Differences in students' perceptions of learning compulsory foundation biochemistry in the health sciences professions.Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2005 Nov; 10(4):279-90.AH
Student approaches to learning vary from surface approaches to meaningful, deep learning practices. Differences in approach may be related to students' conceptions of the subject, perceptions of the learning environment, prior study experiences and performance on assessment. This study aims to explore entering students' conceptions of the unit they are about to study and how they intend to approach their studies. It involved a survey of 203 (of 250) first year students in a cross disciplinary unit in the Faculty of Health Sciences. They were asked to complete an open-ended response survey, including questions on what they thought they needed to do to learn biochemistry and what they thought the study of biochemistry was about. A phenomenographic methodology was used to identify categories of description for the questions. The paper will describe the categories in detail, the structural relationship between the categories and the distribution of responses within categories. The study reports a relationship between conception of the topic and approaches to learning. Students with more complex and coherent conceptions of the topic report that they were more likely to adopt deeper approaches to study than those with more fragmented conceptions. However, compared to previous studies, a surprisingly high proportion of students with more cohesive conceptions still intended to adopt more surface approaches. This may reflect the particular context of their learning, namely in a compulsory unit involving material for which most students have minimal background and difficulty seeing its relevance. Implications for teaching such foundation material are discussed.