University Education in the Modern World

We were honoured to be asked to contribute an article in the March 2019 edition of SEBBM, the Spanish biochemical society’s journal. The core theme of this edition is “University Education in the Modern World”.

The articles have all been published in English on the FEBS network, an excellent resource for sharing Biochemistry research and teaching content across and beyond Europe. It’s free to register and you gain access to a wide range of content.

Angel Herráez, Associate Professor at the University of Alcalá, Madrid, Spain organised and collated four feature articles for this edition. In his cover piece, he introduces each article and discusses the importance of including education in scientific conversations, particularly with regard to quality and efficiency.

We really enjoyed the series, and have summarised each publication below.

Breaking boundaries and integration

Ivan Rodríguez and colleagues from Universidad Europea de Madrid wrote about “Breaking boundaries between subjects: horizontal and vertical integration”.

Rodríguez et al consider different ways of striking the balance between knowledge depth and breadth over an undergraduate course. In a limited timespan, one can only teach and learn so much, so how do you incorporate sections of courses across and between years (horizontal and vertical integration, respectively) to best prepare students for life after university?

The authors highlight using active methodologies including Case-based Learning (CBL), Team-based Learning (TBL) and the newly created Work Station Learning Activities (WSLA).

They also consider how vital new technologies are for integrated learning. From interactive resources to analytics to mobile-friendly learning, it’s clear that students desire and expect digital learning in a variety of engaging and accessible ways.

Experimenting in the classroom

Christina Murga is an Associate Professor at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. She writes “Integration between university teaching and academic research: Why are we “experimental scientists” in our labs but not so much in our classrooms?

In this article, Murga reports the findings of a meta-analysis that concludes that the perceived strong positive correlation research productivity and quality teaching is “an enduring myth” and the two are in fact “very loosely coupled”.

Murga makes the case that in the same way staff use prior research findings to inform their scientific practice, so they should use cognitive science and pedagogical literature to inform their teaching. Two such concepts which are firmly established in learning enhancement are deliberate practice and active learning. We agree that learning-by-doing and taking opportunities to learn from mistakes is key, particularly when supported by timely, targeted feedback.

Murga also reports that Universities should value their teaching excellence as highly as their research outputs, and funding at an institutional level should move towards reflecting this. After all, our students today are the employees, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs of the future.

Teaching labs: Five ways to add value

Emily Coyte (digital content creator) and Bill Heslop (managing director) from Learning Science wrote about “Laboratory practicals: Goals, perspectives and ways of adding value to teaching labs in higher education

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Teaching labs can develop a wide range of practical, intellectual and transferable skills, making them invaluable parts of science education for at least two centuries. Teaching labs are highly valued by teaching staff and students across Europe and beyond, as our survey ran at the FEBS Congress 2018 in Prague showed.

Practicals are undeniably intensive to run, so we understand you want to maximise value. Here at Learning Science we have been dedicated to enhancing real labs for over a decade, and in this article we wanted to celebrate a wide range of ideas, innovations and examples of good practice to help your students get the most out of teaching labs. Our article contains a collection of five ways to add value to your lab practicals. Whether it’s spreading the cognitive load, increasing student autonomy or incorporating opportunities for reflection, there are plenty of ideas to try.

An International Outlook

Gül Güner Akdogan is a Professor at the IEU School of Medicine, Izmir, Turkey and was Chair of the FEBS Education Committee between 2008 and 2018. Her article is “Challenges in Molecular Life Sciences: Internationalization in Higher Education” .

It is useful to take stock of some of the challenges facing one’s discipline. For molecular life sciences, these include how fast the field is changing, how funding bodies favour research output over education (mirroring Murga’s article above) and the changing job opportunities available for graduates.

The second part switches focus to the importance of internationalisation, which she defines in this context as “the process of integrating international and intercultural dimensions into the teaching and learning, research, and global engagement functions of the universities.” Akdogan explores internationalisation in terms of benefits, approaches, tools, progress and some example projects from Europe and America.

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As mentioned above, you can find all the articles and much more on the FEBS network. Reading and sharing these articles helps signal the importance of science education alongside research.

Continuing with this theme, it is great news that Education is the focus of two Special Sessions at the FEBS Congress 2019 in Krakow, Poland. Our managing director, Bill Heslop will be presenting “Undergraduate teaching laboratories - the transformative impact of learning technologies” on Monday 8th July. Bill and Emily will also be exhibiting our Learning Science stand. Come by for free demonstrations and discussions about how to take your teaching labs to the next level.