UiB biologists awarded SFU status

The bioCEED programme at UiB’s Department of Biology has been named one of three new Centres of Excellence in Higher Education (SFU) in Norway.

Biology student Thomas Østerhus hunting for tiny creatures in the water during a field course at UiB’s Department of Biology.
PRACTICAL EDUCATION: Biology student Thomas Østerhus hunting for tiny creatures in the water during a field course at UiB’s Department of Biology. With bioCEED’s SFU status the practical dimension of studies at the department will be enhanced. This is a photomontage.
Victoria Fløgum

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On Friday 8 November, researchers from the Department of Biology learned that their application for SFU status for bioCEED (Centre of Excellence in Biology Education) was successful. The announcement was made at a conference in Oslo, where the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) celebrated its tenth anniversary.

“This is wonderful news and gives us an added opportunity to improve our levels of education further,” says Professor Vigdis Vandvik and the coordinator of bioCEED’s SFU application. “Also, it is a great honour for us to be awarded status as a Centre of Excellence in Higher Education.”

The leadership at the University of Bergen (UiB) is heavily invested in the work to enhance learning at the institution and is excited about bioCEED’s new SFU status.

“bioCEED’s SFU status is most deserved and great news for UiB as an educational institution. This is not only important for the biology academic community, but for all of us at UiB,” says Professor Oddrun Samdal, UiB’s Vice-Rector for Education. “We wish to use the opportunity bioCEED's SFU status gives us to focus on how to build a good learning culture. Not only for our students, but also amongst our educators.”

Tough competition

A total of 24 higher education environments applied for SFU in 2013. NOKUT picked eight finalists, which all received visits from the agency in the run-up to the annual meeting. Competition was tough before bioCEED was chosen as one of the three winners, who will each receive a NOK 3 million annual grant for the next five years.

“We view this as an encouragement for our long-term and goal-orientated work, both at our department and our partners in education,” says Vandvik referring to the department’s extensive collaborations with the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), the Institute of Marine Research and UiB’s Department of Education.

According to Vandvik the SFU application was also a natural extension of the Department of Biology’s strategy for 2011–2015. The bioCEED project also fits hand in glove with UiB’s overall objectives for the same period.

“The SFU supports the university’s goals for research-based education. bioCEED makes use of the natural interaction found in most research and applies this to its educational model to create a good collaborative environment for the lecturers,” says Vice-Rector Samdal.

Reaching out to society

The basis for the bioCEED application is to get biologists involved in creating solutions to the major global challenges in food production, the environment and climate change. Vandvik believes that this requires solutions founded in biology. The fact that biologists learn practical skills as part of their education is also of great value to both the public and private sector. bioCEED is all about a practical approach to education.

“When you begin studying biology, you know very well what you are to study, but not necessarily what you will become in the future. This is why we want to bring in those who hire future biologists at an early stage. We want our students to have practical experience, starting as early as the first semester,” Vandvik explains.

Smells like team spirit

Vandvik and her colleagues have created a strong team spirit, where new technology and unconventional methods of teaching are integrated into the education.

“Our mode of communication has changed radically in both our private lives and work lives. This also needs to be reflected in the tools we use in education and research,” the biology professor believes. “At the same time one needs to be cautious in order for the use of new technology to benefit learning and professional development. Social media or online education must not be introduced just for the sake of it, but need a proper purpose.”

She points out that new technology not only changes the dynamics between student and teacher, but will also be an important tool in creating a collaborative environment between lecturers.

“We already experiment a lot in our education at the department, but this is often initiated by individuals. The SFU gives us extra funding to test new initiatives in our education and to create better structures for sharing our experiences,” says Vigdis Vandvik. “We want to improve our education across the spectrum. Good education should not solely be based on the initiative of individuals, but should be a joint effort.”

Vice-rector Samdal agrees.

“A joint effort and cooperation between teachers improve education quality. It creates a good learning culture when there are natural arenas for sharing knowledge,” she believes.

SFU as a driving force

Vice-rector Samdal hopes that bioCEED’s SFU status will also serve as a driving force for other UiB environments to innovate more in their teaching.

“The fact that the bioCEED application included a partnership with the university-pedagogical unit and UiB's Department of Education gives me hope that the SFU status will not only strengthen the Department of Biology but also the educational standard across all of UiB. We need to take advantage of bioCEED’s work from the very beginning,” says Samdal, who believes that ideas and experiences of a good learning culture can be shared and integrated across all faculties and departments at UiB. “This can help us create a good learning culture and cooperation on teaching at all levels of UiB.”

She puts particular emphasis on educational management and the sharing of experience.

“This is in line with the UiB leadership’s priorities on educational quality. Educational management puts someone in charge of facilitating cooperation and collaboration between lecturers teaching in similar subjects. We view this SFU as a key engine to improve and develop educational standards at UiB,” says Vice-Rector Oddrun Samdal.