The World-Wide Day in Science as exemplar of problem-based, blended learning with international scope

Will Rifkin

Abstract


Science undergraduates at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) who have been identified as high performers face a special pair of subjects covering professional skills and insights, including a range of graduate attributes. These subjects are meant to help the students to select and successfully pursue a career in science, particularly in scientific research. No doubt similar subjects, and units within subjects, exist at other universities, both research-intensive and teaching-focussed institutions. A challenge in teaching this material is to interest and engage students in learning those skills and insights that are not covered in the discipline-based textbooks and laboratory manuals that they are driven to study. That is, we are pulling them away from scientific content to address what might be called ‘scientific context’.

Within this context, the ‘Day in Science’ project was conceived as a whole-class undertaking (for the second subject in the series) leading to an authentic publication with a practical purpose and a growing global scope. What I now recognise as ‘blended learning’ was employed to provide drama to engage students in areas that might not otherwise capture much of their attention. In addition, some aspects of blended learning can be seen to pose very practical challenges, similar to those faced by scientists and popular presenters of science, who have captured students’ attention in their past.

This paper explores how the ‘Day in Science’ project employs blended learning to enhance graduate attributes and clarify career aims for science students at university as well as high school. I will explain how the Internet serves as more than merely a source of information, or an opportunity for students to build their capabilites with new media, but as a venue for authentic publication. I will also describe how other information technologies, ones with which many students have modest experience, such as e-mail, are folded into the mix to create a learning environment that more closely resembles the communication environment of a professional than that of a student. Blended learning in the ‘Day in Science’ project can then be seen to provide opportunities for practice in gaining, organising, sharing, and disseminating information that students recognise as being of value. The tale told here, though, depicts a work-in-progress, an adventure that invites collaboration and suggests new and creative undertakings, but one that is also ripe for deeper investigation.

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