Extending Quantitative Skills (QS) in Science action-planning workshops
We have enjoyed facilitating two action-planning workshops in September at La Trobe University and Monash. Utilising QS in Science project resources, working groups from biochemistry, biomedical sciences and biological sciences engaged in robust discussions of where and how quantitative skills (QS) were taught and assessed across the majors. La Trobe attendees found that while QS were widely present in teaching and assessment across first to third years, much learning appeared to be superficial rather than a deeper understanding of QS. The Monash workshop highlighted the inconsistent use of language between the mathematicians and the scientists when discussing the QS needed for students. Both workshops identified action plans to enhance QS student learning across the curriculum, including the development of common language and QS standards lists for each major. More findings from our action-planning workshops are coming soon!
Exchanging ideas for building QS across the curriculum
The Extending Quantitative Skills (QS) in Science team facilitated two Ideas Exchange sessions at the Australian Conference for Science and Mathematics Education (ACSME) on the 19th of September 2013. Thanks to the 30 scientists and mathematicians who actively exchanged ideas with our facilitators, Liz Johnson and Yvonne Hodgson. The discussion revolved around two topics:
- Articulating the quantitative skills (QS) needed across science majors and disciplines.
- Understanding and then extending the QS that students bring with them to university.
Participants identified challenges to overcome. First, miscommunication across mathematics and life science departments in regards to what QS are needed. Differing language between departments was viewed as potentially detrimental to students transferring QS across units and year levels. Second, designing curriculum to build QS are complicated by the diverse levels of mathematical knowledge within student cohorts. Feasible solutions to overcome challenges, which participants could implement at their institutions, included:
- Facilitating cross-disciplinary conversations to articulate what QS are needed at the major level.
- Mapping where QS were taught and assessed across science degree programs.
- Sharing QS assessment items across units at the major level and investigating student performance.
Of course, QS in Science resources are available to assist those seeking to enhance the QS of their students! Check them out at http://www.qsinscience.com.au/links.
How authentic are QS in science when taught my mathematicians?
International Journal of Mathematics Education in Science and Technology (iJMEST) special issue on QS in science inspired Jenny Koenig, a biologist from Cambridge University, to ponder authenticity. In a blogpost, she discusses an article from Leon Poladian, Engaging life-sciences students with mathematical models: does authenticity help? , which highlights a teaching strategy she finds effective.
“…what I think is missing from a lot of mathematics for biologists courses and textbooks, is the idea of teaching through mathematical modelling, and using modelling as the central theme of the course… developing tools which can interpret and solve a real-life problem and making connections between concepts and procedures”.
Interested in how mathematical models can authentically be integrated into your teaching? How are academics approaching the teaching of QS? Check out the QS in science special issue to find out!
The student perspective: Research on science graduate learning outcomes
What learning outcomes do graduating students think they gain from their undergraduate science degree programs? Where are learning outcomes taught and assessed in the degree program? What factors contribute to students’ perceptions of gaining QS in science degree programs? Extending QS in Science team members Cristina Varsavsky, Kelly Matthews and Yvonne Hodgson have collaborated to investigate these questions. Using the Science Student Skills Inventory, the research involved 400 responses from undergraduate science students about to graduate with findings reported in the below articles.
Perceptions of science graduating students on their learning gains: Findings indicate which learning outcomes students believed to be important and taught in their degree programs. Results on learning gains are presented across several learning outcomes (i.e. communication, teamwork, content knowledge). A preview of the results: quantitative skills and ethical thinking were perceived by more students to be less important with analyses revealing some differences in perception across different demographic groups, like gender. Read more – the first 50 people to follow this link can get a free/full access copy at: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/hfD4KxPP4BI4JRNsMHGZ/full
Assessment and teaching of science skills: whole of programme perceptions of graduating students: The findings of this study document the students’ perspective about their gains in skill sets, and the teaching activities and assessment tasks that require them to use and thus develop these skills. The teaching activities identified by students as developing the broadest number of skills were laboratory classes and tutorials. Lectures were only effective for developing scientific knowledge and, to a limited extent, ethical thinking. Assessment tasks that students perceived to utilise the broadest range of skills were assignments and oral presentations. Read more – the first 50 people to follow this link can get a free/full access copy at: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/brQRMVP9ghdEcH779P5.
Factors influencing students’ perceptions of their quantitative skills: Using logistic regressions, factors influencing students’ beliefs of their QS are explored. Findings reveal several variables predicting higher levels of self-rated competence in QS: students’ grade point average, students’ perceptions of inclusion of QS in the science degree program, their confidence in QS, and their belief that QS will be useful in the future.
Lighthouse DELTA 2013 Conference
The 9th Delta conference will be held at the Pavilion, in the coastal town of Kiama, New South Wales, Australia from 24-29 November. This year’s theme, Shining through the fog, encapsulates and brings to light the challenges faced by those responsible for building mathematics and statistics capacity needed for the 21st century. Registration is still open. Look out for the Extending QS in Science presentation!