Scroop G. Developing Research Skills through Problem-Solving: The Making of Scientists. Paper presented at: Alternatives in the Mainstream: Innovations in Life Science Education and Training. 2nd InterNICHE Conference; 2005 May 12-15; Oslo, Norway


Practical teaching in the biological sciences is commonly focussed on traditional, recipe-driven experiments, often in animals, and completed in a 3 hour session. They are intended to comple-ment factual material presented in lectures but given that the protocols are designed for all stu-dents to obtain the same result, their ability to motivate students is poor and recycling of practical results from previous years is common practice. The Department of Physiology in Adelaide has abandoned this traditional approach in its second year courses in Medicine and Science and re-placed it with student-driven research projects where the central theme is to provide practical experience in the scientific method of problemsolving. Groups of five to seven students, working as self-sufficient research teams, conceive, design and execute individual research projects lasting an entire 12 week semester. They use themselves and colleagues as the experimental subjects and, in consequence, all animal-based practical teaching has ceased. The research teams
are supported by an academic staff member acting as project supervisor and the teams work in a small laboratory module equipped with the basic research infrastructure appropriate for data collection and analysis of the physiological system under investigation. Student performance is assessed progressively during the semester through a literature review, poster presentation and defence, final research manuscript and peer group review with each designed to reinforce the research experience. This new teaching methodology has been identified by the Higher Education Council of Australia as an example of best teaching practice, providing students with an important life-long learning experience. Although developed in the context of physiology, the focus is more on ‘process’ than ‘content’, and as such the concept can be applied in any discipline at any stage of education.