Public Release:  UBC earns national award for collaborative design of science class

University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia's recently launched First Year Seminar in Science -- a small class experience focused on critical thinking and communication skills -- has been awarded the 2013 Alan Blizzard Award by Canada's Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

The award recognizes advances made in student engagement and learning outcomes driven by teamwork and co-operation between instructors, faculty members and administrators across departments.

"Our first-year seminar gets students thinking about what science is and where it fits into their lives," says Joanne Fox, senior instructor and director of the Faculty's first year seminar program.

"And as an instructor, if I were to close my eyes and imagine an ideal teaching scenario, the collaborative nature of our approach here would be very close to that ideal model."

The First Year Seminar in Science (SCIE113) was launched in 2010, and has since doubled in size. With an initial intake of 190 students across eight classes, it has grown to offer 18 sections to 440 students.

With only 27 students per class, SCIE113 engages students in ongoing conversations with their instructor, TA, peers and research scientists and focuses on active learning about the elements of a scientific approach, and how to communicate science. Four UBC Faculties are now involved in the teaching or development of SCIE113.

"The course changes the way students and faculty members think about science," says Simon Peacock, Dean of the Faculty of Science, who taught a section in the course's pilot year.

"Far more than simply teaching the scientific method, it helps students develop critical scientific thinking skills and shows them that science is a creative, very human endeavor done by people, just like them."

The success of the course is due to the large and diverse instructional team, with faculty from every department in Science having played a role. The award was submitted by a core team including: Jim Berger, Gülnur Birol, Alice Cassidy, Fox, Andrea Han, Peacock, Lacey Samuels and Ashley Welsh.

The course's instructors are now working with UBC's Science Centre for Learning and Teaching to develop a longitudinal study that will track SCIE113 students as they advance through select upper level courses. The aim is to identify if and how these students compare to their peers in their attitudes towards science, their communication skills, and their transition to senior university levels.

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The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) strives to be the pre-eminent national voice, and a world leader, for enhancing teaching and learning in higher education. STLHE supports research, its dissemination, increased awareness, and application of research through scholarly teaching and learning. The Alan Blizzard Award was established by the Society to encourage, identify, and publicly recognize those whose exemplary collaboration in university teaching enhances student learning.

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