University of Calgary

First pilot project focuses on integrated teaching and research

UToday HomeApril 15, 2013

By Carly Moran

André Buret’s pilot course for undergraduates takes an interdisciplinary approach to disease. “These problems aren’t just social or economic or medical, so looking at them from diverse points of view helps to define how we can address them,” he says.André Buret’s (centre) pilot course for undergraduates takes an interdisciplinary approach to disease. “These problems aren’t just social or economic or medical, so looking at them from diverse points of view helps to define how we can address them,” he says. Photo by Riley BrandtAndré Buret is no stranger to delivering undergraduate education. As a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and one of the university’s associate vice-presidents (research), he has taught thousands of students in his 17 years at the University of Calgary. And, in January, Buret began offering a pilot course introducing undergraduate students to something different.

The course, titled Diseases in a Changing World: Social, Economic and Medical Perspectives,offers a unique, interdisciplinary approach to engaging students in high-quality academic research. Students will build a foundation of research knowledge as they collaborate to develop a group research project drawing on diverse academic disciplines.

Despite the course’s seemingly scientific focus, students look at the role of emerging parasitic diseases from one of four perspectives, making the course relevant to a large student audience. These four perspectives are human nourishment; wildlife and the ecosystem; health and society; and energy and development. Other inquiry-based courses are currently delivered at the University of Calgary. The novelty in this pilot project is that it engages the entire student community, across all faculties, in a single course.

“As global citizens, we are currently plagued with three major challenges — food, water and energy,” says Buret. “These problems aren’t just social or economic or medical, so looking at them from diverse points of view helps to define how we can address them.”

The course is the first tied to the College of Discovery, Creativity and Innovation, one of two branches comprising the new Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, and is sponsored jointly by the Office of the Vice-President (Research) and the Provost’s Office. The college will focus on creating experiential learning opportunities for students and integrating undergraduates into research initiatives.

“Partnering to deliver this pilot course emphasizes the university’s focus on integrating teaching and research, a key part of the Eyes Highstrategic direction,” says Lynn Taylor, vice-provost (teaching and learning). “Classes like this will help ensure future generations of leaders are equipped with the ability to think critically and solve problems from a global perspective.”

Participation in the course has many benefits to students, including: expanding their ability to solve problems and think critically; analyzing and synthesizing information to address important societal issues; developing a collaborative team approach to delivering a final product; and honing skills that will help facilitate future career placements.

“This course has allowed me to engage in my own self-directed learning,” says Chris Hooey, a third-year student in microbiology and sociology. “This is how I thought university would be from the very beginning.”

“Our goal is to ensure students have access to courses that help develop this research-based critical thinking right from year one — well before reaching graduate level,” says Buret. “These opportunities make for a stronger society, and employers are actively seeking these skill sets to build their workforce.”

A review of the pilot will take place once classes conclude in April, to assess potential impacts on critical thinking among participating students, and to help develop what will become a model for the College of Discovery, Creativity and Innovation.

“Through this project, I have learned how to be a part of the scientific community through writing papers, presenting research and working closely as a team,” says Gaya Narendran, first-year student in health sciences. “I’m learning how to get involved in scientific research and I’m only in my first year.”

 

Follow UToday on Twitter.
Check the UToday website for news about events, people and trends at University of Calgary.
Follow what’s happening on campus using our interactive calendar.