A broad-based, grass-roots community of practice achieving curriculum reform in first year biology

Research scientists in higher education are accustomed to working in groups to solve scientific questions, but when dealing with learning and teaching issues, they often find themselves working alone. In response to concerns about poor student performance in a large first year biology student cohort at La Trobe University, a small group of academic staff consisting of five first year biology lecturers, a first year practical coordinator, a faculty librarian and a faculty Academic Language and Learning lecturer voluntarily formed a “community of practice” (CoP) in order to implement curriculum reform across the four first year biology subjects. Traditionally, these subjects were taught in isolation by staff from different departments, even though the student cohort was common between subjects. A lack of cohesion was not an issue for the discipline-specific knowledge; however, generic and laboratory skills such as scientific writing and microscopy were being taught using different methods, on multiple occasions, to the same students. These considerable inconsistencies caused great confusion amongst the first year students. The First Year Biology Learning and Teaching Group (FYBLTG) aims to streamline the teaching of generic and laboratory skills by working collaboratively on a whole-of-program-approach. With the benefit of a diverse range of members’ expertise, the FYBLTG has achieved considerable curriculum reform, including the development and implementation of an integrated program of training, tasks and assessment which teaches and builds the skills of scientific writing, numeracy, information literacy, practical techniques and independent study, throughout first year. A key factor in the group’s success is the sense of collegiality that comes from a grass roots CoP, working together to achieve common aims. In this paper, FYBLTG members reflect on their experiences of working collaboratively. Student perceptions of some of the interventions implemented by the group are also reported.

Publication Source Information
Author/s: 
Yucel, Robyn
Year of publication: 
2009
Title of Journal, Edited book or Conference and Page numbers: 
Journal of Academic Language and Learning, Vol. 3, No. 2, Special Issue: Proceedings of the 9th Biennial Conference of the Association for Academic Language and Learning; pp. A26-A35
ISSN/ISBN: 
1835-5196
URL or DOI: 
http://journal.aall.org.au/index.php/jall/article/view/82
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