Tuesday, 4 May 2010

WATS in BioSciences

One of the modules that the ESCAPE Project has been working with has been the Introduction to Biochemistry, Microbiology and Pharmacology module. This is a level one introductory module for 200 life science students that is taken by students on a number of pathways. Students have traditionally struggled on this module in applying mathematical techniques. particular areas that are flagged up through diagnostic testing are: calculation of dilutions, use of logs and ratios and percentages . These areas all present students with problems( see slide at top of blog entry). In order to address this skills gap the mathematical techniques required for the module were taught using a series of five maths workshops in semester A.

This year Ella Bryson and Jackie Willis have integrated WATS - the Weekly Assessed Tutorial Sheets into their teaching. The WATS system developed by Mark Russell is an automated assessment system that allows teachers to set questions ,which are the same for each student - however the data within the question is different - so that no two sets of answers are the same. The students log on to WATS download a set of questions, do the calculations and submit their answers electronically. The Answers are marked automatically and students are emailed their results.
Ella and Jackie harvested typical questions from the colleagues who deliver the teaching and the practical work on the module, and Incorporated these into a set of 15 WATS problem sets. The WATS system was used to build upon the material covered in a series of workshops.
Students were tasked with answering a set of questions each week for 15 weeks.

Students were given an anonymity number (a three letter code) after each set of questions were submitted,a league table of results produced so that students could see their (anonymous) ranking. After submission students were emailed the answers with feedback messages to support their learning. Additionally the WATS was integrated into the personal tutorial system.

Ella Bryson has commented that "WATS has allowed us to teach maths to students in a way that actively encourages them, it promotes independent thinking by making it impossible to copy answers from others. It gives immediate feedback on how each student did, where they went wrong and how they compare with the rest of the class , stimulating competition."

Jackie Willis felt that " BioScience students don't always appreciate that maths is a fundamental part of their course." and " Students are so used to compartmentalising information once the ( Maths) workshops are completed they..fail to apply what they have learnt in their practicals. WATS engaged the students on a regular basis and we were able to contextualise the maths so that it complemented and supported what was happening in their practical programme"

Thanks to Ella and Jackie's hard work they have really been able to support their students using this innovative and effective approach. Ella and Jackie are now exploring ways to roll this out to support second year students.

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