Dr Michael Morris is the Sesqui Senior Lecturer in Embryonic Stem Cells in the Physiology Department at the School of Medical Sciences, at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Recently, the team at the School of Medical Sciences had the opportunity to upgrade their teaching systems. Michael Morris talked to us about how using Lt as the online platform to deliver the course content for their practical classes has improved their teaching experience, multidisciplinary collaboration, and student engagement.
DR. MICHAEL MORRIS FULL INTERVIEW:
How do you use Lt?
We use Lt to teach and deliver the course content to our second and third-year physiology students. We've got about 2,000 students using Lt across 28 units of study. Mostly we use it in the X-lab of the Charles Perkins Centre - students do amazing experiments in there using PowerLabs all hooked up to Lt. We also use it in the dry spaces for a bunch of different experiments as well.
As educators, we work hard to set up our units to encourage the proper integration of the class material, and we take pride in making our class content as good as it can be. And Lt gives us a way to present this material to students in the best possible way so that they can access it easily and get the most benefit from it.
What have been the main benefits of using Lt in your practical and lab-based classes?
Lt actually helps our labs to run! They never used to run smoothly. Now the students are engaged with the material before they get into the lab, so they know what's going to happen - we never used to be able to provide that information. Now the students are all working off the same song sheet when they get into the lab and it's just amazing the way it's smoothed the process out. I think particularly because we've had the equipment to go with it.
Lt has meant that we can run really large classes. And, in the modern world, that's what we have to do...and give every student a fantastic experience as well. And I think every student has the chance to have a great experience with Lt because they can go online and see what the material is like before they get into the lab. They get working diagrams and videos about what the experiment is going to be about. It means they're better prepared when they come into class.
How easy is Lt to use? What’s Lt like for authoring?
Authoring is just really easy. With a paper-based lab, it was actually quite difficult and uncoordinated in terms of changing the material when you needed to. Now, with Lt, everything is up online and the authoring is very easy now. It’s as current as possible – we can easily add or update material in Lt according to new research or findings. It’s instant - you just drag and drop or edit using your usual tools – and publish those changes. It’s a modern interface.
Being easy to author means that we can put more material in there to engage the students - things like multiple choice questions or tutorial questions. We can easily put entire new sections into labs or take out all the old sections. It’s been terrific.
Another thing is the capacity to easily share the authoring with others in the wider team. Other people can log in and see your authoring and they can also make appropriate changes. You don't have to be in the same room anymore. I think that's been really fantastic.
Tell us about the before and after of using Lt:
The "before" was printing off lecture notes on paper and handing them out to students - but they’d immediately lose them or stick them in the bottom of their bag and never look at them again. Then, of course, they’d come to labs totally unprepared and not ready to engage with the material.
With Lt, we’ve been able to structure the class prep so that students do online activities and lessons to submit before the class. Then, there's the practical class itself with the tutorial questions, which we again use Lt to present to students when they are in the lab environment. And then there is the post-prac revision and retention activities that we use Lt to deliver. So Lt lets us support students before, during, and after class and it has really meant that students engage with the material a heck of a lot more. We can see that engagement with some of the statistical information that comes back. We can see that they are spending time online in Lt looking at the lessons before, during and after class. I’m convinced that previously they just chucked that stuff away.
With Lt, there's something about the online environment that engages younger people - the students coming through now are very comfortable with it. They want to be able to see material on their computer screen or on their phone or their tablet. If you give them the right incentives they will prepare better for the labs with the material that we put online, and they will come into the labs ready to work and they'll enjoy their labs much more – and that's what they're telling us in their feedback. They tell us that they actually really like the labs.
There's a there's a real social effect there I think, that's beyond the monetary investment. There's a social return on our investment. Student’s aren’t just getting knowledge, they're now being put in an environment that they really enjoy and that they get something out of.
How does that make you feel as a teacher?
It's really great! It has made that teaching team feel much better about the labs. But, because we've now got a resource that the students love so much, we need to up our game on the tutorial side afterward! But we've enjoyed doing it and we get real satisfaction and a real buzz out of it.
Since you started using Lt, have you noticed a change in student engagement?
Student engagement in the labs has gone up tremendously. Students are certainly more hands-on and engaged. I think it's because they can access the software 24/7, on any device, wherever they are, and that's really been important. They can go back to their work and add to their work or manipulate their data. It's not written in a book, it's in electronic form - so it's much easier for them to look at and to work up their data to get their results together for reports. Paper-based practice just can't do that.
I think it's the way students are thinking now. They expect stuff to be delivered to them online in some form much of the time. They expect to be able to access that data and quickly download it into a report. They like the fact that they can access their course material from anywhere. For example, when they're coming into work - or going home or at 4 o'clock in the morning. Lt means they can be engaged across the day if they want to - they're not just engaged when they come into the lab.
That's been the experience previously - the lab only started when they walked in, and it finished when they walked out - very little participation outside of those hours. But with Lt, we’ve been able to structure content online and that makes them that draws them back to the course material. We can easily insert quizzes relating to the lab and the underlying theory that they can answer or test themselves on.
One way we can tell that engagement has gone up is through survey scores. When we had paper-based labs we would ask them about the labs and they'd say “well, the labs were okay”, or “the labs were boring” – but now they're saying, “this is a fantastic experience”. Since the implementation of Lt and away from paper-based material they’ve told us this strongly - the satisfaction numbers coming back to us are going up and up all the time.
Is Lt helping to encourage student participation and active learning in your labs?
Lt helps us with including active learning because it draws students together and ensures they are all on the same page when they come into class. This helps them to be able to participate in their practical group work better. The interface is easy for a group to work on. As a whole, it’s helped to improve how students perform in practical classes. I think it’s because Lt feeds them with information in an engaging and modern way, so they feel a lot more confident with getting hands-on when the time comes.
In the past, their only interest was coming in, doing the practical, and getting out as quickly as possible. They didn't care if they did it correctly or incorrectly. Now they're much more interested in getting it right and in being actively involved in the activities in class.
One of the mainstays of a university education, in science at least, is to have a prac-based education, and that's been pared away and pared away over the years. In my opinion, Lt is helping to bring it back with a real rush. People are now recognizing the value of practical work for students - and students are recognizing it as well, so that's a great combination.
Has using Lt improved student’s knowledge and depth of understanding of the scientific material?
Their depth of understanding is going up, particularly for more difficult things. I teach a cardiovascular section and cardiovascular material can be really difficult to learn. So being able to break that material down into the simple lessons that students get on Lt has been incredibly helpful for students. Using Lt, we integrate the lessons with their practical work and the lecture material, so it’s worked really well as a way of giving them a full picture of the course material.
Since we’ve started using Lt we've seen marks in the cardiovascular section of my units go up because of that strong link between those three things that Lt helps us to deliver - the practical experience in the lab, the tutorial or lab-based support, and the lecture material. Lt integrates these really nicely.
So much so that in labs we're finding we have to provide them with much higher-level support on more sophisticated questions. They're becoming so engaged with the material that they're not necessarily asking just basic questions.
And it has a flow on effect – students are better prepared when they go into the next semester or the second year... which means that they're better prepared when they go into the third year, and on into their careers. We can teach them knowledge - a little bit anyway. We can't teach them wisdom, but we can teach them knowledge.
What has student feedback about Lt been like?
Both formally and informally students are saying that Lt has helped them to engage with the material to the point where they feel comfortable with it. Therefore, if they get a question in an exam - or even outside of an exam – they feel more confident to be able to answer those questions.
Does Lt make it easier for you as teachers, or as a teaching as a team?
Lt’s helping us to make stronger engagements across the disciplines. So, pharmacology can easily talk to physiology about having joint labs, which we know will be easy to author or to modify to bring in a pharmacology component or for a pharmacology lab to bring in a physiology component because we've got a lot of the material up online. It’s really easy to do now – it’s a matter of simply swapping the content out of one lab-based lesson and putting it into another.
As a team, we can share the material and change it as needed – and that's been really useful. We can say “this is a great lab if you've got another unit of study that wants to use it”, and just hand it over - that's been that's been an absolute boon. So we've rationalized a lot of our pracs now to be used across a very large number of units of study and we can all see where that lab is going from year to year whereas before we had all separate labs and people doing all separate things to them and it was just diverging out of control. Here we can keep much better control over what's going on because we've got an authoring process that everybody can come into and see what's happening.
Has Lt helped to save time or resources?
Lt's been an amazing saving of time. Obviously, at the start, you invest a little extra time to set your lessons up, but you gain the ability to just keep your lessons rolling over from year to year, and you can make appropriate changes easily, whenever you need. We’ve improved our economies of scale by using the same labs across different units of study - that’s been a real godsend for us.
How has Lt proved its value?
There are two main things that we want students to get it out of their education. One is that they gain knowledge so that we can maintain and increase our academic standards. The other is how they feel about the education they've received. So we want them to have a good educational experience and we want to maintain academic standards. I think a large reason why we've been able to improve academic standards and simultaneously get students to really enjoy what they're doing is due to using the Lt platform. Lt’s been a major player in that shift: so better academic standards and more satisfied students... you really can't ask for more than that.
Any last comments about using Lt?
With Lt, the things that stick out are the ease of authoring and the capacity to easily share the authoring with others in the wider team. Other people can come in and see your authoring and help you make appropriate changes. You don't have to be in the same room anymore. I think that's been really fantastic.
And I think the other thing that sticks out with Lt is just the pleasure of seeing how our students feel about their learning now. They're really enjoying their practical experiences now and we get a big kick out of that. And I get a big kick out of it.