With the rise of blended learning and the decrease of face-to-face teaching in university courses, it can be difficult to keep students engaged. This is particularly true for disciplines where hands-on experience helps assimilate knowledge, as is the case in biomedical sciences.

Dr Rebecca Donkin, Lecturer in Medical Laboratory Sciences at the University of the Sunshine Coast, was confronted with this dilemma: how to keep students engaged and motivated while spending fewer hours with them? Dr Donkin and her colleague Liz Askew, Educational Designer at USC, rose to the challenge by developing 10 haematology e-learning modules and one histology module – and recently published their work in the Journal of Biomedical Education1.

Their haematology modules contain interactive case studies, visual slides and other functions, such as a drag-and-drop tool. Students get instant feedback as they progress through the modules, allowing for a personalised learning experience.

Dr Donkin uses the modules in class as formative case studies that supplement face-to-face teaching. Yet the students can also access them online whenever and wherever they wish, as opposed to studying a traditional glass slide with a microscope in a laboratory, and the limits on access that this entails. This is a major advantage in a discipline where repetition is essential to assimilate core knowledge, and visualisation is the key to clinical application. Moreover, the SmartSparrow platform analytics helped Dr Donkin follow her students’ progress.

Using e-learning tools in biomedical sciences allows for a hands-on, self-paced and self-led learning experience that enhances, rather than replaces, real world experience. However, Dr Donkin acknowledges that developing modules is time-consuming: she estimates that developing all 10 modules from beginning to end, including trial versions, took 80+ hours. Yet, the benefits to students are greater than the cost: Dr Donkin and Ms Askew measured a significant improvement in the students’ grades, demonstrating the effectiveness of the modules. Students’ feedback also confirms that the value of their investment:

 “I could browse for ages!”

“Great tool that allows students to practice anytime anywhere.”

“I loved the online modules, it would be better if they were more available in general.”

The development of the early modules was funded by a USC Enhancement Learning and Teaching Grant. This type of intramural grant is often available to academics, and worth seeking out for those planning to develop e-learning tools.

  1. Donkin R. and E. Askew. 2017. An evaluation of formative “in-class” versus “e-learning” activities to benefit student learning outcomes in biomedical sciences. J Biomed Education. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/9127978