Staffordshire University’s Biological Sciences Students visit Istinye University

A blog written by student Max Clarkson (BSc Hons Pharmaceutical Science, Level 6)

Staffordshire University’s Biological Sciences Students visit Istinye University

Staffordshire University’s Biological Sciences students have just returned from one of Turkey’s largest cities, Istanbul – a city that embodies the country’s complex history and rich culture. In addition to the many tourist attractions within Istanbul (including the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and Roman architecture), the city demonstrates well developed systems for healthcare and scientific research. Staffordshire University’s students visited Istinye University, a diverse institution, conducting research into complex topics such as artificial intelligence, stem cell technology, and virology.

Upon arrival to Istinye University (after a scenic, and luckily rather straightforward tram ride) we received a warm welcome from Asst. Prof. Zehra Aydin and her colleges who were very eager to show us around the University’s Topkapi campus.

To begin the tour, we were introduced to Istinye’s Artificial Intelligence laboratory and were surprised at the many applications of machine learning within the biological industry. Staffordshire University students were very excited to discuss the potential use of artificial intelligence in their own future projects – hopefully in collaboration with Istinye!

Students were also given the opportunity to visit various other facilities within Istinye, including: the tissue typing laboratory, the molecular biology laboratory, the cancer research laboratory, the CRISPR and gene editing laboratory and the infectious agent research laboratory. The investment and passion demonstrated towards the resolution of some of the biggest issues we face in the 21st century is enormous – we were quite envious of Istinye’s high-tech equipment!

Molecular Cancer Research Laboratory at Istinye University
Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Istinye University

The next day, Staffordshire students were welcomed behind the scenes of Istinye University Liv Hospital Bahçeşehir and Liv Hospital Ulus. We were very impressed with the relaxed environment and quality of care provided within each hospital – some students were even able to witness this first-hand during a live brain surgery! A surreal representation of what we can achieve together as scientists. Staffordshire students and Staffordshire University’s Dr Ahmad Haidery were also very keen to discuss the stem cell treatments being performed at Istinye University Hospital.  

We had the opportunity to show off our biological knowledge to Prof. Engin Ulukaya – the Dean of Istinye’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

Level 6 Staffordshire University student Uzair presented some of his research on the bacteriophage virus; discussing the potential healthcare applications. Additionally, we had fantastic conversations with researchers at Istinye that are using nano-formulations with novel chemotherapeutics to target cancer cells.

After touring some very impressive facilities we got the opportunity to explore some of the marvels of Istanbul, and eat some great Turkish food, obviously.

The visit to Istinye University is one we will never forget, it has been the experience of a lifetime, we cannot wait to return!

Biological and Biomedical Sciences – Introducing Mascot David AttenBear

During the summer break we saw the arrival of a lone, quiet, little bear at Staffordshire University’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences department. This unexpected mysterious, arrival had no name, no identification, but a lot of curiosity for all things science and eager to gain some hands on experience. Being friendly scientists, and naturally curious ourselves, we welcomed this enthusiastic Ursine (scientific name of bears) to the department. Of course, every great scientist has to start somewhere and we’re more than happy to help them on their journey no matter the species. Our motto is ‘One Biology, One World, Endless Connections’ after all!

Firstly, we needed to enrol our new researcher into the department and for that our little bear colleague needed a name. The Ursine scientist asked if we could pick a name, but picking just one name proved difficult. We decided the best thing to do would be to put the suggested names into a poll for the public to vote. After some time, the votes were counted and there was a very clear winning name. Our excitement grew as we could finally enrol our furry friend but we wanted to get permission from the person whose name we would be using a version of. We know this seems strange but bear with us it’ll all make sense soon.

A letter was written and sent in the post while we all eagerly awaited the response, which we didn’t have to wait long for!

The science bear couldn’t wait to open (although clumsily) the letter to read the good news! The sender who gave their permission you ask? Well that was none other than the brilliant Sir David Attenborough himself! The winning name was David AttenBear, which Sir David was very flattered our fuzzy friend would take a version of his name.

We can now officially introduce our newest member of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences department, David AttenBear. After getting Sir David’s letter, David AttenBear was honoured as he knew of Sir David’s integral work in conservation and inspiring the next generation of scientist all over the world across the 67 years he has worked at the BBC. Now David AttenBear is enrolled he can begin to get his paws into some work experience. Over the coming months we have some exciting opportunities for AttenBear to get involved with and we’ve asked if he can keep us up to date with some blog entries of his own. We hope David will enjoy his stay with us at Staffs and the things we have lined up for him.

Not only to gain some experience of being a scientist but also getting to live the Staffordshire University values we hold dear. Keep an eye out for the upcoming blogs by David AttenBear on his scientific journey with us and you might even bump into our beary enthusiastic friend at a school, college or event near you. Be sure to say ‘Hi!’ and take a picture with David AttenBear and tag us in it @SUBioScience on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or send an email to Victoria.McQuillan@staffs.ac.uk (Victoria’s helping David get his bearings with researcher life).

World Conference on Online Learning: A Third (Retrospective) Blog

picture of george siemans

Having returned from the WCOL on Thursday, thought I would add two final blogs in regard to the Conference. This one relates to the keynote from Prof. George Siemans, who on Thursday morning delivered a very challenging and thought provoking presentation on the role, rise and concerns of digital technology and the inadequate response of higher education to that change.

 The title of the paper was ‘Moving Beyond Happy, but not Hopeful: The role of higher education in meaning making in human and artificial cognition’  and the full paper can be located from the link below.

Here are some selections from the full paper..  well worth a read… for anyone interested in  the digital future and the roles that universities might play in that.

We have two learner populations in the higher education system: the traditional 17-24 year old group, and the emerging lifelong adult learner group. We have failed both, but in different ways. 

But let’s be realistic. We are giving our students what we wanted and needed for the world in which we grew up. 

We have failed youth by creating an education system that supports existing power structures in society and does so in a most pernicious way: don’t go through us and you can’t get a job. Go through us and become conditioned to existing systems and, heavily in the USA but also in numerous other developed countries, you will be locked into years, decades or even a life debt. This is a failure of purpose. A failure of opportunity. A failure of meaning.

Another concern arises in that learning is a coherence forming process and networks are fragmentary. This fragmentation provides serendipity AND it produces knowledge frameworks that often don’t cohere. This results in an effect called the Illusion of Explanatory Depth. This is the appearance of understanding but on even slight questioning, it becomes apparent that the knowledge pieces don’t fit.

We are entering a post-learning era……   …Where what we know is less important than how we are connected for ongoing knowledge development. Where attributes of collaboration replace attributes of individual performance. And where sensemaking, meaning making, and wayfinding become primary knowledge activities

A post learning era is one where traditional learning is better performed, or exceeded, by technology and existing institutions are inadequate for the learning task needed.

Here is the link to the full paper,

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YP2t4aCkYtIDnkq8MHALPisltlUqIlrS/edit#

 

 

 

 

WCOL FutureLearn Key Note Summary

The first key note of the World Conference on Online Learning was Simon Nelson Head of FutureLearn (FL), and  below is a summary of the key points made by Simon in a thought provoking presentation.

Simon introduced himself in Irish by going to a free FutureLearn course (Irish 101) and listening to and repeating audio clip of how to say Hello in Irish!

First up the figures….

FL was founded 7 years ago as a commercial offshoot of the Open University and was a UK response to the rise of MOOC’s. FL has 175 partners (32 UK Universities), 2000 ‘courses’, 10 million registered users and 25 million enrollments with some courses with over a million enrollments (English Language Proficiency) and others with 20-30. Simon stated that FL was ‘scratching the surface….’

He highlighted that FL has just  become a partner of SEED who have invested $50 million into FL

He identified three key issues

  1. World Reports highlight that 13.9 million new students per year until 2030 are needed which in traditional money would equate to 700 new universities of 25,000 per university to meet the demand and concluded that physical campus based education CANNOT meet this demand, but online learning CAN.
  2. Acknowledgement of a Global Skills Gap (especially in Digital Skills) with 14% of the global workforce (375 million) switching job categories – so the need for training/retraining is massive
  3. Governments starting to get in on the act e.g. UK government ‘Get Help to Retrain’ 2019 initiative.

The above represent opportunities for universities to rethink their audience and move beyond the 18-24 market and that’s what FL is trying to do, support Universities and other providers on this.

Simon concluded by identifying key current agendas for Future Learn.

  1. Getting partners to work together – scale is so big, it has to be approached via collaboration eg Deakin and Coventry now offer an MA Entrepreneurship
  2. Unbundling of big degrees, so students can study for a few weeks to a few years
  3. Work on micro credentialing… short courses approved by employers with standardised credentialing are necessary. FL is doing significant work on micro credentialing aligning for example the European Credit System and the US credit system, so a common language of credit can be used for all courses offered

I came away from the key note with the following thoughts/questions..

As Staffordshire University moves forward as a digitally connected university, we need to look at the markets we wish to tap into.

  1. Should we be offering a far greater variety of online ‘chunks of learning’ to meet employer demands for training and especially re-training?  
  2. Do we need to move toward credentialing/micro credentialing for each and every online/blended unit that we offer?
  3. Do we want to attract students from beyond the region and can we do this by ourselves, or do we need to consider collaboration with other universities  in  online settings ( virtual/transnational!!) 
  4. Do we need to be looking for agencies (such as FL) to support attempts to offer learning not just  to regional audiences but to national and international audiences.
  5. If any of the above is considered necessary, how can we best use the  pockets of expertise that we have in delivering blended and online content to learners to move some/all of the above forward.

Day 1 at the World Congress of Online Learning

Dublin rain welcomed over 800 delegates from over 80 countries to the first day of the World Conference on Online Learning https://wcol2019.ie/

It was opened by the Minister of State for Higher Education who  was keen to praise the work  of the co hosts Dublin City University  and the National Institute of Digital Learning (do we have something similar?.. not really..). The minister  focused on ethical matters in regard to online learning and on keeping students at the heart of matters and even had a gentle dig at waiting for the UK to make up its mind about Brexit!!  Three thoughts came to mind during this and other welcome presentations

  1. In regard to online learning, will we ever get global reach on our courses without global partners?
  2. That we need to use free access courses as a marketing tool to grow online numbers
  3. That we need to engage with professional organisations in the field of online learning .e.g International Council of Distance and Online Education (ICDE) … European Network of Distance Education (EDEN)

On day 1 decided to focus on areas I felt I knew something about and flitted in and out of presentations happening across 10 parallel sessions, during 3 presentation slots in the day. So I selected presentations dealing with three issues; quality assurance and OPM’s (Online Programmer Management) providers and the Community of Inquiry (COI) model. I will comment on probably he most enlightening presentation of the 7 I attended on Day 1.

Jennifer Matthes from the US based Online Learning Consortium (OLC) outlined ‘Global Best Practices in Online Learning to Support a Quality Student Experience’ and reminded us that credibility is still an issue, with QA still not widely implemented. She argued that QA was needed as a baseline to improve form and to reflect an institutions commitment to quality of online provision. This certainly struck home as S.U. has not adopted any QA online specific processes, to my knowledge. Jennifer outlined the slightly different approaches of 4 QA online frameworks, those provided by the OLC, the European Assoc. of Distance Learning Universities (EADTU), Quality Matters (QM) and the American Council of Distance Educators (ACDE) and highlighted  the different course design rubrics (including some that are freely available) from the OLC and QM and from ASCILITE (Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education).

If online learning is to be a strategic part of our offer at Staffs, then we need to take QA seriously and need to move to approaches that capture and assess the online bits of online learning.

Two final observations… The conference has a lot of presentations from (a) North America (not surprising) and from the African sub continent (more surprising). Well maybe not, as the WCOL s partly under the auspices of the ICDE, which has always has a strong international focus. Secondly, for such a large conference  the number of  Sponsors/Affiliates seemed rather small, approximately 15.. I spoke with 3 to date and will comment on these later, they were FutureLearn (OPM) provider (www.futurelearn.com) commercial offshoot of the Open University;  Urkund  www.urkund.com (Plagiarism Detection) and Studiosity ( 24/7 online study support see www.studiosity.com).

 

 

Off to Dublin to WCOL!!

  Am getting quite excited about attending the World Congress on Online Learning in Dublin from this Sunday to the following Thursday.  The plan is to post a daily blog about my experiences and reaction to this rather large conference…nine parallel sessions… 4-5 presentations per session…4 sessions per day.. for 4 days.. .. 8 Keynotes, including George Siemens and  Simon Nelson (Chief Exec FutureLearn). Where’s the Guinness?!!!!

 

Staffs BioSciences Graduate Stories – Meet Zuzana Tothova

In the Biological & Biomedical Sciences department, we celebrate our graduate’s successes with them on graduation day but also as their journeys continue after they leave us. Once you become an alumnus of Staffs and the Biology department you remain a part of our ever-growing family and we take joy in hearing from our alumni throughout their journeys. We value them and their thoughts on their experiences with us at Staffordshire University.

As part of our new series of Staffs BioSciences Graduate Stories, we’re pleased to introduce Zuzana who graduated from our Applied Biomedical Science BSc Hons course in 2013. Find out how Zuzana is getting on with her journey as she shares a little about herself and her experiences with us.

Tell us a little about what you have been doing since graduation?

I’ve been working in the Immunology laboratory at UHNM (University Hospitals of North Midlands) since graduation. At the moment, I’m finishing my Institute of Biomedical Science Specialist Portfolio in Immunology, a qualification necessary to become a specialist Biomedical Scientist (band 6 in the NHS). It took a while, but I’ve had my daughter in the meanwhile and currently, I’m working part-time.

How did your time at Staffordshire University prepare you for life after graduation?

Staffs Uni has enabled me to “put my foot in the door” and secure my job virtually straight after graduation. I’ve learnt an important lesson during my time at Staffs – you will only get as much out of something, as you’ve put into it and, hard work, really does pay off! Most importantly, if you don’t know or understand something, ask! If you don’t ask, you won’t know the answer and the academics really emphasised this during my studies. Continue reading

Celebrating Black History Month – Meet Ugochukwu Uba

Ugochukwu Uba, Biomedical Scientist

I have had a bit of experience in laboratory work as a laboratory technician back home (Nigeria). When I arrived in UK, I started applying for medical laboratory assistant jobs but couldn’t succeed, this was because I did not have any UK experience. That is when I decided to do my studies here in UK all over again- Starting from Access to Higher Education in Science at Stoke on Trent college followed by my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science at Staffordshire university. In my first year at Staffordshire University we covered modules that prepared us for professional practice of biomedical science. This helped me to get one of the few coveted placements in hospitals to earn me an applied biomedical science route. With this, I completed my professional portfolio which led to HCPC registration.

 After my studies and HCPC registration (thanks to Ian Davies), I started working as a medical laboratory assistant with agencies which gave me the opportunity to gain a bit more experience. I made a lot of applications for BMS jobs and attended a basket full of interviews, but all came back pointing out that I did not have any UK experience. After loads of perseverance, I finally got an offer to become a Biomedical scientist in Haematology and Blood Transfusion.

Reflecting on my experiences at Staffordshire University, I realised that there are challenges associated with African males in terms of acquiring a voice and breaking into fields that are typically Caucasian dominated. The university, however, has many positive initiatives and role models that attempt to bridge the gap. The fact that I was one of the few people that got the opportunity for a university driven hospital placement where I got my professional registration gives evidence to the level playground the university endeavours to give.

 

 

Celebrating Black History Month – Meet Ian Muusha

Ian Muusha, Embryologist

I graduated from Staffordshire University in July 2017, with an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science. During my time at Staffs, I always intended on working within the healthcare sector, whilst helping to save and change lives. As beautiful as being a Biomedical Scientist sounded, I wanted to be more, and so I worked towards becoming a clinical healthcare scientist. After Staffs Uni, I went on to complete master’s degree in Clinical Embryology and Assisted Reproductive Technology.

I have recently just finished my master’s course at Leeds, with a projected grade of a distinction. However, whilst studying, I was approached by a team of vets that had just finished setting up a brand new, state-of-the-art bovine IVF facility and wished for me to come on board as the head embryologist, I accepted! This centre is only one of two in the whole of the U.K., and I get to be at the forefront of it all with a very dedicated team. This is a great achievement to me because I have broken into a field where few members of my ethnic background have had opportunities to break into.

Even though I am currently not working in a human IVF laboratory, I am still utilising all the skills I learned from my time both at Staffordshire University and the University of Leeds. Not only this, but I get to perform sophisticated techniques such as ovum retrieval, ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and my favourite – embryo biopsy for genetic analysis. I am immensely proud to be part of the team I work with and performing IVF on cattle for both herd expansion and genetic recovery. However, one day I do hope to eventually work in a human IVF clinic, and if it was not for my varied undergraduate degree from Staffordshire University, I would not be where I am today. Not to mention the support I received from the staff which was integral to my studies at Staffs. Being a student at Staffordshire university helped me fall in love with Science all over again, but it also helped me learn the professional etiquette that the profession carries. Staffs helped me realise my dream.

 

 

Celebrating Black History Month – Meet Alexander Makanga

Alexander Makanga, Senior Biomedical Scientist (Betsi Cadwaladr University Board)

Alex Makanga is one of our illustrious alumni who finished his MSc in Molecular Biology with a merit. He was in the department of Biology and Biomedical Science in the School of Life Sciences and Education. His research project at Staffordshire University was on Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), a subject that is making headlines in the field of Biomedical Science.

Alexander Makanga is now a Senior Biomedical Scientist in Imunohistrochemistry (IHC) and Special Stains working for Betsi Cadwaladr University Board (BCUHB) Histopathology Department.  He began his Biomedical Science career as a trainee BMS at Sheffield teaching hospital (Royal Hallamshire) and later went to work for Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (Regional Neuropathology Service), followed by North West Wales NHS Trust (NWWT) and Wales Cancer Bank now BCUHB. During his time with NWWT/BCUHB, Alex was involved in the amalgamation of histopathology service across the North Wales region.  He currently participates in research and the lecturing of biomedical science students at University of Bangor.  His main research interest is Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) and pancreatic adenocarcinoma.   The main goal is to improve efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs in TNBC thereby improving patient care. Alex is passionate about molecular genetics and introduction of new immnohistochemical markers, reducing turnaround times while maintaining quality and accuracy of Immunohistochemical stains.   In addition, he actively seeks to foster environment which values learning and collaboration between institutions.