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Wednesday, June 18 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
PSD.25 – Primary Literature: A Tool to Facilitate Student-Centred Learning

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Primary literature is known to be the best source for scientific information. It is often perceived to be inaccessible to an undergraduate audience.  The jargon, methodologies and overall structure of a paper can be confusing and overwhelming, often left to senior undergraduates or graduate students. However, these perceived challenges can be used as effective teaching tools when a structure and scaffold is provided to help students understand how to navigate and digest primary literature. We encourage our students to look to the primary literature not only as a source of reference but also as a fundamental medium for conceptual exposure and understanding.

In the second and third years of the Integrated Science Program at McMaster University, we utilize primary literature as a key pedagogical method for teaching conceptual content.  In the second year of the program, key articles are chosen by the instructors, which exemplify the theory and application of important concepts. Articles are discussed in a seminar format, in place of a lecture, facilitated by the instructor. Students are not asked to simply read the paper but select particular sections of the paper to focus upon and provide explanation to the class. Students must provide insight on their assigned section in the context of relevance to the topic, the discipline and society at large. For example, during our ecology module we use a paper focusing on mutualisms (beneficial interactions between two or more species). The students discuss the paper in the context of ecology and biology and also make extensions to economics and group theory. Through this exercise students learn concepts from the curriculum and also become more familiar with primary literature, its structure and receive a better understanding of scientific methodologies, experimental logistics and communication.

The foundation created in the second year provides a jumping off point for students in third year. At this point, students identify and select primary literature pertinent to their project, and lead small, peer groups in discussion. The responsibility taken by the instructor in the second year to facilitate is now placed upon the student. Students must critically evaluate the larger body of literature to identify primary sources that apply to their specific research projects. Additionally, they are tasked with helping their peers understand and appraise the concepts, methodologies and applications of the chosen paper.

Use of this pedagogy has received positive feedback from our students. It has allowed them to take more responsibility in how they learn and gain much appreciation for the communication of science. Students improve their skills in critically evaluating scientific writing and their ability to glean pertinent information from this source. Further, students practice leading others in the understanding and evaluation of sources of information.

In this session we will share the pedagogy and processes we have used as well as communicate some of the lessons we have learned from using primary literature as a key pedagogical technique. We will also challenge participants to think of situations where they can apply similar techniques in their own courses.

Wednesday June 18, 2014 11:00am - 12:30pm EDT
A234 McArthur Hall

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