The DLTE Blog

ENhance ILR Spotlight: PG Biomedical Science & Wildlife Biology & Conservation.

ENhance Spotlight. Edinburgh Napier University Department of Learning & Teaching Enhancement. Image shows coloured lights representing the themes of the ENhance Curriculum Framework.

Student Focus is at the core of our ENhance Curriculum Framework, whose key themes we aim to share and acknowledge through the ILR (and programme approval) process, and it is clear that student focus is strong in the School of Applied Sciences’ Postgraduate Biology programmes. These programmes are approaching their Year-On Review, having undertaking the Institution-Led Review (ILR) in June 2023, gaining reapproval of the Wildlife Biology & Conservation MSc programmes (FT/PT and Distance Learning), and the Biomedical Science (BMS) suite of programmes.

The BMS suite consists of:

  • MSc Biomedical Science (FT/PT, and Hong Kong PT),
  • MSc Drug Design and Biomedical Science (FT/PT),
  • MSc Medical Biotechnology (FT/PT) and
  • MSc Pharmaceutical and Analytical Science (FT).

These programmes have a majority of overseas students and the programme teams have made great efforts to ensure Inclusion, for all students to be able to get the best they can from their time at ENU. We are all well aware that there are vast challenges in intercultural learning, for students and staff alike, whether at home or overseas. While students adjust their whole lives to being in a new country, with new standardised ways of learning and assessment, staff also need to gain understanding of their students’ prior learning experiences and adapt their teaching and assessment practice in determining how best to bridge the gap their students are facing, all within an incredibly limited time-frame for postgraduate students. The PG Biomedical Sciences suite made clear that they have made strides in this area.

International Students on the MSc Pharmaceutical and Analytical Science programme historically struggled to adapt to UK teaching and assessment methods, which impacted on student outcomes and numbers of students exiting the course without an award. To support these students, this programme has been restructured from 27 months at SCQF Level 11, to a two- stage programme where the first year supports students to develop the skills and knowledge they need for successful learning at Level 11 during the second year. The benefits of this change are clear as student pass rates have been improving from trimester 1 to trimester 2 in the first stage under this new approach. Academic Integrity issues have noticeably decreased and far fewer students are exiting the programme without an award. We are delighted to see Programme Leadership teams for Postgraduate programmes creatively addressing the challenges their students face and making big changes to the structure of their programmes, where appropriate, to benefit Inclusion.

Students on the Distance Learning MSc Wildlife Biology and Conservation programme benefit from monthly evening drop-in sessions facilitated by members of the programme team as a way to build community and human interaction between staff and students, where email contact can seem impersonal. Times of these drop-ins are varied to be inclusive of different students’ schedules and life commitments. While these drop-ins provide additional benefit to students, the MSc through this programme can be achieved fully asynchronously and does not rely on participation in these sessions so those who cannot attend online are not disadvantaged. At our recent Student Success Group meeting, where staff shared work from across the university to benefit student experience, along with measures of the success of these, a common theme which came up was the relationships between groups of students but also with staff. We’re pleased to see work in place to help distance learning students to develop these relationships. 

In panel discussions with students, positive relationships between staff and students were clear. The students were aware of their PDTs (Personal Development Tutors) and Programme Leaders’ work to support students but students tended to reach out to the members of the programme team they knew best. Regardless of relationships formed elsewhere, students felt their PDTs were effective in signposting to other supports throughout the university. Students who contributed to the ILR commented on the diversity of their cohorts and how care is taken to make everyone feel safe and welcome.

Whether as PDTs, Module Leaders or other members of university staff, students will approach us with incredibly challenging experiences and it is impossible for any one person to assist with every eventuality, whether experienced or new to teaching and ENU. Indeed, some students may not want to disclose every situation to academic staff but need to know where to turn for support. To help colleagues to provide the relevant signposting information to students, we’ve been collaborating with teams from across the university to develop a Moodle Site on How to Support Students at Edinburgh Napier, which links to information which staff and students may need at a given point in a student’s journey at ENU.

Presentation slide which says "How you can support students at Edinburgh Napier University"

This can be embedded in your programmes and modules at relevant points in your programmes, ensuring that students don’t need to go far to find out who can help them, and aren’t overwhelmed by receiving all of this information at the start of the year before it becomes relevant.

Supported as individuals, students have also been had opportunities to work at their own pace, with investment made to provide additional small and field equipment for use in taught and project work. On the campus-based Wildlife Biology & Conservation programme, each student has access to their own high-quality binoculars and field guides, which they can borrow for use in self-study or pursuing personal projects, thanks to the open-lending policy made available by the technical team in SAS.

Students from MSc Wildlife Biology and Conservation on fieldtrip to Musselburgh Lagoons, led by Dr Patrick White on 19 January 2024.

Students are able to work on these projects in the same ways as they would in lab and class activities, as analytical aspects of the class are taught on free, open-source software, such as R and QGIS. This readily available software also reduces inequality and barriers to participation for students on the distance learning route. Furthermore, students on the Distance Learning route are able to choose a pace of study which works for them and change this to suit their circumstances, an option which is important as many students on the distance learning route have childcare responsibilities.

A topographical map of the Scottish Highlands, with different colours overlaid to indicate differences.
The type of detailed mapping which students can generate and analyse within QGIS.

Student choice is available across the PG Biology subject area. Shared option modules are available on the MSc Drug Design & Biomedical Science and MSc Medical Biotechnology, reflecting the overlap between these areas of biology, and ensuring further opportunities for students to benefit personally and professional from sharing their varied perspectives and building community between peers.

Highlighting the Student Focus theme of ENhance, in all of the programmes presented there are a range of assessment approaches which enable student choice and incorporate authentic assessment throughout throughout. These provide opportunities to embed key academic and practical skills which are vital for students’ Employability, and ensure Research & Practice Integration. Student representatives reported high satisfaction with the assessments on offer.

  • Dr Pat White has developed one of the assessments in the Case Studies in Applied Ecology module (ENV11115) around his research into upland bird habitat selection. There is further integration through the research projects as a number of these have been linked to ongoing research projects being undertaken by members of the teaching team, providing opportunities for students to actively engage in authentic research.
  • Assessments in the Case Studies in Applied Ecology (ENV11115) and Biodiversity and Conservation (ENV11100) modules include a Biodiversity report assessment, which requires students to use their skills to analyse a complex dataset and evaluate sites for conservation, also developing Digital & Information Literacy skills. Similarly, identification of fauna and flora (a critical graduate skill) is introduced in Scientific Methods, and then reinforced and assessed in Field & Laboratory Skills.
  • In Biodiversity and Conservation (ENV11100) and Molecular Pathogenesis of Microbial Infection (MIC11100) students are given choice of topics to cover in their presentations, allowing for further development on their own interests. In MPMI, students can choose whether to present live or pre-record their presentation, allowing for inclusion of limitations of digital skills and difficulties with public speaking.

There are weekly skills sessions embedded in the first trimester of all home MSc programmes (both on-campus and Distance Learning), focused on transferrable skills for employment, such as time management, information literacy, academic writing and effective use of feedback. A Skills Passport encourages students to reflect on their employability: the skills and competencies they are developing, building their awareness of their abilities when applying for jobs after their studies conclude. The Skills Passport is being built into a block in the myNapier app but in the meantime, Dr Janis MacCallum can be contacted to discuss its implementation in other subjects. Janis, along with Dr Sam Campbell Casey, put together an ENhance Case Study on the Skills Passport, which you can view on the ENhance Case Studies page of the intranet.

The Academic Skills team in DLTE can help you to embed these sorts of skills in your programme and modules if you’re at all unsure on how this would be implemented within your subject. You can contact your school Academic Skills Contact, or email AcademicSkills@napier.ac.uk and the team will be happy to help you to find out what would be best for you and your students.

One alumnus from the MSc Drug Design and Biomedical Science said that ENU focuses on preparing students to be the next employees ready to face the career world with valuable and solid skills transferable to a wide range of jobs. I had the pleasure to participate in one of the placement programmes and broaden my knowledge as well as build networking and have an insight in the world outside academia.

An alumnus from the MSc Medical Biotechnology programme said that lecturers “used their experience in industry to help me develop the right mindset and expectations. The courses were tailored towards industry requirements, the labs were all highly equipped and students were encouraged to think for themselves.

All of the programmes show dedication to industry engagement. An Industry Advisory Group gives input to the BMS suite to help the programme team to maintain alignment with industry requirements for graduates and how these are fulfilled. Through the ILR, the programme teams demonstrated how responsive these relationships are, with employers providing feedback on taught skills, where further developments could be made and opportunities for students to undertake their final research projects in external organisations. Some of these students have gone on to employment with the employers who hosted them. There’s more information on this in our ENhance Case Study on the Industry Advisory Group, found under the Employability theme.

The skills development opportunities within the BMS programmes are further enhanced by Graduate Employability Masterclasses and Lab Skills courses from the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA), involving external industrial partners (such as Charles River Laboratories) in collaboration with the Student Futures Team at ENU.

 

Programme team member and school Head of Learning & Teaching (HoLT), Dr Claire Garden SFHEA, was involved in organising the Scottish Life and Chemical Sciences Sector Skills Summit (supported by Skills Development Scotland) in September 2023, and involved in development and launch of the subsequent report, which seeks to embed these skills sector-wide, as part of the Scotsman Life Science Conference.

In the MSc Wildlife Biology and Conservation programme, changes were made in 2015/16 based on input from an employer liaison panel, to ensure that the graduate skills which students developed on the programme were in line with the requirements of accreditation by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), whose competency framework (https://cieem.net/resource/competency-framework/) includes 40 competencies across 14 areas and expected number of days of practical activity which the programme exceeds. Some new modules were created and the content of others was changed. In January 2018, the on-campus provision became the only MSc Programme in Scotland to gain this accreditation.

The Hong Kong MSc Biomedical Science programme was introduced in response to changes to local career structure and educational requirements for career progression in the medical laboratory sector, such as a requirement of an approved MSc for those seeking the position of Service Director, and this requirement leads to consistent recruitment on the programme. A clear indication of the programme team’s focus on fulfilling the employability and career needs of students, the Hong Kong programme has been modified from the home programme to meet the stipulations of the Hospital Authority in Hong Kong, with bespoke creation of the Haematology & Transfusion Science module.

As well as these external links and the programmes’ responsiveness to industry, student employability is bolstered by effective embedding of support from the school technical teams, Academic Skills Advisers and Subject Librarians in modules across the programmes which was commended by both the ILR panel and students who remarked positively on these. Within the first stage of the MSc Pharmaceutical and Analytical Sciences programme, Academic Skills colleagues have been partners in developing the Professional Practice and Student Skills content, as delivered in the Professional Practice 1 and 2 modules, which have explicitly been designed to develop skills such as teamworking and presenting, ahead of application of these skills later in the programme.

Industry-relevant digital skills are developed as part of many modules across all of the programmes presented, helping students to improve their Digital & Information Literacy through developing digital research skills such as source and information acquisition, critical assessment and evaluation of information quality and validity.

 

Forth Rivers Trust logo. Shows a minimalist illustration of the Forth rail bridge, trees and the Forth with a fish swimming in it

Opportunities to gain research skills are embedded in the programmes, en route to the students’ final research projects. Teaching teams’ own research informs teaching, allowing students to understand the research upon which their learning is based, and some BMS students take part in research projects which link to externally-funded projects undertaken by the teaching team, a great demonstration of Research & Practice Integration. There are opportunities for students to undertake projects with external labs and globally-recognised organisations such as Charles River Laboratories, and external projects within industry. Students have recently undertaken projects with James Hutton Institute, Forth Rivers Trust, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Fundação Tartuga and Algalita South Pacific.

In the MSc Wildlife Biology & Conservation Research Project module, students’ final reports are written up in the style of a research paper, with guidelines akin to those of a journal. This has been popular with students and has allowed 9 papers from these projects to be published in the last 6 years, benefiting the students’ own careers, and the school’s research profile, furthering Research & Practice Integration.

Chemical drums turned into plant pots.

Students across both the Biomedical Sciences suite and Wildlife Biology & Conservation programmes develop Sustainability in their practice through the Lab Recycling Initiative which Lisa McMillan and Jo Brown, technicians in the Life Sciences subject group, pioneered. Students are supportive of this initiative, which has led to 1500kg of decontaminated lab plastic which would have otherwise been general waste instead joining dry mixed recycling, and steel drums reused as planters at Sighthill. Environmental impact has been further decreased by changing preservatives used for sampling.

Sustainability practice continues to off-campus activities such as adoption of rechargeable batteries in camera traps, and reduced dependency on mini-buses for transporting students, where public transport can be used. Overseas field-trips have previously been part of the Wildlife Biology & Conservation programme but more recently, field trips have taken place at local sites, emphasising skills which can be developed locally along with the sustainability of the programme. This shift also benefits inclusion in the programme, ensuring that students with home responsibilities are more equally able to participate in situated learning experiences.

Prof Rob Briers and Dr Jennifer Dodd  with students looking at bioindicators in freshwater ecosystems as part of the Field Methods module. Students have waterproof jackets and wellington boots and Jennifer is holding a net. The surrounding water and grass have lots of sunshine on them.
Prof Rob Briers and Dr Jennifer Dodd with students looking at bioindicators in freshwater ecosystems as part of the Field Methods module

To further reduce international travel, the Hong Kong provision now relies less on UK-based colleagues flying to teach in Hong Kong, since online capabilities increased in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Within Dr Fiona Stainsby’s Business and Bioethics module (MIC11104, MSc Biomedical Science), assessment requires pairs of students to develop and critically evaluate a biotechnology business concept and pitch this with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation. This can focus on a global or regional issue, such as previous submissions on using African crop wastes for fermentation and creating vaccines for tropical diseases. Students consider ethical, environmental, social and economic sustainability, and carry out a risk assessment and SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the business and product/service. All of this contributes to an authentic assessment for students to develop their awareness of the Employability potential of their knowledge and skills, and how these can be used to benefit society, as part of their Citizenship & Community.

If you’re interested in embedding entrepreneurship in your assessments, the team in Bright Red Triangle, ENU’s entrepreneurship and enterprise hub, can advise you on things you may want to consider to ensure this is representative and transferrable to students’ experiences later in life. BRT have a number of events and activities to support students, alumni and staff to develop entrepreneurship, such as Freelance Academies, Bright Red Sparks pitching competitions to win funding and a bi-monthly Startup Huddle to share challenges and seek solutions within the local entrepreneurial community.

CIEEM Championing a sustainable natural environment. Logo is a water drop and a leaf positioned like yin and yang. There is an image of birds flying off from a wetland.

Sustainability is also embedded in assessment for Wildlife Biology & Conservation students. In the Humans & Wildlife module, students evaluate a development proposal for a conservation area. Sustainability is core to CIEEM (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management) accreditation, as detailed in the knowledge framework, so Wildlife Biology & Conservation students engage in topics around conservation, sustainability and global considerations throughout their programme.

Students mentioned appreciation of group work where they can use their own perspectives, backgrounds and experiences, which is encouraged and creates opportunities for students to develop their Global Outlook. In the Management of Aquatic Protected Areas module, WBC students are encouraged to use examples from their localities. Students in the Distance-Learning mode frequently base their projects on topics relating to their country of residence, and successful projects in recent years have been based in Panama, India, South Africa, Germany, Cape Verde and Canada. Students from Bangladesh, whose MSc Research project linked directly to coastal protection initiatives, were sponsored to complete the course by the governmental forestry organisation who were involved in the development of these environmental initiatives. These endorsements show that the skills and competencies developed in by international students positively impact their home countries and help to preserve local biodiversity, and sustainability.

Shared modules across the Biomedical Science suite enhance opportunities for sharing of perspectives in group work and expands student ability to consider experiences which might differ from their own. This sort of opportunity is mirrored in the WBC programme where Distance-learning students interact with peers in the on-campus programmes to share experience and explore global outlook.

Within modules, informal study groups are used, bringing together students from diverse backgrounds and familiarity with different methods of study, to broaden their learning. Through sharing their experiences, students end up providing peer-support and developing their understanding of global issues from a more personal perspective and organically building citizenship & community.

As discussion grows around student voice and decolonisation in higher education, the Postgraduate Biology programmes in the School of Applied Sciences have demonstrated that meeting students where they are in their educational journey and giving them a platform to bring their own diverse knowledge, experiences and backgrounds into their studies creates opportunities where students build global professional networks of peers and have broad direct impact worldwide.

If you’d like to share your practice more widely, we encourage you to reach out to us at DLTE@napier.ac.uk to present an ENhance workshop or contribute in any format to an ENhance Case Study.

ENhance Case Study header. Coloured circles representing the colours of the ENhance themes, a gold circle for Student Focus and a gold ring for the cross-cutting themes.

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