Learning but not as we recognise it

A blog written by Paul Orsmond – Senior lecturer (Tef) in Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Most research carried out into learning in higher education (HE) is within the context of teaching, and a tutor-designed curriculum. Here the research is driven by questions such as ‘what sort of learning do we want’? Such research helps address higher education metrics, such as academic performance indicators that track and provide a measure of performances and achievement. Metrics are now strongly ingrained into higher education that it is understandable why student acquired learning is recognised as the only learning of worth taking place in higher education. Of course, it isn’t.

Our research explores the rich everyday learning that students naturally engage in with their peers within university, but outside the tutor curriculum. Such learning can be extended, encompassing student learning arising from engagement with family and friends. This participatory learning addresses questions about ‘what learning do we have now’?

A lack of awareness of this ‘other’ learning taking place in higher education presents a problem. At present there is a disparity between employer expectations and employee qualifications. Quite rightly HE invests in preparing students for the workplace. But there is gap in this preparation and it is one that our research well illustrates.

Our research shows that many of our students in the Department of Biological Sciences at Staffordshire University are developing key employability skills through their participatory learning, learning outside the curriculum, and learning not driven by HE metrics. Such learning is taking place every day but remains unrecognised. This is what we call ‘invisible’ learning. Students and higher education institutions, therefore, do not appreciate, or recognise this invisible learning. Hence are not focused on these skills being developed and refined. Through our research we hope to make the richness of this learning more visible, making our students more aware of their potential to achieve.

Thank you to our students

A blog written by the Education Department

Welcome to this instalment of the Education Department blog, and this time around it is a little something different. 

It’s been a strange semester during these unprecedented times, and we would simply like to extend our sincere thanks to our students for managing this so excellently. The continued engagement with digital lessons and support, and their resulting work has been a credit to each of them. With this in mind our fabulous alumni are now ‘out there’, many of them indeed keyworkers in care, education and social service fields, and we extend our Thursday evening applause to you all. 

Many of our students have numerous responsibilities and challenges, including many keyworkers, and we are proud of the way they have continued to progress with their studies. Many of the students, particularly our part-time cohorts, are still at the chalk face running early years settings still open for essential service workers and the most vulnerable, or, still supporting their own students who they are still teaching remember some education services are indeed still open and staffed for those most in need. Those in initial teacher training have been on the frontline preparing families for home schooling, and supporting their learners, families and colleagues in completely new ways that no one could have prepared them for, thus we take our hats off to you. Many of our students work in retail, care, and, have their own personal caring responsibilities. Some are active volunteers for the most vulnerable and in charitable organisations and we are so proud of all that you do. 

Now, the switch to digital study has not always been easy and students have shown patience and positivity towards the efforts in altering how the support is offered to them. Equally, many have reflected on themselves as future educators and have appreciated that they too are increasing the tools in their own teacher toolkits, as they grapple with new ways of learning. They may be supporting their future learners in similar ways therefore, they are becoming ‘Educator 2.0’ by increasing their digital capabilities.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-3.pngInnovation in teaching and learning has occurred, although equally so too have approaches to time management, organisation, resilience and communication. We are immensely proud of all students that have demonstrated development in each of these areas during such difficult times. This has been a real test of their skill sets, and this has been handled fabulously. 

It’s the final push in the academic year now and students are so close to completing all of the to dos on the list. We hope this message of support and pride motivates them to enjoy the final stages of the year. We also hope this message reaches our alumni so they know we continue to think of them. Finally, to any future students, we hope this gives an insight to the support and care that you receive on your journey with us in the Education department. 

Take care and stay safe.  

Best wishes, the Education Department 

The Pathway to Becoming a Biologist

Written by Dr Sarah Williams – course Leader for Biomedical Science 

The Pathway to Becoming a Biologist

I should be clear from the start, I’m loose with my term biologist.  I am a true believer in the concept of ‘One Biology’ so whether your biology is more towards the biomedical or more aligned with the ecological (or maybe you don’t even know yet?) – I still mean YOU. 

What a situation we find ourselves in, sitting at home doing what we can to maintain a normal work life, a normal family life, a normal social life – even though we all know none of this is normal (so we are really aiming for the impossible there) and we are all hoping that this comes to an end sooner rather than later.  But there are some positives – I see biologists everywhere.  They are providing advice to the government, they are modelling the outbreak, they are working towards a vaccine, they are designing new laboratory tests and implementing them in our hospitals (big shout out here to the NHS Healthcare Scientists – another amazing set of biologists).  They are on our TVs and our radios, they are talking to the general public, they are calm and they are collected, and I feel lucky to be one.   

I am a biologist of many labels – a human biologist, an immunologist, a clinical immunologist, a senior lecturer in biomedical science.  Those names represent an amazing journey of biology that has taken me to different ends of the country, in research labs, hospital labs, lecture theatres – and most recently my attic office.   

People often ask – what does a biologist do?  Look around you, at the moment they are difficult to miss.  However, to use a well-known adage ‘this too shall pass’ and then what?  Well, then the Biologists will move on to the all of the roles they were quietly performing before COVID19 changed all of our lives.  The Healthcare Scientists will go back behind the pathology doors, quietly processing all of our biological samples (being a part of 80 % of  diagnosis).  Research Scientists will continue to strive for answers, to tackle the World’s biggest problems.  They will push for a more sustainable future, they will work to understand disease, to enhance biodiversity, to monitor emerging threats to health, to educate, to advise, to inform.  From where I sit, the opportunities for a biologist are somewhat endless, you just need to find the first step on your path. 

Three seperate pictures of the academic staff of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences department and students in a collage.

We are all biologists, and you could be too. We will help to unlock your potential and start you on your own journey. Become a Biologist with one of our undergraduate or postgraduate courses.

From the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Department, stay safe and stay well.

World Immunisation Week 2020

A blog written by Dr Sarah Williams, Clinical Immunologist and Course Leader for Biomedical Science

 

There is a race going on right now to develop a vaccine to protect us all against the devastating consequences of COVID19.  A race that is being ‘run’ by amazing scientists around the world and cheered on by us all.

World Health Organisation’s World Immunisation Week 2020
https://www.who.int/news-room/campaigns/world-immunization-week/world-immunization-week-2020

World immunisation week, organised by the World Health Organisation, aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. Even without the current global situation in to which we have all been plunged, the role of vaccination and immunisation was always worth celebrating and promoting. But with vaccination against COVID 19 being our best shot at returning our disrupted worlds back to our own version of normal, it is perhaps even more vital that we raise awareness of the role of immunisation in protecting and promoting health. And, as we wait and hope, I want to take some time to look at something else – those diseases we are already able to prevent because we have vaccines already. Diseases such as measles.

Measles is deadly. COVID19 is reported to have an R value of around 2.  That means, in a totally susceptible population, for every person who contracts the virus, they will infect 2 others. There are some great modelling images out there where you can visualise this.  Measles on the other hand has an R value of somewhere around 14. So, in a totally susceptible population each individual that contracts measles will infect 14 other people. Imagine how quickly this disease spreads. There is a great article which has visual models of some disease spread here.

It is not just the infectivity that is different.  It is also the death rate.   Simplifying work that is ongoing in this area, it has been reported that COVID19 has a death rate of somewhere around 0.66 % in the general public. This means that for every 200 people infected, approximately 1 will die. In the 1920s approximately 30 % of measles cases were fatal. This means that for every 200 people infected, 60 would die. With improved healthcare and the advent of the measles vaccine this dropped to 0.5 % in developed countries, putting it just slightly lower than the reported COVID19 fatality rate.

Those two paragraphs simply translated mean COVID19 spreads reasonably well and kills some people, measles spreads much more rapidly and kills many more.  This is not to lessen the impact of COVID19 related deaths, not at all.  The whole thing makes for gruesome and tragic watching/reading.  Each death will be associated with immeasurable pain and suffering for those left behind but I ask you to consider how much worse this already awful situation could be. 

The reason we don’t see such huge numbers of deaths for measles as we are for COVID19 is because the world is not totally susceptible to measles. For a long time measles vaccine coverage was high keeping transmission rates low.   As vaccine hesitancy has risen, the uptake of the vaccine has fallen. We cannot and should not sit back and let deadly diseases such as measles re-emerge. It is all of our responsibility to ensure we do everything we can to promote immunisation.

Measles is a deadly, vaccine preventable disease.  By ensuring you are vaccinated, if you can be, you are helping to reduce transmission, protect the vulnerable and prevent needless deaths.

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).