biORACLE - creating a learning community for students supporting students
biORACLE is a social learning community where experienced students help less experienced students with curriculum, assignments, and exchange general knowledge about life as a student at the department. Undergraduates need a sense of belonging to the department. One can argue that both lectures and lab-activities create a very clear line between teachers and students. Sometimes this can make it difficult for students to ask for help. This can for instance make students ask themselves questions like: “is this a dumb question?”, “is this question relevant?” and “Should I already know this?”. Additionally, there is only room for a limited number of questions during a lecture. This can further add on the fear of asking questions. This is arguably a big problem since one of the key factors in science is to be curious and leave no stone unturned. With little time in lectures and lab-courses there is also little room for mistakes and trying things out, these two factors are one of the main drivers in learning. This project aims towards building a space and community with a comfortable atmosphere to ask questions, where there is lots of time to fail and try again.
Goal & purpose
The purpose of bioRACLE is to create a social learning arena and community that are designed of and for students through physical weekly meetings with a comfortable atmosphere. BioRACLE should serve as a low threshold space for student to ask for help regarding curriculum and assignments. As it is entirely run by students, it also gives the employed students (oracles) experience in conveying knowledge and acting as reviewers simultaneously as they learn by teaching others. Participating students gain extensive feedback on how to perform better academically, instead of a simple grade or “Approved”.
This project depends heavily on student involvement. The weekly meetings are run by students, all attenders are students, and everything is coordinated by students (with some help from bioCEED and the department).
The community consist of: Students/attenders, oracles, coordinators, and the Department.
The coordinators do most organizational work. Organizational work includes providing weekly oracle meetings with food and snacks, room-booking, scheduling what timeslots are most beneficial for attending students, hiring oracles, and ensuring contracts for oracles. Arguably the coordinators most important job is to post weekly reminders about the meetings on our Facebook-group. These reminders are often followed with biology related memes which seems to be a popular way of receiving a notice.
Oracles are divided into two types of oracles: oracle 1 and oracle 2. Both types of oracles work with arranging weekly in-person meetings for students. The meetings last for 3 hours, and the oracles are paid 3,5 hours because of preparation and cleaning. Preparation includes rearranging desks and chairs in a manner that allow for groups to work together, making waffles, brewing coffee, and generally creating an environment for students to work in. During the meetings the oracles answer questions from students regarding assignments, curriculum or just the study program in general. In addition to the in-person meetings, oracle 2 reviews assignments that are sent to us through email as well. Oracle 2 were paid 1 hour per assignment.
We organize the nine oracles into three teams. The different teams rotate on arranging the meetings, meaning that each oracle only works once every third week. At times we had higher demands due to popularity and hired 12 oracles (still divided in three teams).
It should be noted that reviewing assignments became increasingly popular (especially during the pandemic). One option to consider is to implement a third type of oracle, oracle 3, that solely work on reviewing assignments. However, this is all dependent on the budget, and bioORACLE have never tested this option.
The department needs to do little to no work. They need to provide a room that can be used 3 hours per week. They must provide money for salary and food/snacks. Lastly, the department can encourage lecturers to promote and cheer students to attend through lecture and classes.
As mentioned, we serve waffles, coffee, and snacks during the meetings. Therefore, basic kitchen equipment is needed to blend the waffle mix. Access to a coffee-brewer, water boiler, and waffle-maker is also a must. It is recommended to investigate stores that offer deals for organizations that buy supplies in bulks. In Norway, we recommend StorCash.
As waffle-makers require electricity, and since most students work on computers these days, buying 4-5 extension cords is necessary to ensure enough outlets for everyone.
The oracle-service should also make an email for contact and assignments and a Facebook-group.
And last but not least, you need a room that can be used for oracle meetings. This room should be the same every week, and even every semester to ensure continuity for students that want to attend.
The physical meetings should be held in time periods that fits the attending students. A clear insight into their calendars is therefore important. An overview like this can most likely be acquired from the study administration. No matter how hard one tries, biORACLE will always collide with some learning activities, therefore it is recommended that the in-person meetings are open one hour after regular lecture hours.
All oracles should have at least a crash course in pedagogy. It is important to learn the difference between giving away the answer and helping someone find it themselves. It is also very important to learn how to give constructive feedback in a polite manner. Oracles get training from bioCEED either as a separte seminar or as part of the bioCEED Teaching and Learning Assistants course.
It is important that oracles are seen as a supplement to course TAs or lab-assistants at the department. The oracles contracts have a limited amount of hours which should be prioritized for what they are meant for. In the cases of confusion or uncertainty regarding course curriculum or assignments, Oracles do not (and should not) have the final solution or answer but can encourage students to ask their lecturer about an explanation or clarification.
It is recommended to track statistics regarding attendance and No. of texts reviewed, as well as students feedback about biORAKEL. This can be used for knowledge exchange with other departments or universities, and to document the value of the project if the department happens to undergo budget cuts.
Oracle 2 was taken out of service in autumn 2022 due to budget cuts. Our assessment was that in-person meetings were closer to the overall aim with biORACLE than the review over email, and should therefore be economically prioritized if put up against each other.
All involved in biORACLE should receive a letter of recommendation describing the work and the skills and compentency development achieved.
NB! Social media 101:
DO NOT HAVE AN OPEN-FOR-ALL FACEBOOK GROUP. Facebook is after all a platform filled with bots and spam. When creating your group, make sure that it is free for all to ask for permission to join, and not free for all to join. You can also enable it in a way where selected members of the group can grant access to new members. These selected people can for instance be all the oracles. This makes it easier to verify if the new member is from the department or not since the coordinator can’t possibly know all students at the department. It is also recommended to have someone from the study administration in the facebook-group.
- Lars Martin Myhre
- Ragnhild Gya