeated over two weeks. Feedback showed over 90% of students agree or strongly agree that the course; improved engagement, enhanced knowledge and employability. Additionally over 90% felt their learning had benefitted and found small group activities highly constructive. The approaches adopted within this module demonstrate that high quality education for the masses is achievable under field conditions within biological sciences degrees despite the inherent difficulties of engaging large cohorts under challenging environmental conditions.

Outline

Field courses provide students with a range of benefits, making learning experiential, thus promoting a constructivist approach to theory and practice. Additionally, fieldwork improves cognitive reasoning ability, self-confidence, and formation of lasting bonds with colleagues, providing a more secure and supportive learning community. Large cohorts present inherent challenges when teaching in the field as the experience becomes diluted, displacing in-depth learning opportunities. We developed a novel approach to delivering a 15 credit, Year 2 residential field course for 145 students where the aim was to provide the traditional high quality learning experience that is only generally achievable within small groups. Students were divided into three subgroups and a carousel system was employed to enable smaller, focused group activities and was repeated over two weeks. Each group undertook a different daily activity which was repeated to ensure all students received the same learning experience. Large group evening activities were also provided to further encourage integration. Feedback derived from a questionnaire showed over 90% of students either agree or strongly agree that the course has; improved their engagement, enhanced their knowledge and employability. Additionally over 90% felt their learning was enhanced and found the small group activities highly constructive and they have benefited from interacting more with staff and other students. The approaches adopted within this module demonstrate that high quality education for the masses is achievable under field conditions and worthwhile within biological sciences degrees, despite the inherent difficulties of engaging large cohorts under challenging environmental conditions.

Key Words

Large cohorts, field courses, Biosciences, student experience

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