Knowledge assured, not assumed
In the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, students have undergraduate degrees in engineering, science, medical science or allied health. A student with a background in pharmacy could find herself trying to keep up with a bio-mechanics class!
This unusual student demographic is what prompted Lauren Kark to develop a comprehensive online content support system to ensure that her students have the appropriate prior knowledge to succeed in her class “Mechanics of the Human Body”.
By cleverly recycling online modules developed for a lower level course that is taught in flipped mode, Lauren directs students to the content required to properly understand new concepts being covered in the higher-level course.
“It’s important to link to very specific resources,” Lauren says, “You can’t just link to the whole course. It has to be specific modules, resources or external links that will help them get through the topic at hand.”
By hyperlinking to modules that have been duplicated in a self-enrol course, students can move seamlessly between the Moodle Course and the assumed knowledge modules.
Since Lauren started using these online modules for prior knowledge refreshers, other academics in Biomedical Engineering have also started linking to them to support their own courses. There is tremendous potential for more sharing of online modules between courses and even schools – particularly for Biomedical Engineering, where a student might need a detailed understanding of Chemical, Electrical, Mechanical or Software Engineering in order to successfully navigate their graduate level Biomedical Engineering course.
“Students without a mechanical engineering background have found the modules very helpful and they say that it has given them more confidence,” says Lauren, “It also means that in class I don’t have to explain a fundamental concept that some of the students are already comfortable with – I can just refer them to the online module and keep moving.”
Another bonus is that by referring back to a past course, students can consciously or subconsciously acknowledge that the information they learnt in earlier years does actually link to their learning in later years, and, by inference, it will link to the knowledge they need for their future careers.
One standout characteristic of Lauren as a teacher is her playfulness and her willingness to let go of some control. This is demonstrated by one of the assignments in Mechanics of the Human Body, which is essentially a gallery of failures! As part of the course, students need to create simulations of human movement, based on data collected in the lab. It’s very easy to misuse the software, resulting in disastrous, and sometimes hilarious, simulation fails.
Lauren has one assignment where students post in Moodle simulation mistakes they’ve made – she kicks it off by posting one of her own – thereby making failure acceptable, building resilience and creating a joyful and interactive learning environment for the students. The assignment isn’t just silliness though; the students explain what they did wrong to create the disaster, and in the process demonstrate that they have learnt something. If they haven’t made a genuine mistake, the students can create a deliberate failure, which encourages them to explore the software further for fun.