Partners in Protein Science: students as co-creators in curriculum content and assessment

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Love, Christopher
Crough, Julie
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Adelaide, South Australia



In recent times there has been a noticeable reduction in student engagement in higher education, particularly in traditional lectures, and regardless of whether they incorporate active learning components or performed in a flipped classroom setting. We have also observed a reluctance of students to participate in small problem-based classes or tutorials. Students have suggested that this is due to fear of failure or ridicule from fellow students, and explains why engagement strategies involving anonymity, such as clickers, remain popular with students. As educators we understand the benefits of active learning but the question we need to answer is, how do we encourage students to participate?


While institutions grapple with improving student engagement and defining exactly what is meant by the term “engagement”, there is an increasing trend to build partnerships between students and academics, with both parties contributing to the teaching and learning in higher education. The “Students as Partners” (SaP) approach encompasses students working with academics and providing opportunities to contribute to all aspects of teaching and learning (Healy et al., 2014). This approach is supported by the growing number of publications reporting the positive outcomes of involving SaP, which included: increased engagement, improved relationships, enhancement in student learning and a sense of being part a community (Cook-Sather et al., 2014; Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017). In light of these findings, we decided to adopt a students as partners approach to a second year biochemistry course to improve engagement by allowing student to contribute to both aspects of the course curricula and assessment.


In order to enhance the engagement in Protein Science, a second year biochemistry course we initiated a SaP approach allowing student to contribute to part of the curricula and the assessment. We felt that giving the students a say in what was taught and allowing them to design assessment would encourage them be more engaged or have a vested interest in the course. Our SaP strategy was three-fold: 1. Provide student with a choice of topics for part of the course; 2. Create an opportunity for students to design multiple choice questions, with scaffolding, which form part of the assessment; and 3. Provide a forum for student reflection on evaluation of their partnership experiences.


We were surprised at the level of engagement of the SaP in the course and in particular with the reflections provided by students. Of the students who participated in the SaP task, 86.4% rated the partnership experience for the curricula and assessment design as being useful (52%) or very useful (34.4%), and 80.5% indicated that they were engaged (32%) or more engaged (48.5%) as a result of being involved in the course design and assessment. Student reflections provided direct insight into student’s perceptions of the partnership, and endless information about student learning, metacognition, motivation and knowledge construction. The majority of the reflections on the choice of topic related to their future courses or degree programs or topics that they thought would be interesting, for example, “I believe these topics could be of use in my future as a researcher”, and “I chose Protein Therapeutics because I find it fascinating how proteins can be used to treat medical conditions’. Another student stated that, “I liked that I got to study a topic I chose for once”. With respect to designing multiple choice questions for assessment, students overwhelmingly commented on the difficulty of this task, such as “It was a lot more difficult than I anticipated”. While many suggested that this supported their learning, for example, “it forced me to have an understanding of the content to create questions in which I could ultimately test myself on, further improving my knowledge”. A final student comments is a testament to our successful foray into SaP, “Choosing a topic meant an increase in engagement and interest, and choosing questions for assessment meant I had to filter through what I know, didn’t know and what gaps I had in my knowledge”.

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Proceedings of the Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education

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© The Author(s) 2018. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License ( which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Higher education

Curriculum and pedagogy

Students as partners

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Love, C; Crough, J, Partners in Protein Science: students as co-creators in curriculum content and assessment, Proceeding of the Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education, 2018