Case study: using reference modules to promote active learning

Summary: Online Resources Provide a More Effective and Trusted Way for Students at Kaohsiung Medical University to Access Essential Knowledge

Kaohsiung Medical University, located in Sanmin District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, has more than 6700 undergraduate, masters and doctoral students. Its 555 faculty members are constantly seeking ways to help their students discover where and how to find accurate information for class assignments and research projects, thus improving their problem-solving skills.

Dr. Chai-Lin Kao, Associate Professor of Medical and Applied Chemistry at the Kaohsiung Medical University, teaches a seminar class where students do an oral presentation on what they have learned from a paper of interest. The students must explain the concepts and experiments contained in the paper, to demonstrate their full understanding of its message. Dr. Kao also trains graduate students studying natural sciences on how to gather information from unfamiliar areas, highlighting the importance of reliable, comprehensive and frequently updated information.

“My primary goal is to promote active learning among students,” says Dr. Kao. “Students must read, write, discuss and be engaged in solving problems as part of their training. With active learning, students will take away a more comprehensive understanding of questions which facilitates learning how to solve complex problems.”

After teaching the seminar class for a number of years, Dr. Kao noticed his students typically used public databases, such as Wikipedia or Google Scholar, as their sole information sources…and rarely validated the accuracy of the information they acquired. The students were unaware that conducting university-level research requires factual, peer-reviewed information that is regularly updated.

“Students and junior scientists must learn how to determine whether information is properly vetted and fact-based,” noted Dr. Kao. “Once that is confirmed, reasonable argument and scientific induction can follow.”

Reference Modules to the Rescue

Dr. Kao decided to introduce two of Elsevier’s Reference Modules – the Chemistry, Molecular Sciences and Chemical Engineering Module and the Biomedical Reference Module – to his students. With Elsevier’s help in designing training courses and showing the students how to use Reference Modules in their study and research, they began to use the Modules as an alternative to their fallback online searches.

Elsevier’s Reference Modules combine thousands of related reference work articles into one source of trustworthy information that is continually updated by experts. The modules include content from Elsevier’s authoritative, peer-reviewed reference works; articles that are continuously reviewed, updated as needed and then date stamped with oversight by expert editorial boards; intuitive subject hierarchies that make it easy to navigate the module and find essential information; and links to relevant journal articles and book chapters on ScienceDirect for additional information.

The students found that Elsevier’s Reference Modules are keeping pace with their changing needs by offering the right information at the right time. Each Reference Module treats topics in context, not in isolation, helping students working in their own fields or across multiple disciplines. Hosted on Elsevier’s ScienceDirect, a simple front end and easy-to-use platform mask the underlying complexity of the Reference Modules.

Reference Modules Improved Grades, Research Habits

With access to the most up-to-date essential content that previously was unavailable during the long publishing process, the students soon began to see differences in the outcomes of their research. With the articles in Reference Modules curated and edited by researchers in their respective fields, the Reference Modules became a highly reliable source of information. One master’s student immediately found benefits of the new resource, noting that the Reference Module logs the history of user keyword searches, and assumption of formulas, as well as the detailed derivation and results of the full equation together with the explanation of an example, its applications, and recommendations for related articles.

Dr. Kao is pleased with the change in his students’ habits – and grades. “Since I introduced the Reference Modules to students, they began to realize that they can obtain more in-depth knowledge than what they find on Wikipedia or Google. Reference Modules are able to provide comprehensive coverage of course material where each article is certified to be up-to-date. Students obtain the most current information.” Of the 20 students in his most recent seminar, a full one-third of the class improved their performance with grades jumping from B+ to A. Dr. Kao says these students were more confident in their oral presentations, likely because they could refer to trustworthy data.

Dr. Kao also had high praise for Elsevier’s ability to help him and other participating professors understand “before” and “after” learning scenarios. “They do not simply want to know how their end users benefit from their products, but also how they [can] exchange ideas with teaching staff in order to develop an efficient learning approach for students and professors.”

Calling Elsevier “strong in creation and innovation,” Dr. Kao concluded that Reference Modules not only provide valuable fundamental knowledge for new projects, but also assist students in searching for the salient points on a certain research topic. Reference Modules are exactly what he needed to promote active learning at Kaohsiung Medical University.

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