First impressions

Our first year biological science undergraduate students are given electronic voting handsets in return for a £10 deposit to use throughout the year with us.  One of the first courses that they use the voting handsets in is BS1020 Study and Communication skills.

I’ve done a quick comparison of three years worth of data we have gathered from the first lecture in the series. Here is the module is introduced and the students asked a few simple questions to get used to using the handsets. the data comes from 2007, 2009 and 2010 (we had a bad year in 2008, don’t ask!). The data are presented as percentages for ease of comparison. We always find that number of students voting increases as the lecture continues, either because they are still trying to find their handsets, or perhaps their confidence grows once they realise that nothing bad is going to happen if they get it wrong.

We have had around 100 students in these lectures, but this year we have around 130. The actual maximum number that voted for each year in this lecture is:

  • 2007: 63
  • 2009: 76
  • 2010:  99

As you can see very few students have used these handsets before:

graph to show number of students that have used voting handsets

After this first (is this thing on?) type question, we get onto more serious stuff:

graph showing what students said they had for breakfast

This gets more votes than the question before and usual raises a laugh even on a Monday morning. Good to see that this year’s students are more responsible fewer have had nothing for breakfast!

We are very aware that our main method of in-course assessment is the essay, the likes of which students are unlikely to have written at A-Level, so we introduced a question to see whether this was something that was new to them.

graph to show if students had written asn essay recently

I had tweeted that I thought that this year a high proportion of students had written essays this year than last year, but actually I was way of the mark, as the results are not that dissimilar. We do still find essay writing a problem, so perhaps it is the nature and structure of the essay that is different from A-level as Becca suggested:tweet

The course is about skills development, so we ask them what they would like to improve upon, which is perhaps the most interesting of the questions:graph to show skills students want to improve

 Looks as though our current students think they are a lot more organised than in previous years!

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7 thoughts on “First impressions”

  1. The essays my son is writing for AS/A2 require external sources, referencing and critical thinking to be awarded a reasonable grade (A-C). That was a rather patronizing comment showing little knowledge of A level assessment.

  2. Hi Jo. This is v interesting. Thanks for doing the comparison across the 3 years. I think Becka was right on the money with her tweet – the kind of essay rather than just an essay. Not quite sure how you could ask this though. Interesting that time management/organisation continues to score high. V difficult to teach in this context though. I think the way we do it currently i.e. in the context of a particular task – like essay writing – is the way to do it so it’s more concrete. But might be useful to reflect more specifically on it as a skill in it’s own right. Wonder what Jon and Adair think…

  3. Thanks for interesting post Jo – and for your help today.
    My reflections are firstly that a 5% shift year-on-year is not necessarily all that statistically significant on sample sizes of 63-99, there may be other external factors at play.

    However the final question is probably the most interesting. I’d love to see how this question would be answered by a sample of their lecturers as well – they may prioritize their students’ needs differently.

    Additionally, the students do not necessarily in Wk1 have much experience of HE work and hence the difference in, for example, time management skills that are required at this level when they may be living much less structured lives than when at school.

    1. @Adair The staff view of the students strengths is very different from their own. Many feel competent in numeracy but actually haven’t covered the statistics they need for biological sciences. I was surprised how consistent the answers were over the years, to be honest I thought there may be more of a change. The UCAS points required for the course has steadily risen over the years and now our first year have much higher A level grades than before, this will undoubtedly be a major causes of any observed differences. It would be perhaps more interesting to ask them the question about skills again after the first year exams.

      1. You could do this by surveying 2nd yrs, and similarly 3rd yrs. But the group I think that would be most interesting of all, is graduates one or two years into their career – in terms of what has actually proved useful, and what they wish they’d learnt at uni.

      2. That’s a good idea, thanks Adair. We struggle to get all the second years together in once cohort (there is only one course that they all take) and we never have them together in the third year. However, even the data from the second year course would be interesting, I’ll raise it with Jon.

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