Project:
Group and peer learning in first year veterinary science
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Organisational Unit:
School of Veterinary Science

Project Team:
First year veterinary anatomy teaching team:
DR PAUL MILLS (pictured), DR PETER WOODALL, DR MICHAEL NOAD
DR PEARL SYMONDS, DR LIISA AHLSTROM (TUTORS)

mills

The project represents an innovative and practical approach to the enhancement of student learning in veterinary science.  It was developed in response to concerns that information taught in the early years may not be retained into later years of the program, especially where there is a perceived gap between content and relevance to students' chosen careers.  Of equal significance was the recognition that employers generally expect graduates to demonstrate competence in content knowledge and clinical skills as well as a range of life skills.

In response to these challenges, the veterinary anatomy teaching team introduced a practical model of group learning, which involves students working in groups of peers to investigate animal movement.  They then present their work to their peers in the form of a seminar where they need to link structural aspects of anatomy to a living and functional animal.  The specific introduction of function in the living animal represents an innovation in the teaching of anatomical science, which in turn creates a link to the students' chosen career thus serving as a strong motivator for in-depth learning. 

The development of life skills is specifically encouraged by the group projects and dynamics.  Group sizes and composition are not random; they are specifically planned to promote maximum interaction between the students.  They are designed to ensure exposure to different opinions, motivation levels and approaches to problem solving that takes place in the context of real world practices and experiences.  Students assess other students' seminars in order to align the concepts of peer learning with peer assessment.  A practical aspect of the approach is the minimal reliance on resources, such as staff, laboratory space and facilities.  Each member of the team shares key responsibilities in promoting the peer learning environment.  The subsequent student presentations are of excellent quality and are later used as example materials, which are added to the extensive range of additional learning materials and support tools available for the courses.

Group learning and peer assessment underpin the cooperative learning environment and are innovative methods of teaching first year students in the veterinary science program.  They set a framework for independent and peer learning preparing them for future study and work.  The success of this initiative is evidenced not only by excellent formal and informal feedback from students and staff, but also through publication in quality education journals.  The model has been adopted by the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney as representing best practice.  The Acting Dean at Sydney University noted that a recent visit by Dr Mills

"stimulated considerable interest in using groups effectively and has led to a strengthening of the way the Graduate Attributes of team work and problem solving in groups are developed in the curriculum".  This has provided the avenue for continued benchmarking between the two veterinary science facilities, and is considered an ideal mechanism to further develop the model of group learning at all levels of the program.  A further outcome of this collaboration is the joint use and development of the OLIVER website, initially set up by Sydney University but currently being expanded substantially by the addition of UQ learning support material.  This provides an extensive source of web-based learning materials for students in both universities.

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