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This issue of CDTL Brief is all about Cultivating Active Learners: Applying Scenario-Based Learning and Other Teaching Strategies to Enrich Classroom Learning. Whether it is utilising “real-life“ or non-analogous scenarios to stimulate students’ interest in complex life science concepts such as metabolism or the human immune system, or using role-play to build students’ confidence in tackling commercial real estate issues, the colleagues who have generously shared their teaching experiences here are united in their common goal of equipping their students with the skills to become active learners.

October/November 2011, Vol. 14 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
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Application of a Novel Non-analogous Scenario for Introducing Human Immunology
 
Associate Professor Paul A. MacAry
Department of Microbiology and LSI Immunology Programme
 
Science is much more a way of thinking than a body of knowledge.
— Carl Sagan (1986)

Introduction

One of the most powerful tools available for the formulation of new scientific theories is the ability to think in abstract terms about observable phenomena, and applying these abstractions to the available empirical data to conceptualise explanations for the phenomena. In my experience, the degree of ‘abstraction’ applied when formulating theories to explain immune phenomena represents a continuum from simply applying knowledge from related scientific disciplines such as anatomy, cell biology or organic chemistry to using information from unrelated fields such as engineering, mathematics and beyond. This is often referred to as a multi-disciplinary approach, but this term is too narrow to fully encapsulate the breadth of influences, many of which are not classically ‘scientific’, that can impact upon the formulation of a new idea or theory. Hence, in this practicum, I expose students in a simple and direct way to this mode of thinking by presenting them with a scenario and set of problems which in superficial terms, have no connections to immunology (MIC2108 “Introduction to Immunology”). This tutorial requires students to draw knowledge and experience from outside the biological sphere. It is delivered as a tutorial exercise where the class is divided into groups of 5–6 students. They are encouraged to work cooperatively to discuss and provide solutions to the scenario presented.

The background to the tutorial is as follows: towns and cities are often compared to living organisms (e.g. roads and railways are likened to veins and arteries, and parks are referred to as the ‘lungs’ of a city). To introduce human immunology and host defense I extend this metaphor to the immune system by asking the students to design the defences of a medieval village threatened by a company of bandits. The scenario is based on a classic Japanese film The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. Each group of students is provided with an outline of the village on a piece of A3-size paper and asked to sketch their defensive measures. To help the students formulate their own ideas, we ask them to consider a number of key questions that have influenced the formation of defences for towns and cities. Since the students are expecting a lecture/tutorial detailing immune cells, antibodies and so on, they will have to think about unrelated defence systems and how they can be compared to the immune system. This exercise requires a degree of inquiry and creativity from the students. It forces them to consider the immune system in the context of anatomy, cell biology and physiology (i.e. as part of an integrated host defense network). The scenario provided to the students is detailed in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Student’s copy of the tutorial exercise.

Conducting this tutorial

This tutorial is optimal for classes of no greater than 30 students (5–6 groups). The session is conducted over 110 minutes. Whilst the students are discussing their ideas during the initial 20 minutes, I move amongst the groups to answer their questions and provide promptings where necessary. At the end of the discussion period, I ask the groups to translate their defence plans from the A3-size papers to the whiteboards in the front of the class. I ensure that there is enough whiteboard space plus markers for all groups to do this simultaneously. After allowing 10 minutes for this, each group takes turns in describing their defensive measures (a further 10 minutes per group). The group presentations can take up to a total of 50–60 minutes.

I find that by providing the students with a list of considerations and allowing them to articulate their ideas based on their visits to castles and viewing war films, they can usually come up with a plan that is in principle similar to the one detailed in Figure 2. This is unsurprising given that the simplest solutions to the questions provided are the ones that have already been widely used by human communities. For instance, the answer to the first question (in Figure 1) is to construct barrier defenses such as moats and walls. Barriers also need doors or gates to allow the villagers access to their fields. The stationing of sentinels and alarm systems that alert the villagers to the presence of bandits is the obvious answer to the second question. With regards to the positioning of the guard houses (question 3), most groups opt to site them near the gates whilst others place them in a central position near the crossroads in the town centre. For question 4, most groups managed to identify the holes in the barriers (i.e. the doors or gates) as the weak points in the defence as they potentially allow the bandits to bypass the barriers constructed. Most groups would station their strongest defences, such as their guard houses and soldiers, near the gates.
Figure 2. Students’ defence plan for the Village

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Inside this issue
Contextualised Teaching Towards Active Learning
Using Role Play to Enhance Classroom Learning: A Case Study in Real Estate
Effective Cancer Pharmacology Teaching Through Guided Self-learning and Students’ Short Presentations in Small Group Tutorials
Application of a Novel Non-analogous Scenario for Introducing Human Immunology
Embedding Graduate Attributes Into Four Discipline Areas Using Scenario-based Learning