Biochemical Education and the ASBMB, 1997
Department of Biochemistry, University of Queensland
Seven recent developments in Australian biochemical education were presented in a 1.5 hour symposium at the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) 1997 Annual Conference at the Melbourne Convention Centre. Some sixty enthusiastic attendees would probably have quizzed the seven speakers for another 1.5 hours had the extra time been available! It was a privilege for me to join Gareth Denyer as co-chair of this symposium.
Three talks focussed on methods of teaching which utilise small groups of students, peer teaching and/or peer assessment. Each talk described the successful use of educational concepts that would be anathema to many if not most academic biochemists. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that the majority of university students now do not work or comprehend in the same way that most of their lecturers did (a decade or more ago). Elizabeth Deane, Gareth Denyer, Marian Dobos, and Sylvia Grinpukel (the latter two having perfected the art of tag-team presentations!) are among the Society's academic leaders whose development of new methods of teaching biochemistry should be strongly applauded.
Three talks focussed on development of computer-based teaching material for replacement or supplementation of lectures and laboratory experiments. The talks demonstrated that excellent computer based material can be written, but only with a high degree of soul searching and effort by the authors and a lot of feedback from students. Peter Janssens, David Day and Beverly Bencina demonstrated that teachers can use computers effectively in their teaching. Some university administrators in Australia appear to be planning that first year university be taught largely with CDs and teacher-aids in place of lecturers, on the grounds of "efficiency". In my opinion this would be a recipe for reducing a good university to 4th rate by world standards. The experience being gained now with use of computers in teaching has the potential to save some Australian universities from self-destruction in the future.
An incisive presentation by Mary Peat focussed on the activities of UniServe Science. This organisation has recently distributed a Biochemistry QuicKard summarising computer programs commonly used for teaching biochemistry in Australia, to all relevant departments. This talk also served as an introduction to the Biochemical Education Group booth at which Mary Peat, Mark Nearhos and (usually) several members of the Group were always ready to demonstrate current biochemical education software on a Macintosh computer (courtesy of the MILL at the ANU and Apple Australia) or a PC (courtesy of the School of Biochemistry at Melbourne University).
The Biochemical Education Symposium and the Biochemical Education/UniServe Science booth were focal points of activity for many delegates at the Melbourne Conference. The biggest insight for me at this conference was realisation that a significant number of current ASBMB members appear to want more opportunity to hear about and discuss developments in biochemical education.
I'd like to express special thanks to the foundation chair of the Biochemical Education Group and, for four years until the end of 1997, the Editor of the ASBMB Newsletter - Graham Parslow. Largely because of his efforts and those of colleagues that he has inspired, the Society now has an excellent opportunity to match its Biochemical Education efforts to the challenges to be faced by lean university administrations and lean biochemistry departments in the 2000s. At a good U.S. university, Graham would probably now be a Professor of Biochemical Education, in analogy to the many Professors of Chemical Education in Chemistry Departments at leading research universities in that country.
UniServe Science News Volume 9 March 1998
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