A ‘Sherlock’ Approach to Physician Associate Learning: Using Workshops to Promote Critical Thought

Dr Sarah Greenwood, Lecturer, Physician Associate Programme, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy, s.l.greenwood@reading.ac.uk

Physician Associate (PA) students are talented life-sciences postgraduates who must quickly develop critical thinking skills in relation to medicine. Our PA programme focuses on the core skill of applying bioscientific and medical theory to skills of history taking, clinical examination, investigation diagnosis and treatment in order to produce safe, competent practitioners within two years.

Our student numbers have doubled in the five years since the programme began, and so as we strive to accommodate higher numbers, we witness greater diversity in learning styles. We recognised the need to promote advanced critical thinking amongst all our students in creative ways.

Firstly, funding secured access for all our students to McGraw Hill’s ‘Connect Online’, (which included an anatomy and physiology e-book, histology slides, media files, assessment tests and a cadaver dissection) for students to work though system by system. This online package proved very popular with the students whereby the overall average grade over 18 assignments was 94.47%.  Students’ engagement could be regularly monitored by the lead lecturer and areas of difficulty were successfully addressed.

Secondly, funding enabled us to develop in-house ‘PA workshop investigation packs’ – which were used by groups of PA students in our clinical skills suite, and online. The packs were themed according to body systems, and consisted of series of work stations containing instructions and various learning materials. Our PA students worked together to tackle core practical and theoretical concepts, working out solutions together in a systematic manner – hence using a ‘Sherlock’ detective approach to their learning!  The funding covered the cost of all our workshop materials, in particular laminated displays/charts, questions and visual guides; these are particularly valued because they are reusable for future cohorts of PA students.

The learning processes aimed to mirror the role of the Physician Associate in practice. As such, the learning packs provided engaging, challenging and motivational learning to develop essential skills safely and effectively.

The effectiveness of the workshops became apparent early on – as evidenced by the number of students passing their formative practical examinations at first attempt (shown below).

Formative results without workshops                        Formative results with workshops

Graph showing improved results following workshop

In the summative end-of-year objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs): 28% of our workshop students achieved > 80% in these practical exams, with 5 students achieving 90% or above  – this exceeded the previous cohort’s results where only 8% of students scored over 80% and none scored 90% or above. There was an overall improvement in mean performance from 66% to 70%.Graph showing improved results following workshop


The student evaluations were very positive; all students were able to articulate what they had gained from the experience:

Examination station was useful because I was able to practice examination skills in an -almost- clinical environment, with the help of teachers. Another station I found useful was the BNF station. It gave me an understanding of how to use the BNF in a given time frame, and find what I am looking for. The BNF station also helped me identify a lot of drugs for certain conditions, which I would not have known otherwise

“The upper and lower neurological examinations were very useful. This is because I found the overlap and structure similar and reinforce the other. I also found the breast examination very useful because I am less likely to get patient experience with this as a male student”.

“Listening to the heart murmurs station with questions on hypertension – allowed us to work through different case examples”

The lecturers and students all recognised the value of the workshops, and this fun, interactive and relaxed teaching approach has now been formally integrated into the curriculum. We are most grateful for the support of the University’s teaching and learning enhancement scheme which funded this intervention.

Blackboard Collaborate cross-campus tutorials as a useful tool to enhance the Part One Pharmacy student experience at the University of Reading Malaysia

Dr Darius Widera, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy


After a successful application to act as one of the early adopters of Blackboard Collaborate at the University of Reading, this technology platform was used for a series of cross-campus tutorials within the Fundamentals of Physiology (PM1AM) module between the University of Reading’s Whiteknights and Malaysia campuses. The format was well-received, and contributed to an enhanced student experience.


The official inauguration of the University of Reading Malaysia (UoRM) campus in EduCity, Johor Bahru, in early 2017 and the start of the MPharm (Malaysia) programme in the academic year 2016/17 offer excellent opportunities for further internationalisation of the University of Reading and specifically within Pharmacy education.

The University of Reading Malaysia offers a double accredited (UK and Malaysia) 2+2 MPharm (Hons) degree where the students study for two years at the Malaysia campus followed by two consecutive years in Reading.

The PM1A module and its UoRM counterpart, PM1AM, cover the basics of biology and human physiology including genetics, biochemistry and cell biology. According to student feedback, these topics tend to be challenging for the students, especially in light of the fact that significant numbers of Pharmacy students do not have A-level biology to provide background knowledge.

In response to this feedback, several tutorials have been introduced to provide students with interactive opportunities to revise the content of lectures and practical sessions and to close any potential knowledge gaps.

Thus, there was a need for the development of a cross-campus solution to ensure that both MPharm cohorts (UoR and UoRM) are provided with a similar form of tutorials.


  • To explore if Blackboard Collaborate can be used for cross-campus delivery of tutorials covering the content of the genetics lecture series within the PM1A/PM1AM module.
  • To investigate if cross-campus virtual classroom/teleconference represents an appropriate pedagogical tool for delivery of tutorials in Pharmacy and how this deliver method affects student engagement and interactivity.
  • To assess if these sessions could help 2+2 MPharm students to prepare for their two years of study in Reading.


The Blackboard Collaborate platform was used to develop a series of tutorials in genetics. The online sessions were led by Dr Widera (live video capture via a webcam) at the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus and streamed to students at the UoRM. The student group was composed of 11 Malaysian Part One MPharm students. The content of the tutorials was covered in the respective lecturees. It was expected that students would have factual knowledge of the topic, although at heterogeneous levels.

All students were equipped with PCs with headsets and webcams. Blackboard Collaborate functions including ‘raise hand’, virtual whiteboard, chat, and direct interaction with all or individual students (either via audio or video) were used. In addition, external tools (e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and the Poll Everywhere app) were used via the ‘share screen’ function of Blackboard Collaborate. For the tutorial, an introductory PowerPoint presentation was designed and a screencast deposited on YouTube as a contingency plan. Multiple choice questionnaires (MCQs) were set up on the Poll Everywhere platform, and short answer questions (SAQs) were included in an additional PowerPoint presentation. After each MCQ/SAQ, students were given time to decide on an answer (individually via Poll Everywhere), followed by an interactive discussion.

The overall length of each tutorial session was 50 minutes. Individual anonymous post-hoc feedback was collected to evaluate student opinions on the usefulness, overall style, and delivery. In addition, a technical report and an experience log was collated and submitted to the Technology Enhanced Learning team. Finally, the content, deliver and potential changes were discussed with students and peers during a visit to the UoRM.


During the tutorials no serious technical issues were encountered, although students at UoRM did experience slight lagging in their connections (with video and audio becoming slightly out of sync). Students showed high levels of interaction and successfully used most of the Blackboard Collaborate features. Importantly, other than in UoR in-class tutorials, students engaged and interacted early on. This is reflected in the feedback collected after the first session (“I like how it is interactive and fun”). The tutorial format also seemed to help students to revise the content of the lectures (“Useful to enhance my biology knowledge”, “It helps me to revise”, “It helps me to find out my difficulties with previous lectures”). Moreover, students appreciated that the session was different compared to conventional lectures (“It was different from just sitting in the classroom and listening to lecturers”, “it was another way of learning outside the classroom”). Last but not least, it was appreciated that the tutorials were run by Reading-based staff that the 2+2 students would meet during their two years in Reading (“can meet Dr Widera and learn from him”). No negative feedback was received.

Follow up

Following the feedback received, further tutorials involving other lecturers teaching on the PM1A module will be developed and implemented.

Closing the gap! Bringing together students studying at different campuses using Blackboard Collaborate

Kate Fletcher, Sue Slade, Kevin Flint, Raj Vaiyapuri, Wee Kiat Ong, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy; Pharmacy


MPharm Programme: Introduction to Professionalism and Practice

Undergraduate (UG) students, Part 1

Number of participants in sessions: 20 (9 in the UK and 11 in Malaysia)
Session length: 60 minutes


 Part 1 students studying the MPharm course at both the Reading and Malaysia campuses were
brought together using Blackboard Collaborate to compare Pharmacy Practice in each country.
 Kate wanted to encourage crossover between campuses and for students to get to know each
other before the Malaysian students came over to study in the UK for Part 3.
 Students based at each campus logged in to Collaborate on individual computers with a
 Both groups of students were in the Clinical Skills Suite on each campus with laptops and
 Staff supported students in the physical rooms to get them settled and set-up.
 The session was designed around set discussion activities and students separated out into
groups that included students from both campuses, using the ‘Breakout room’ feature.


 Collaborate provided an effective way for students studying at different campuses to learn
together and begin to build relationships.
 Close cooperation was needed between the UK and Malaysian staff to set up the session.
 Students quickly picked-up how to use the tool, were using the Chat tool without prompting
and easily able to undertake the tasks in the breakout rooms.
 The session was activity based and students were discussing with each other. This made best
use of the technology to facilitate communication.
 There were good levels of interaction between students using the audio and video. However,
the first time people use the system interaction can initially be awkward.
 Some cultural differences were perceived. Malaysian students were quieter in the
conversations and UK-based students tended to lead.

Thoughts and reflections

 Kate and Sue were thoroughly prepared for the session and had rehearsed how to use the
‘breakout rooms’ and written a session plan with timings.
 Don’t expect to get as much done as you would in a face-to-face session or allow more time for
activities in this environment.
 As the students were located in the same room together they were spread out to minimise the
transfer of noise between them when talking. Pharmacy had a large enough room to allow this.
Feedback from students indicated they could easily take part from home.
 Pharmacy needed to purchase suitable headsets that could be re-used by different students.
Allow sufficient time to arrange ordering from IT.
 Make sure Chrome is installed on the University computers students are going to use.
 There was a significant investment of time and a learning curve to set up the session, as this
was the first time they had attempted this. Future sessions should be easier to facilitate.
 It’s not yet possible to save what has been written on the whiteboards in the breakout rooms.

(Use the PC – Microsoft Clipping tool https://support.microsoft.com/engb/help/13776/windows-use-snipping-tool-to-capture-screenshots
or MAC keyboard shortcut to take a screenshot of the whiteboard.)


Final Year Group Based Research Projects

Professor Elizabeth Page and Dr Philippa Cranwell, Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy
Year of activity: 2015-16


Group-based research projects have been introduced into the BSc Chemistry programme for final year students. Small teams of students investigate different aspects of a research problem, each working on a separate strand. The results are combined and overall conclusions drawn. The team-based approach more closely resembles the nature of research in the chemical industry. The approach can be translated to many other disciplines.


  • To provide final year students with the opportunity for open-ended investigative laboratory research.
  • To work as a team to plan and design a suitable approach and experiments to explore the problem.
  • To carry out original research and collate and analyse results.
  • To draw conclusions and present the results both orally and as a dissertation.
  • To develop a variety of key transferable skills required for the workplace.


All accredited Chemistry programmes must contain individual independent investigative work, historically in the form of a final-year research project. Since the rapid expansion of chemistry undergraduate numbers, many departments have moved from laboratory-based projects to literature reviews or short, open-ended practical work. Group projects provide an alternative approach where undergraduates carry out a worthwhile chemical investigation, with the potential of yielding useful results within the restricted time, and with the limited resources available.


A Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF) Grant in 2015 allowed us to appoint two undergraduate students to investigate some potential ideas for research projects over the summer of 2015. The students carried out initial trials into a series of research topics in the broad areas of inorganic, organic, physical and analytical chemistry. On the basis of these preliminary investigations a short briefing sheet was drawn up for each research question, to be used as a starting point for the teams.

Final year students on the BSc Chemistry and BSc Applied Chemistry (NUIST) programmes were invited to select areas of preference in chemistry for their final year project. Students were organised into teams of 3-5 students on the basis of project preferences and undertook two short (five week) projects, the first of which acted as a trial run to allow students to become familiar with an independent research environment. Each team was allocated an academic supervisor to whom they reported their results weekly. During the final week of each project team members discussed their results and prepared a presentation. Students were given feedback on the first presentation to help inform the second. The second project was written as a formal report, with each student writing up their individual investigations and the whole team contributing to the introduction and final discussions and conclusion.

Students were assessed on the basis of their individual laboratory notebook, their oral presentation and project report. They were asked to evaluate their peers’ contributions under a variety of categories to produce a factor which could be used to scale any group component marks.


In 2015-2016 a total of 12 team-based projects were carried out in 4 different research areas. As the topics were re-visited (i.e. the same topic used more than once), the second group of students were able to carry on the investigation from where the first group finished.

All projects were successful in producing results that the students were able to analyse and discuss. The value of the results to the research question varied significantly with the team and the nature of the project. Students were not penalised if they worked in a project area that did not easily yield positive results: they were advised that their grades depended upon their input into the project and their oral and written communication skills in presenting the project. In the majority of cases the teams worked well to plan and execute experiments that led to conclusive results.

Although the numbers were relatively small in 2015-2016, the team-based approach reduced academic supervision and training time, as one staff member could supervise a team of students. More results were obtained from the team-based approach than when students worked independently. The research questions had to be selected carefully and some preliminary work done, but despite this some of the projects yielded new results that are publishable. Students improved their team working skills significantly and have ample experiences to discuss at interviews.


The success of each group project depended to a large extent on the individual supervisor and the group dynamics. Ownership of the project by the supervisor led to more successful outcomes and better group dynamics. It was observed that groups of 4 students seemed to work better than 3 or 5, as research problems often break down to comparing A against B, and therefore workload could be more easily divided. Interestingly, students requested one long project in future rather than two short ones because they felt that with a long project they could really make a meaningful impact with their work.

As the project reports were to be submitted shortly before the exam period, some students were anxious to complete their contributions in good time and found it difficult to work with their peers who had a more relaxed approach. Because of the high weighting (40 credits) on the project, we will require individual project reports in future. In addition, combined group reports were difficult to assess fairly, even with peer evaluation.


The work was presented at the 2nd Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship Conference meeting in June 2016.

Filling the skills gap: information literacy skills throughout the degree programme

Jackie Skinner, Library
Year of activity: 2015-16


16374This is an ongoing project to devise and implement a framework of skills to be developed by undergraduate students in Food and Nutritional Sciences throughout their degree programme. I have worked closely with staff in the Department on this project and so far it has resulted in changes to module content and a redevelopment of the departmental personal tutorials system.


  • To audit existing skills development across the Food programmes.
  • To devise a framework of skills competencies to be developed throughout the programme.
  • To embed skills in suitable modules, or explore additional ways to enable students to acquire those skills.
  • Explore ways to allow students to assess their own skills competency: how confident do they feel with their skills proficiency and how have these skills been developed?
  • To ensure international students entering at Part Two are given the same opportunities to develop skills they might have missed by not taking Part One modules at the University of Reading.


Through teaching and supporting Food students as their liaison librarian it had become clear to me that there were inconsistencies in skills expectations, which caused problems for students. It appeared that some academics expected advanced skills competencies which the students had not had the chance to develop, especially in Part One. There was also a feeling among staff that the students lacked skills they should have acquired by Part Three. In addition the Department’s Industrial Advisory Board had highlighted skills weaknesses in University of Reading graduates which needed to be assessed and addressed.


Inspired by a Library staff training workshop on the ANCIL (A New Curriculum for Information Literacy) skills framework, I decided to try to assess the scale of the problem and devise a plan to address it. This framework aims to help undergraduates develop an advanced, reflective level of information literacy which will enable them not just to find information, but to evaluate, analyse and use academic material independently and judiciously.

The first step was to undertake a survey of module convenors to map the skills required for each module and those the students would develop in each module. Submissions were received for 41 out of 51 modules and showed evidence of a disparity in skills expectations and development.

After discussion at the Department T&L Committee I met with Programme Directors and used a card sorting exercise to map out skills required by the end of each Part. Once the skills framework was ratified, these were mapped onto suitable modules. This task was made more difficult because there are very few modules taken in common by all students in the Department. In addition to mapping most skills to modules, others were identified by academics as suitable for development through the personal tutorials system, e.g. reflective learning.


Although this is still a work in progress, it is has resulted in a greater awareness of skills development within the Department.

The framework and module mapping discussions have already resulted in some changes to module content, such as integrating a session on online identity management in a Part One module. This project has also instigated a change in approach to the personal tutorials system, moving towards a more structured approach, with group tutorials fostering more peer support and learning. I am currently working with academics and one of our Study Advisers to put together an online resource to support tutors in running their tutorials.

Although I have worked with the Food and Nutritional Sciences Department for many years, the whole process of conducting this project has enhanced my understanding of the work of the Department, and enabled me to become an embedded member of the academic team.


This project coincided with a restructuring of the Department’s degree programmes and a desire for a more co-ordinated approach to module provision. The enthusiastic support of the Head of Department was a key factor in its success, as well as the openness of all academics to discuss ways to embed skills development in their modules.

Although the initial survey was time consuming, and could be skipped by anyone seeking to develop a similar skills framework in less time, it provided firm evidence to take to the T&L Committee.

The final two objectives have still to be achieved. Developing a skills self-assessment tool will require assistance from the TEL Team, if it is to be embedded in the student record and available to tutors too. Ideally this would provide evidence of the effectiveness of skills teaching which could be reviewed annually to influence development of module materials. Reworking the language module taken by students entering Part Two from overseas universities to ensure it includes the Part One skills also needs further work with the International Study and Language Institute and the International Student Tutor. The project may be of interest to those developing Curriculum Framework resources and toolkits.

Follow up

The skills framework has been tweaked a few times as a result of discussions with module convenors and at the T&L Committee. Recent feedback from students on their research project training may also result in further changes. Iterative changes will take place as a result of analysis of information from the skills self-assessment tool.


Developing independent learners – a first year skills module

Professor Elizabeth Page, Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy


A series of skills based modules running through the three years of the BSc and MChem Chemistry programmes has been developed. The aim is to promote independent learning and the development of academic and employability skills through subject specific material and activities. This entry describes the Part One module which would be readily transferable to many cognate disciplines.


  • To support students in developing independent learning skills as they make the transition from school to university.
  • To introduce students to open and closed types of problems and help them develop strategies for tackling them.
  • To support students in developing time management, organisation, communication, team working and other transferable academic and professional skills.
  • To encourage students to self-assess their personal transferable skills and articulate them.


The main drivers for the development of the series of skills-focussed modules were:

  • To break the cycle of ‘learning for the examination’ that is practised widely in schools and colleges to enhance exam results and league table position.
  • To provide “greater and more sustainable variety in modes of study to meet the changing demands of industry and students”, as recommended in the South East Universities Biopharma Skills Consortium Project.


An initial survey was carried out of Part One students across the Faculty of Life Sciences to determine their biggest perceived differences between study at school or college and university. The greatest changes reported were the increased requirement for self-motivation and independent study required at higher education, coupled with a decrease in clarity of course and assessment requirements.

A small group of staff from different branches of the subject (Chemistry) discussed the desirable learning outcomes of the module and planned activities through which to achieve these outcomes.

One key aim of the module was to introduce students to the idea that there is sometimes no right or wrong answer but it is the route to solving a problem that is important. We were keen to ensure that the module addressed areas of the Chemistry curriculum that were both unfamiliar and challenging so that students were forced to read around the subject in order to understand the key concepts. In this way we believed that they would be better prepared to master the material when they subsequently met it in later modules. We therefore adopted a problem-based learning approach in which a series of chemical challenges were designed.

The module starts with an open-ended problem requiring little subject knowledge apart from basic scientific ideas. In groups students are required to find reasonable answers to problems such as ‘how much radioactivity is there in a banana?’ or ‘how much hydrogen would it take to supply the nation with cups of tea for a day?’. Students can use any assumptions or sources to solve the problem and have to justify their answers in a group presentation the following week. Subsequent problems were designed in the three main branches of chemistry and each challenge was designed to encourage students to develop different skills. For example, to develop numeracy skills students are required to justify the use of a major research platform to a government minister and calculate the number of molecules that can fit into a matchbox to give an idea of the size of a molecule to a non-scientist. Three of the challenges are carried out in groups and the same group members are retained through the year. We have been fortunate to welcome colleagues from Study Support to help our students with team working skills and our link librarian to explain the use of library resources and reliable sources from data base searching.


The module was first delivered in 2011 and feedback was very positive. A key feature of the module is that it helps students recognise their strengths and reflect on transferable skills to better articulate them in interviews and on application forms. Students reported that the module has helped them answer interview questions such as ‘How have you overcome problems in a group where one member has not contributed as expected?’ and ‘Give examples of a problem you have struggled to solve and how you succeeded’. The team based approach provides new students with a small group who they quickly get to know and so establishes friendships. Following the success of the Part One module we decided to design the Part Two module to align with our career management course and again use team working as the vehicle for achieving the learning outcomes.


The success of the module rests upon a number of factors. Engagement of staff from across the department ensures ‘buy-in’. Six academic staff were initially involved with designing and delivering the module. In addition we were fortunate to have a project officer who did much of the preparation for the module and set up groups and Wikis on the Blackboard site.

Teams are composed of students of mixed gender, ethnicity and ability, based on information on RISIS available from their UCAS applications. Most teams work well with the usual problems encountered in team working. Peer evaluation is used to secure student feedback, and a scaling factor for each team member derived which is applied to the group mark for each activity.

The first challenge is formatively assessed and students given feedback within one week. Students receive detailed feedback on subsequent summative assessments.

Follow up

In 2014 we expanded the module to 20 credits and simultaneously increased the contact time and introduced IT skills. The original challenges are still used although there is plenty of scope for developing new problems. In order to support our students applying for placements in industry we conclude the module in the spring term with a personal analysis of skills developed, which can be integrated into applications and CVs for placements. The module structure would be easily transferable to other disciplines. The team responsible for the module were awarded a University Collaborative Award in 2012. Staff involved with the module are: Dr John McKendrick, Dr Andy Russell, Dr David Nutt, Professor Matthew Almond, Dr Joanne Elliott, and Mrs Sally Wade.


Assessing the impact of internationalisation on students, from both a UK student perspective and a NUIST student perspective

Dr Philippa Cranwell, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy
Year(s) of activity: 2014/15


8437The project assessed the impact of the intake of a cohort of 16 3+1 BSc Applied Chemistry students on the existing undergraduate students on programmes within the Department of Chemistry (approximately 72 students, on both BSc and MChem programmes), and determined any preconceptions each cohort may have had about each other or the course.


  • Determine the impact of intake of students from Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST) on existing Part Three Chemistry students.
  • Discover what preconceptions current Chemistry students held.
  • Determine what aspects of their year at the University of Reading students from NUIST found the most challenging, and what support could be offered to future students.


The 3+1 BSc Applied Chemistry is a dual award degree delivered in partnership by the University of Reading and the NUIST. Students currently study for three years at NUIST in the People’s Republic of China before transferring to the University of Reading to complete their final year, with successful students being awarded a Bachelor of Science from each institution. This study was undertaken because integration of two cohorts on this scale had not been undertaken before in Chemistry at the University of Reading. There was a desire to ensure that existing students were not adversely affected by the intake of Chinese students because they would have to share resources, such as lectures, workshops and tutorials, and also to ensure the Chinese students felt they were adequately supported whilst in the UK.


The findings were derived from focus groups held with Part Two students (30 students), Part Three domestic students (30 students) and the Part Three NUIST students (12 students). During the focus groups, the students were posed questions about different aspects of the year and wrote responses on giant sticky notes. The questions were designed such that they were open and allowed students to give as much information as they wanted. In the case of the NUIST students the focus groups were not very successful due to a reluctance to speak out. In addition, therefore, anonymous questionnaires that the students could fill in and return were distributed. During the focus group session, lunch was provided to thank the students for their time.


The study achieved its objectives, although not in the manner originally perceived. It had not been anticipated that the NUIST students would be so reluctant to speak out. It was quickly realised, however, that the best way to obtain meaningful data from the NUIST cohort was to offer anonymised questionnaires. This approach will be used in the future. Additionally, the study was useful in that it showed that there was one overriding theme for good integration; the importance of language skills. Although it was known that the students all fulfilled the University’s requirement for English language proficiency, it had not been anticipated how difficult it would be for them in a lecture situation.


This project was successful in that it managed to gather the necessary information. If the project were to be repeated again, there would be more awareness of the fact that the Chinese students were less forthcoming with their views and anonymous questionnaires would have been used from the beginning. It might also have been useful to pose the questions in Mandarin, therefore avoiding any confusion or misunderstandings. With regards to the UK students, the session was well-received and students were happy to have the opportunity to give their opinions so no changes to this are necessary.

Outcomes from the activity have led to a reassessment of the way the initial three years of the programme are taught in the People’s Republic of China, and an emphasis on the importance of a good grasp of the English language; both in academic and in social situations. The Department of Chemistry is working towards providing:

  • Additional exam-style questions for the students to practice while they are in the UK.
  • Input into exam questions in the People’s Republic of China so students are better prepared for what to expect when in the UK.
  • A greater emphasis on the technical language required for the study of Chemistry.

Coursework redesign for an integrated multidisciplinary module

Dr Mark Dallas, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy


9239Within the School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy, coursework on a Part Two Pharmacy module, Therapeutics and Medicines Optimisation B (PM2B), was redesigned to reflect the multidisciplinary nature of the new module. In their assessed work, students demonstrated a better appreciation of the interconnectivity of the disciplines of Pharmacy, and students also expressed their enjoyment of the redesigned assessment.


  • Redesign coursework to reflect the multidisciplinary nature of PM2B.
  • Implement and assess a learning exercise that allows Pharmacy students to integrate their understanding of different Pharmacy disciplines.


In 2011 the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the regulating body for the pharmacy profession within England, Scotland and Wales and the body responsible for accreditation of the Masters of Pharmacy degree course at the University of Reading, adopted a new set of standards for the initial education and training of pharmacists. The first criteria of Standard 5 stressed the need for integrated curricula. With modules within Pharmacy at the University of Reading being altered to reflect these standards, the existing coursework structures were not suited, as they would not have aligned to the joint nature of the new modules.


The aims, delivery and assessment of the module’s coursework were completely redesigned. Previously, students had been assessed solely by a written report, and the datasets used only reflected one discipline of pharmacy.

The new coursework that was devised was aligned with a modern day multidisciplinary drug discovery programme, with the intention being that this would allow students to appreciate the integrative nature of pharmacy as a science, and the multidisciplinary nature of their subject.

There were four assessed components that comprised the module’s coursework. A project report contributed 50% of the coursework final mark; a poster presentation 20%; reflective diaries 15%; and engagement 15%. By having multiple types of assessment it was hoped that students would engage with the topics, and that it would promote deep learning, while allowing students an opportunity to demonstrate a variety of skill sets. The poster presentation and project reports saw students assessed as groups. To assess engagement, a rubric was created, rating students on their academic engagement and their group engagement based on clearly defined criteria.


The redesigned assessment was enjoyed by students, and in their assessed work students consistently demonstrated a sufficient understanding of the interconnectivity of the disciplines of Pharmacy. Marks on the written report, however, were lower than had been hoped, and suggested that some adjustment to this aspect of assessment were necessary.


Having the coursework comprise different assessment types was valuable as it allowed staff to gain an insight into student knowledge retention, critical thinking, and their ability to work in a wider context.

The written report represented an assessment format with which students would be familiar, given the format of assessments at Part One. The value of having students produce a written report was that it allowed students to be tested on their application, rather than simple obtainment, of knowledge to address a problem.

Having students produce a poster presentation as part of their assessment on the module encouraged students to utilise different skills in their work. Communication skills, which had previously not been assessed in the module, but are an important skill that the University of Reading seeks to develop in its graduates, became a central element of assessment. By having to produce a poster that would then be presented to their peers, students were encouraged to engage deeply with the topic, and to take pride in what they created, and created an opportunity for peer learning.

Having group work as an assessed element was of great value in a multidisciplinary module. With group members having different strengths within the group, they are able to make a valuable contribution, and benefit from learning from others’ strengths in turn. While group work does introduce the possibility for ‘free-riding’, whereby students do not engage and instead rely on the rest of the group to deliver a good final mark, and this was something that students commented on in their feedback, the strength of group assessment is the key communication and collaborative skills it demands.

The creation of reflective diaries is especially pertinent to students in healthcare professions, as reflective writing is a central element of their continuing professional development. An additional and unforeseen benefit of this assessment was the insight it provided into students’ thought processes, which was valuable for making adjustments to the module.

Assessing student engagement was one of the challenging aspects of the redesigned assessment. Having a clear rubric made marking a more objective process.

Follow up

To address the issues that were introduced by having group work assessed, a session on group dynamics has been introduced to the module in order to better set expectations. The skills addressed in this session will be valuable to students not only in this module, but can also be applied across their academic and professional experience.

A further innovation has been the use of online project management tools. This has both allowed students to better manage their work and engagement, and also allows assessors access to evidence to help with marking, and allows group work to be better monitored.