Softly, softly: Introducing research-led education into a successful first year course


  • Juliey Beckman Australian National University
  • Isabelle Ferru Australian National University
  • Elizabeth A Beckmann Australian National University


‘If it isn’t broken, why fix it?’ How do we introduce innovative elements of research-led education into first year courses that rate well on student evaluations and appear reasonably successful? Such courses are often well established, tend to have a great deal of content that ‘must’ be covered, and deal with large numbers of students from diverse backgrounds. This paper presents an interim report of an action learning project, supported by the Science and Mathematics network of Australian university educators (SaMnet), to review a first-year biology semester-long course and introduce new research-led components that address threshold concepts in the discipline. Our approach involved a ‘softly, softly’ approach to bringing about change. In the first iteration of the reviewed course, subtle changes were made to introductory and practical activities, and a major change introduced in the last module, involving a sequence of small-group inquiry-based learning activities leading to a mini-conference on parasitology. The signs are that already students are benefitting from the revised approach, and notably are reporting an appreciation of more feedback from lecturers and tutors.