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Student engagement and commitment are essential for successful science learning. At present, the design of course materials is usually primarily focused on disseminating as much information as possible within the limited amount of lecturing time available. This gives less emphasis on strategies to consolidate acquired information and to stimulate self-directed research into particularly interesting topics. Guiding students into forming a community of learners could enhance the efficiency of the learning process by sharing resources and discussing common difficulties. We set up an online chat room associated with the Parasitology module for Level 4 Life Sciences degree students, at the University of Dundee, which was run in parallel on Blackboard and on a restricted access Facebook group. Participation in the chat room was strictly voluntary, although students were advised it would be part of their formative training. The feedback results show the Facebook group was largely favoured over the Blackboard interface and that the students found the idea interesting, although engagement was mainly passive. Students reported that the major obstacle to participation was lack of time due to a heavy course workload, which also inhibited them in engaging in any further research on the themes proposed in the chatroom. Interestingly, a large majority of students indicated that they would like the lecturer’s participation in the chat room. These results indicate that students undervalue the role of self-directed formative training and collaborative learning in their studies, and calls into question the efficiency of current methodologies for preparing the next generation of autonomous and critical thinking scientists.
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