Bringing Power to the Classroom
Putting a fresh spin on undergraduate literature reviews, with a little help from our Power List
Charlotte Barker |
When we heard that The Analytical Scientist Power List is being used as a teaching tool in the analytical chemistry curriculum at New Jersey’s Rowan University, we were intrigued. Here, we talk to Assistant Professor James Grinias and Life Sciences Librarian Samantha Kennedy to find out more.
What sparked the idea to integrate The Power List into your course curriculum?
James Grinias: When I first arrived at Rowan University, I was asked to develop a new “Advanced Bioanalytical Chemistry” course focused on modern instrumental techniques and their application to biological samples. Based on an article I had read about the integration of peer-reviewed literature into analytical chemistry courses (1), I knew I wanted to implement journal articles in some fashion. The Power List had generated lengthy conversations on the current and future state of the field at both of my former institutions, so I thought it might be a unique way to introduce these research reports.
Samantha Kennedy: Jim reached out to me as he was developing his course to ask about strategies for bringing journal articles into the classroom. He also invited me to come into his class to teach students how to use the library’s online resources to search for relevant articles. This project seemed like a perfect way to apply those skills.
What assignment were students required to complete?
JG: First, students looked up the 2015 and 2016 versions of the Power List and selected three scientists of interest. From there, they had to find citations for three research articles and one review article for each of these authors published within the past ten years. Next, 1–2 page critical summaries of each of the three research articles were due, which integrated information from the actual manuscript along with lecture content. At the end of the semester, each student gave a 15-minute presentation on their chosen scientist.
Why focus on scientists from the Power List?
SK: One of the biggest challenges for students when searching for scientific articles online is the massive number of results that are returned for a given search term. Many similar projects I’ve seen here at Rowan have focused on a scientific technique or topic, which commonly leads to tens of thousands of hits and makes it difficult for students to pick one paper. By refining the search to focus on one selected research group from a defined set of 50 or 100 scientists, it was much easier to find relevant papers and was a unique way of introducing students to the scientific literature.
JG: The Power List helps establish the current leaders at the top of the field in the research areas most relevant to this course. Although most lectures were spent reviewing fundamental topics in bioanalytical chemistry, the project helped students see how these techniques are being used at the cutting edge of science.
How did the students respond to the project?
JG: Students were enthusiastic about the project; the main complaint was that they wanted more time for the final presentation – although I will say that being concise during scientific talks is a skill that takes most of us a lifetime to master! Additionally, I found that the class was most engaged when I was able to share personal anecdotes from my own experiences with some of their chosen scientists – a “more human” side of these giants in the field.
SK: Third- and fourth-year students were surprised at all the tools they had available for literature searching and told me they wished they had known about these scientific databases sooner!
Any plans for future semesters?
JG: I plan to have students prepare shorter presentations throughout the semester that relate to specific lecture topics, so that recent examples of the techniques are provided at the same time as the theory. Hopefully, selecting the scientists for each of these topics will be easier with the new “10 Top 10s” list this year!
James Grinias is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Rowan University, researching topics related to liquid chromatography and microfluidics. Samantha Kennedy is the Life Sciences Librarian in Campbell Library at Rowan University.
- ML Kovarik, “Use of primary literature in the undergraduate analytical class”, Anal Bioanal Chem, 408, 3045–3049 (2016).