PRIME has investigated how enhanced focus on practical knowledge can contribute to learning in higher discipline education. PRIME used biology as a case, and examined the impacts of practical teaching on student motivation, learning outcome, and study progression.
We have developed, implemented, and assessed several novel teaching practices in PRIME. Firstly, work placements. This was initially done for (1) first-year students spending one day observing biologists in the workforce, (2) first-to second year students working 40 hours at the workplace, and (3) third year students working 140-200 hours at the workplace. The two first practices were discontinued since the learning outcomes were small relative to the time investments by all parties. The last practice has been running successfully as a course, BIO298 Work placements in biology, since spring 2015.
In BIO298, students work 140 hours at a workplace as a biologist. Hosts include private companies, governmental institutions, NGOs, and institutions that promote public awareness. The students report on their experience and learning in four open blog-posts (see https://biopraksis.w.uib.no), one written essay, and two oral presentations. During the course, the course teachers also relate learning in the workplace to biological theory, and convey information on the roles of biology and biologists in today's society. Research to assess the course indicate that there is great potential for learning when including practice-related curriculum in discipline educations. Work placements offer opportunity to learn practical skills, theory, and transferable skills. In additions, the students find that work placements enhance motivation since they are made aware of the relevance of their education and since they meet potential future employers.
We also developed a teaching intervention in which students make video tutorials for peers. The videos convey key scientific concepts, such as laboratory practices, fieldwork methods, and numerical methods (see https://teach2learn.w.uib.no/cruise/). The intervention was made to help students prepare for practical classes and to enhance learning of both biology and cross-disciplinary transferable skills, such as creativity, collaboration, communication, and didactic. Assessment of video tutorials indicate that the students reinforce their theoretical understanding, practical skills and transferable skills. Also, that the tutorials can supplement educators' teaching toolbox, as well as enhance the motivation, preparation, and participation in practical classes for students who watch the tutorials.
In PRIME, we have also investigated motivational determinants of teacher efforts and academic success of students in higher education. Among other findings, our results indicate that teachers autonomy-support positively predicts motivation and perceived competence of students. In addition, teachers who are given feedback develop and prioritize their teaching. Multiple recommendations emerge from the studies on motivation: (1) Because the findings indicate that intrinsic aspirations are conducive to academic success, we recommend framing recruitment, course expectations, teaching activities, assignments, and learning outcomes using intrinsic aspirations. For example, to emphasize personal growth instead of financial success for the students. (2) We encourage instructors to adopt an autonomy-supportive teaching style, for example by providing a meaningful rationale when introducing activities, encourage students to participate in course design, and listen to students concerns. (3) We encourage teaching opportunities outside the traditional classroom, such as fostering work-placements as part of discipline oriented education.
For the students, studying may involve high workload and demands that could be perceived as draining, but this can be counterbalanced by subject interest, enjoyment, and relevant content and work forms, and by students being engaged in and identifying with their choice of study. Practical teaching practices, such as taking part in work placements, producing video tutorials, or taking part in field excursions, can be important, since such practices focus on relevant content and work forms. Field excursions add significantly to the student learning since the students develop new and important understandings about the subject and about research.
Overall, our findings contribute towards untangling the multifaceted effects that add to the learning in higher education, and especially that a focus on practical tasks can be beneficial in discipline educations. Teaching of theory should still be a core activity in higher discipline educations. In addition, practical training adds to the learning of practical skills, theory, and transferable skills. Also, practical training adds positively to the motivation of the students.
Inclusion of work placements in higher education has gained great attention during the last few years. PRIME has investigated how enhanced focus on practical knowledge can contribute to learning in higher discipline education. As such, the development and research in PRIME has been timely and relevant, as indicated by the high number of invited talks given by the project group. The course BIO298 Work placements in biology has also received great attention. An identical course now runs both at the University of Oslo (BIOS3050) and University Center on Svalbard (AB-208).
The phd-candidate in the project successfully defended his thesis during the project period. Both the phd-candidate and the post-doctoral fellow now has moved on to other jobs that they would not have acquired without the knowledge and experience that was gained thorough PRIME. In addition, two Master students have done their master project with PRIME.
PRIME will systematically investigate how internships and enhanced practice can contribute to learning in higher education. PRIME will use biology as a case, and examine the impacts of different types of practice on student motivation, learning outcome, s tudy progression and employment. This will be achieved through six interlinked activities. We will first conduct structured interviews to identify the key competences held by biologists entering the work force, from the educator perspective, student persp ective, and employer perspective. Secondly, we will systematically review and evaluate current study programs and assess how different learning methods applied in those programs contribute to build the key competences in the students. Based on this knowle dge, we will then develop and implement new internship and enhanced practice modules in our study programmes in biology at the University of Bergen and the University Centre in Svalbard, in collaboration with partners in the private and public sector. The outcomes of these modules will be evaluated with respect to student's learning and their development of disciplinary and transferrable skills, as well as impacts on motivation and study progress. We will also evaluate how different learning methods influ ence post-study careers. The knowledge gained through PRIME will be of interest for higher education, employers in the private and public sector, and the general public. We will communicate with these audiences through appropriate channels. The core membe rs of the PRIME team cover a broad range of biological domain, including both disciplinary and professional programs, and have demonstrated a strong will to reach educational excellence through the 2013 award of a Norwegian Centre of Excellence in Biology Education - bioCEED. BioCEED will provide a good platform for the PRIME project, and aid cross-disciplinary research, communication between partners and dissemination of results.