Using student presentations of clinical case studies to integrate knowledge, revise concepts and develop graduate attributes.
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Clinical case studies are frequently incorporated into medical and nursing courses that use problem-based learning to encourage students to discover and integrate knowledge. Generally such studies are introduced early, with their contents effectively defining the syllabus. We employed case studies in a different way in Immunology, a third year course, offered to biomedical, biomolecular and science students within the School of Biomolecular and Physical Sciences at Griffith University. Immunology is a complex science, involving a vast array of cells and their subsets, signalling and controlling molecules, intricate relationships between various arms of the immune system, and rapidly evolving research. As such, it presents a challenge to students to learn the immunological language, understand underlying molecular mechanisms and gain insight into the interactions of all elements. To help the students learn the basic concepts and master immunological terms, the course was initially presented using traditional lectures and follow-up workshops. In the first week of a three week rotation, four hours of lectures covered the basic concepts for two major topics. The following week the students did a one hour workshop designed to ensure that they understood terms and concepts. In the third week, a two hour workshop emphasised application of learned principles. Although this process assisted students with terms and understanding of underlying mechanisms, it tended to compartmentalise knowledge. To encourage application and broad integration of this knowledge, the final two weeks of the semester were used for oral presentations by the students of six immunological case studies. Students were randomly assigned to a team of 4-6 students and allocated one of the case studies early in the semester, and asked to prepare a 15 minute presentation for the final weeks of semester. Tips on what constitutes a good presentation were issued. Clear guidelines on the marking of the presentation, which included a peer assessment mark, were provided. We chose case studies that effectively revised and integrated concepts from the previously presented modules. We also provided about seven questions at the end of each case study to help the students identify its key features and to ensure that they would need to explain the underlying immunological mechanisms. After each presentation there was time for questions from the students and the teaching team. The teaching team ensured that any errors present in the talk were discussed and corrected. They also asked questions of the class as a whole that highlighted topics and interrelationships that had been covered in the teaching modules. In this way, the case studies became a valuable revision tool. Additionally, corrected versions of all the talks were uploaded onto the course web site for all students to access. The requirement to give these talks aimed to both enhance student learning and develop several desirable graduate attributes, such as skills in oral and written communication and ability to work in a team. Additionally, the need to explain a case study helped to focus the students on really understanding the underlying immunology. Surveys showed that the majority of students enjoyed, and believed that they had benefitted from, doing the case studies. As one student commented: "I found case studies really beneficial and interesting. Our group took so much time preparing for it and we learned a lot from it".
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Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy