Chocolate used to teach scientific method

Here is a novel and innovative way that level 3 students are learning the process of science – they are eating chocolate and playing Lumosity brain training games.

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!




Handbooks for Sessional Staff

With trimester 1 underway many of you will commence or may have already commenced teaching in the school.  For some it may be your first time teaching in a practical or a tutorial.  The school has compiled two handbooks to assist teaching staff with common challenges and solutions which you may find useful.

 I have sent an email to all sessional staff in our School with the handbooks attached (from the most up to date email list I have).  If you have not received the email and would like a copy please contact myself ( or Janine McBurnie ( and we will email you a copy. 

Hope the teaching is off to a good start.




Outstanding Sessional Staff Recognized by School

Once again the School of Life and Environmental Sciences offered an award recognising the valuable contribution of sessional staff to the teaching programs.

A call for nominations resulted in a number of high quality applications.  Applicants had to be nominated by the unit team.  Quality was such that two awards were presented in 2016 at the End of Year School Function.  The Excellence award was a framed certificate and $500.  The Highly Commended Award was $200 and a framed certificate.

Excellence Award for Sessional Teaching – Congratulations to David Strom

David Strom pictured with Prof Guang Shi at the End of Year School Function.

In 2016 David demonstrated for SLE111 (Cells and Genes), SLE206 (Cell Biology), SLE211 (Principles of Physiology) and SLE221 (Systems Physiology) and was nominated by the unit chair and technical staff.   David went above and beyond in his preparation for each class and played  a vital role in practical lab meetings, assisting other demonstrators, explaining practical concepts and answering any questions they may have with regards to the material highlighting above all else, his genuine dedication to ensuring a high quality student experience.

David is incredibly patient yet assertive with students and made them feel comfortable at all times.  He had an excellent way of guiding students through the prac classes and directing their learning without just giving them the answers.

Highly Commended Award for Sessional Teaching – Congratulations to Alison Orchard

Alison Orchard pictured with Assoc Prof Jan West receiving her Award.

Alison is a first-class demonstrator in SLE204 (Animal Diversity), SLE205 (Vertebrate Structure and Function), and SLE360 (Australian Invertebrates) consistently receiving outstanding student evaluation of teaching scores making a sustained contribution to all the units she teaches. Her communication skills are exemplary as evidenced by student comments e.g. “Demonstrations were clear and engaging….”and “very good at presenting….”; “…I could always count on her to point me in the right direction…..”. Alison’s teaching style motivates, stimulates and encourages engagement by being approachable and willing to provide extra support for students who find the unit content challenging. 

Congratulations to David and Alison




T1 has begun – Tips for All of Us!

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to T1, 2017.  The blog was established to share good teaching practice among sessional staff in our school.  It hasn’t received a lot of activity since the middle of last year but things are about to change.  Check back for regular tips on teaching and share your experiences with us.

The trimester is underway and things are busy on campus.

I attended the Unit Chair workshop run by Professor Malcolm Campbell in February, 2017.  Whilst this workshop was aimed at first time unit chairs it provided many interesting ideas for all staff. 

At the end of the workshop Malcolm posed a question to us which was “What is one thing we could do to improve the student experience?” Here is a summary of the responses.

  • more consistency in the presentation of content and resources as a coherent narrative in the cloud.
  • support staff to continually update practice, particularly cloud practice as this is the least known area of practice for academics.
  • implement a shorter (or different) feedback loop for students
  • real world examples and staff who have experience in industry
  • value student opinion
  • ensure that strong researchers connect with students
  • authentic learning and assessment linked to employment outcomes making it more meaningful
  • better course planning and support for students
  • communicate clear and specific expectations to students, don’t leave them in the dark
  • allow students to personalise assessment and define their own learning (within constraints)

Which of these suggestions do you think are really important to students?

Do you have any ideas for how to improve the student experience? 

Please post here…we would love to hear your suggestions.

All the best for your upcoming teaching as we launch into trimester 1.


Helping students develop group work skills

group work clip artStudents really dislike group work when (a) they are not sure how the group should work and (b) when some group members get a free ride (Hall & Buzzwell, 2013). One strategy we can use to improve students’ experience of group work is to make desirable group work traits more explicit to our seminar group. Here is a quick self-evaluation list students can use to reflect on their own group behaviours (Jaques & Salmon, 231:2007). It is a handy resource before, during and after group work activities as metacognitive awareness about working meaningfully with others grows with practice.

group work checklist

Figure: Jacques,D. & Salmon, G. (2007) Learning in Groups. NY: Routledge

Ref: Hall, D. & Buzwell, S (2013). Looking beyond social loafing as a reason for non participation. Active Learning in Higher Education. 2013. Vol 14:1, 37-49


Guest blogger: Julia Savage, Professional Learning, DLF

Contact for more information

‘What do you know?’ (a great seminar starter activity)

64px-John_Dewey_in_1902 Give students something to do, not something to learn, and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking (John Dewey, 1859-1952)

The What do you know?’ activity is a very successful strategy to help students dive right into your seminar topic. (It works face to face and in cloud learning). This is how you could go about it:

  • Ask the seminar class to jot down what they know about topic X (and they have only one minute)
  • You or your chosen ‘scribe’ writes the students’ answers up on a white board
  • Then ask ‘What do you want to know about topic x?’ (Write up on whiteboard)

6 reasons why you might want to try this activity...

  1. Writing is physical prompt for thinking
  2. Writing gives students thinking time in order to contribute to discussion
  3. It focuses everyone on the key concept or topic of the seminar
  4. Helps less experienced students to access the content
  5. Forms a negotiated learning outcome for the seminar (‘what do you want to know?)
  6. Identifies for you where the students are ‘at’ with the topic

Here’s a short Powtoon video explaining  – What do you know

For more detail on this strategy and other seminar starters, go to ‘The First 15 Minutes’ module in Learning@Deakin for Sessional Staff

(Guest blogger) Julia

‘Telling isn’t teaching and teaching doesn’t mean learning’ (anon)

lab questionsImage: Mocerino, M. and Zadnik, M. (2016). Science Laboratory Demonstrators Workshop

Deakin’s new and experienced Science and IT demonstrators and tutors gathered together at Burwood and Geelong recently to think about great strategies for teaching in labs and tutorials. Our guest presenters, Mauro Mocerino and Marjan Zadnik, guided the intensely rich discussion on a number of key aspects of teaching including the topic of effective questioning. Mauro and Marjan suggested these ‘question stems’ for helping students to seek patterns in their knowledge.

  • What is the difference between …. and …?
  • How are … and …similar?
  • Compare … and …with respect to…
  • How does …relate to what we learned before about …?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of …?
  • How does ….affect …?

For more ideas about effective questioning go to the Located Learning module in the sessional staff CloudDeakin resource called  Teaching and Learning at Deakin for new sessional staff

Guest blogger Julia Savage (Professional learning, Deakin Learning Futures)

2016 Sessional Tutors Laboratory Demonstrators’ Workshop

Hi Everyone,

With T1 only several weeks away this workshop may be of interest.


Tuesday 23rd February 2016
9.00 am – 4.00 pm
Burwood: HD2.006 (Richard Searby Room)
Waurn Ponds: KA4.207
Warrnambool: J2.22

Places are limited so do register early! Morning Tea and Lunch provided

What’s in it for me?
Participants will discuss and generate solutions to common teaching & learning problems.
Participants will gain a better understanding of how students learn science.
Participants will receive a certificate that can be used in CVs and teaching portfolios.

What is my role?
What is expected of me by the University, the School, my coordinator, the students?

Learning in Labs
What are the aims of laboratory classes?
What factors impede or facilitate these aims?

Educational Research
What current research indicates about teaching and learning.

Helpful hints
• Creating a learning environment.
• Encouraging understanding.

Feedback & Assessment
Providing your students with verbal and written feedback

To register for this free workshop, please visit:

and complete the registration form.

Attendance is by registration only.
Closing date: Wednesday 17th Feb at 5 pm

Workshop facilitators:
Mauro Mocerino,
Marjan Zadnik,
Janine McBurnie
Kieran Lim
Julia Savage

Inaugural Sessional Staff Teaching Award for LES

Marije and Jan_for blog

Happy New Year Everyone!

Sessional Staff Award for Excellence in Teaching offered by the School of LES

A call for nominations resulted in a number of high quality applications.  Applicants had to be nominated by the unit team.  Quality was such that two awards were presented in 2015 at the End of Year School Functions.  The award was a framed certificate and $500.

Congratulations to Marije Liem-Weits (pictured with Assoc HoS (T&L) Assoc Prof Jan West).  Marije teaches across several units (2nd and 3rd year) and was nominated not only by unit chairs and technical staff but also by fellow demonstrators for her expertise in demonstrating and marking in these units.

Highly valued by students for her commitment to student learning, for her friendly and approachable demeanour and for the way she patiently and clearly explains difficult concepts. Marjie has been involved in redesigning assessments and assessment rubrics. In addition she has been praised for their commitment to assisting and supporting other sessional staff members in the unit team. Student comments echo the sentiments of the nomination team.

Congratulations to Dr Shane Hickey.  Shane showed an enthusiastic and passionate approach to practical class teaching. The student’s responded strongly to his interactive teaching methodology and appreciated the time and care taken to cover key concepts; this was reflected in his excellent eVALUate results. He regularly prepared interesting background knowledge for each of his classes, utilised molecular modelling kits and used a number of examples related to the practical content to deliver his messages. He provided highly detailed feedback to the students throughout the trimester with respect to their practical reports and was always positive and encouraging with his comments.

Students commented that he had a very good way of explaining challenging concepts and could the same concepts in several different ways before moving on to the next topic.

Shane taught into 3 chemistry units from level 1 to level 3: SLE155 Chemistry for the Professional Sciences; SLE214 Organic Chemistry; SLE318 Synthetic and Medical Chemistry

Congratulations Marije and Shane!

What to do with your eVALUate feedback

eVALUate wordle

eVALUate is the University survey to collect students’ feedback on their learning experiences within units.  This feedback is now available for all units on the eVALUate Survey 

Information about the survey is available on the website.

Some students will comment about about what they don’t like, a few will comment about what they do like and the majority are satisfied enough not to take the time to comment at all.  One human trait (and not necessarily a good one) is to complain more than praise.  So what can you do with your eVALUate feedback?  Here are some tips.

  1. Firstly, ignore any personally offensive comments.  They happen and yes they can be hurtful.  Your job is to disregard them completely as they are not useful in any way, shape or form.
  2. Talk over your feedback with a colleague (perhaps the unit chair, another colleague or fellow sessional staff member).  They may have some helpful insights into your feedback.  Your feedback may also raise important questions for your unit chair about assessment design and curriculum delivery.
  3. Next time you teach the class you could do more of what students said they liked and less of what they didn’t like.  You have access to online resources and other professional learning activities about teaching practice on the School of Life and Environmental Sciences Teaching and Learning page.
  4. You can then be explicit with your next group of students about what you have changed since the last time the unit was taught.

Did you know there are additional online resources about teaching especially designed for sessional staff?

This self-paced resource is designed to support new sessional staff. All modules are discreet units and focus on core questions of teaching and learning practice at Deakin.

Any questions please let me know


(image created by Dr Julia Savage using Tagxedo)