Dr Kay Colthorpe

Scientific reasoning and critical thinking

To succeed in the 21st century workforce, graduates need to be able to deal effectively with complex, unstructured, novel problems using rigorous evidence-based reasoning and critical thinking skills. In science this includes developing both a deep understanding of the scientific process, and the ability to articulate why scientific knowledge is both contestable and testable through inquiry. In order to aid the development of those skills, we are creating evidence-based learning and assessment tasks that give students specific opportunities to practice and cultivate their scientific reasoning and critical thinking skills. Importantly, our research focus is on gathering evidence of the development of scientific reasoning and critical thinking skills by characterising the variation and measuring the quality of critical thinking taking place as students engage with inquiry-based learning and assessment tasks.

Staff:  Kirsten Zimbardi, Lesley Lluka, Andrea Bugarcic (IMB)

Current projects:  

1. An evaluation of blended inquiry-based learning in an authentic environment.

2. An analysis of the scientific arguments presented in oral presentations by undergraduate biomedical science students.


Learning how to understand, adapt and flourish in the 21st century is a critical competence for all people. As scientific knowledge increases with often overwhelming complexity, development of life-long learning skills is an imperative for our students to excel in a global society. A key element is for students to develop meta-learning capacities and skills, whereby students are ‘aware of and take control of their own learning’. Our aim is to foster students to develop as more strategic, self-regulated and reflective learners. We are currently developing, implementing and evaluating meta-learning activities within biomedical science courses to direct such student learning.

Staff:  Louise Ainscough, Kirsten Zimbardi, Stephen Anderson

Current projects: Development and evaluation of meta-learning assessment tasks for Pharmacy students.

Assessment and feedback

Assessment plays a number of roles in university, while its primarily used for grading students, it is also important in both encouraging learning and enhancing students’ ability to judge their own performance. It is in these latter roles that providing feedback to students is vital, but evaluating the actual extent to which students engage with and utilise feedback can be difficult. We recently developed a ‘multi-modal’ marking system, to aid provision of timely, detailed and situated feedback, with in-built learning analytics to track marker and student interactions with that feedback, and are using this system to evaluate strategies for effective feedback provision. In addition, we have a strong focus on creating effective and equitable methods to assess the development of scientific and research skills of students, particularly within large cohorts.

Staff:  Kirsten Zimbardi, Lesley Lluka, Andrea Bugarcic (IMB), Prasad Chunduri, Phil Long (CEIT), Andrew Dekker (ITEE)

Current projects: UQMarkUp: Effective feedback and consistent assessment in diverse settings with e-learning enabled ‘in situ’ multi-modal commenting.

Undergraduate research experiences and inquiry-based learning

In 2007, a review of BSc program at the UQ led to recommendations for a revised curriculum which actively engages students in research-like and inquiry-based experiences throughout their entire undergraduate degree. To achieve this goal, during 2008-2010, we designed and implemented a series of vertically-integrated inquiry-based classes in courses for all three years of the new Biomedical Science major. These practical curricula were designed so that students would work with increasing autonomy and ownership of their research projects, to develop increasingly advanced skills in scientific investigation and communication. Currently, we are undertaking ongoing evaluation of the curricula at UQ and are working to promote and develop links between inquiry-based experiences within Biomedical Science and across the science curriculum.

Staff:  Kirsten Zimbardi, Judit Kibedi, Andrea Bugarcic (IMB)

Current projects:

1. An evaluation of blended inquiry-based learning in an authentic environment.

2. ‘Inquiring Minds – the impact of developing, implementing and evaluating inquiry-based curricula on coordinators, tutors and students in the sciences’ supported by a UQ Teaching and Learning Fellowship 2012.

3. ‘Developing and resourcing academics to help students conduct and communicate undergraduate research on a large scale’ with Susan Rowland, Gwen Lawrie, Jack Wang (SCMB), Paula Myatt (TEDI), supported by an OLT Leadership Grant 2012-2014. 

4. Technology Enhanced Learning Grant – Signature Project

“CLIPS: Communication Learning In Practice for Scientists”

Dr Susan Rowland, A/Prof. Joan Leach, Dr Kay Colthorpe, Dr Louise Kuchel

Strong communication skills are key graduate attributes. Incoming UQ students have diverse communication abilities (ranging from very weak to very strong) but in science, large classes make it difficult to use in-person feedback and mentoring to remediate, support, and further develop students’ skills. This project, CLIPS (Communication Learning in Practice for Scientists), will develop online modules that allow students to interactively learn, revise, and master core components of science-focused communication. CLIPS will host annotated examples of work, academic-provided explanations of “how to” do communication tasks, and explanations of what we look for when we mark student work. Students will be able to practice marking exemplar pieces and compare their marking to that of an expert – they can use CLIPS to develop a robust understanding of expected standards. To develop CLIPS we will engage and support significant numbers of UQ science academics to share practice and specifically articulate their assessment expectations around key science communication activities. CLIPS will also have a “back end” for academics that contains communal resources. It will provide a simple way for academics to support large-numbers of students in an equitable, consistent, and efficient manner. It should also reduce student stress and uncertainty around assessment, while providing a sustainable mechanism to improve communication skills in our science graduates.

Funded $406,951.75