Biology students described as “guinea pigs” in course changes

Biology students have not been happy with the way the department’s new first year course has been structured. Photo: University of York

Biology students have not been happy with the way the department’s new first year course has been structured. Photo: University of York

First-year Biology students have criticised the way the new Biology course has been set up, with the majority of the module being examined in the space of four days.

Students have complained at the overload and concentration of work in a small period of time. In some of the exams 90 per cent of the module is being tested in one go, and with six exams over the space of four days, students have voiced their concerns.

In addition, two practicals are due in on the first day of exams but with only one being actually marked.

One first-year student criticised the Department’s lack of flexibility regarding the deadline for practicals coinciding with the first exam.

“Everyone in the first year is furious and although we have gone through the correct channels to ask for an extension, through our course reps with everyone supporting them, it was refused because there’s an issue with University policy because of the new modularisation of courses.

“It would make far more sense to be doing this after the exams as far as we, and actually most of the staff we’ve spoken too, are concerned.”

This is the first year of the new course structure for many Departments, including Biology, and students have expressed concern over the way it has been structured and feel that the Department have made a mistake in the construction of the course.

“Unfortunately for our year it is a work in progress and we are kind of the guinea pigs“
Tom Smallwood
First year biology course rep.

Tom Smallwood, one of the first-year course representatives, commenting on the new course, said: “Unfortunately for our year it is a work in progress and we are kind of the guinea pigs.

“The arrangement with the exams and deadlines is already being looked at [for next year] and how this term can be improved for next year,” adding that “we don’t want to face the same problems ourselves.”

The first-year student continued, describing the struggle she has been facing to revise and complete the assignments at the same time commenting that: “Obviously we knew we’d have to work hard at university, especially with the subject that we all chose, but this just seems a little ridiculous.

“There’s nothing we can do now that the extension has been refused apart from try and get them and our revision done on time, but maybe next year first years won’t get the same problem.”

Calvin Dytham, the Chair of the Biology Board of Studies, commented that: “We think it’s too early to tell how the first year of the new programme has gone.  We’ve heard from our supervisees and through the course reps that there is a lot of anxiety about the upcoming exam period.

“We appreciate that having several exams in one week can be stressful and we are considering the exams timetable for next year, we may request that exams for stage 1 are moved to week 7 or to spread them through weeks 6 and 7 to give more time for revision.”

Alice Garcia-Melgares, the second year Biology course representative, added that: “They don’t really know what they are doing and it has affected our work and our degree.

“To hand the practicals in on the day of a exam is ridiculous, they should have postponed it.”

But in an email to Biology students, Dytham and Richard Waites, the Associate Chair of the Board of Studies, reassured students taking the exams by stating: “We are expecting very few students to need to re-sit any exams.

“The stage one exams give you a good benchmark of your progress in your first year of university and they are very useful additions to your CV for students wanting to go on a year-away schemes, but remember that they do not contribute anything to your final degree.”

Ben Humphrys, YUSU Academic Affairs Officer, told Nouse: “Whilst heavily bunched assessments aren’t new to York the new modular scheme was intended to address them, not make them worse. We can deal with these issues for the future, but only if departmental representatives are working together with us to deliver that change.”