Students completing SLE323 (Advanced Topics in Biomedical Science) are driving the STARS project (Scientific Thinking for the Acquisition of Research Skills). Over the Easter break they will be collecting data for to answer the research question they designed by eating chocolate, playing brain training games and making measurements of heart rate and hours of sleep.
The STARS project is an ALURE project (Authentic large scale undergraduate research experience) which was a National Project lead by Assoc Prof Susan Rowland at University of Queensland.
The purpose: to give undergraduate students experience in designing a research project, collecting and analysing data, presenting and communicating their findings based on the data collected for an actual research project with potential for publication.
The broad research question was – Does the consumption of dark chocolate improve short-term memory in university students?
The unit of ~200 students is multi-campus and students communicate via a CloudDeakin discussion forum. Students assume the roles of research scientist, and project participant taking responsibility for all decisions.
To support students in their learning they completed modules including how to write a testable hypothesis, essentials of record keeping, research ethics, statistical analysis, as well as data presentation using e-portfolio. Staff took a side role of “guide at side”.
We pushed students out of their comfort zone: STARS was challenging for many students as for many this was the first project where they were not told what to do or how to do it. Many of the students felt initially very overwhelmed and daunted. With good support the student’s perceptions changed.
“My initial impression of the STARS concept was that it was a typical university research assignment. The topic seemed broad and designed to keep university students entertained. During the process the project took on a different form. I started to think critically about the specific study, instead of treating it like a homework assignment given to everyone, and I felt like it belonged to me”
“Upon being informed of the STARS project I initially felt hesitant and apprehensive. I had never been involved in an experiment of that duration or magnitude before. However, as the task progressed I found it easier to manage than initially expected. This was definitely aided by the workshops and the feedback given. This was the first experiment I have completed that required me to keep a research notebook and design my own experiment out of the information given, rather than answering set questions. It was definitely far more challenging than any experiment I have completed previously but it has also been the most rewarding.” (Student reflections, 2014).
So over the Easter break the SLE323 will be working hard, eating chocolate, playing computer games and collecting data for their project. this project commenced in 2014 and the students have produced some interesting findings. I cannot wait to hear what they find this year. An experiment doesn’t have to be complicated to be worthwhile and produce valuable results.
Enjoy the Easter break!