Means of engaging students with peer reviewed journal articles

What is the strategy?

The strategy in this class is to help students become active learners.  In this class students really lead the classroom topics and discussion.  Students are required to research a topic, present on the topic, and field questions from their fellow class mates.  The teacher takes a hands off approach and only intervenes when questions arise that the presenters cannot answer.

Why should I use it? (How are they useful for the students?  How are they useful to the instructor?)

Students are often in classes where they are lectured at or have little to no choice in the topics that are presented to them.  In this class students were allowed to pick the topics of discussion for each class with very few limitations.  Students were asked to pick any disease that does not have a known treatment.  They were then required (in groups of two) to pick a peer reviewed journal article that could be used as new therapy for this disease and present on this paper to their fellow students.  This not only forced students to come up with an idea on their own but they had to understand all parts of the paper as their peers were required to ask questions about the research.  Students had to develop critical thinking skills, teamwork and organizational skills, creativity, and public speaking skills.

 What is an example of a task?    

Finding the topic and paper  

Students are often interested in topics that are not presented in a class.  For the first 2 weeks of class students in groups of two came up with a disease topic and a paper that presented a possible treatment.  The only limiting factors were the paper had to be written in the past 4 years and the disease had to be one with no none cure.  This allowed students freedom in researching something that they were more passionate about then if the topic was assigned to them.  Because of it discussion during class time were lively and often had to be cut short as class only went 1:15.

Presenting the paper

Since the topics were student selected I thought it was important that the students orally present the papers and included backgrounds into the diseases.  This way students who had only been exposed to the disease topic through the paper could gain a better understanding of why a new treatment was needed.  In addition I found that students ended up doing more research on their topics because of the presentation and were better able to field questions from their classmates.

Question and answers

This was probably the best part of the class.  Each student was required to ask two questions to the presenters.  This required that the students that were not presenting to have read the paper and critically thought about the topic.  In addition it forced the presenters to find out about past research on their disease topic and to think up possible answers even if there was no right or wrong response.

How should I grade these problems?

Students were graded in three categories

  • Is the journal article appropriate for this class
  • Oral Presentation
    1. Thoroughness of presentation Background
    2. Understanding of their disease topic
    3. Understanding of methods
    4. Understanding of results
    5. Understanding of discussion
    6. Outside resources
  • Fielding of questions
    1. Were they able to answer questions in a reasonable manner
    2. Were they able to come up with a possible answer
    3. Were they able to think through complex problems

Specific tips for Instructors to consider

Students were required to submit a one page summary of the paper to be presented the day before the presentation.

  1. The summary must include two questions that the student was left with after reading the paper
  2. Submission of the papers should be done early on when one seventh and one eight of the class has been completed.
  3. Let students know that the ones who struggle the most or the ones who are under prepared.             

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