Blog 5. Designing academic writing tasks/Maaria

My writing task was as follows:

COURSE EXERCISE: Primer design with Primer3 and Oligo Calc

  1. Choose the gene sequence you want to design primers for from GenBank (
  2. Save your sequence in FASTA-format in Word or Notepad.

……….After this there are more detailed information in 13 separate steps how the task is done.……

………Then finally, some instructions of how to report the findings.………………

  • Give the information for your selected primer pair with the gene sequence showing the primer locations in your course practical summary.
  • Report whether you got the same species from the Blast search as what you used to design the primers originally.


  • Genre: are the genre expectations (e.g. structure, style) clear to you and your students?

Yes, I think so. Presentation (45 min) given before the exercises also ensures this.

  • Purpose: what should the student achieve through the writing (content, format, reflection)?

They should show that they have been able to achieve the wanted results.

  • Audience: who is the student writing for?

Student is writing to her/himself and also for me as a teacher to check the report.

  • Models: what concrete models can you offer the student to scaffold their progress? What process support do you offer?

Lecture with power point presentation before the practical gives the detailed information how to carry out the practical and also how to report it. Me, teacher was available at the computer class to help the students during the exercises and there was also time to write the report.

  • Schedules: stages, deadline?

Deadline was after one week from the task so those working more slowly were able to finish the report also after the exercise.

  • Format: length, formatting style, citation and referencing style, file format?

Max. one A4 and no specific requirements for the style; file format word file/pdf.

  • Resources: how much text are you able to read and give feedback on?

This was only one A4 from about 20 students so there were no problems.

My reflections about culture/Maaria

I was thinking that culture and phenomena connected to it could be though as a fortress (see the figure). To be able to have “an insight view” one needs to get in. The first obstacle is language – it would be the moat surrounding the fortress – if people don’t have a common language is it pretty difficult to communicate and get any ideas about the culture. If one has a common language then one can still ram to the wall which would be habits, manners and routines people have in different cultures. One may do totally wrong things in foreign cultures – be impolite or even rude and not even know about it. The last obstacle (house (home) inside the walls) would be personal (individual) features each of us has. Some people are easier to be approached by than others – they are more open-minded etc. But then, finally, when one have passed all the barriers one can start enjoying the new culture….

But are there any “shortcuts” available – so that one wouldn’t need to go through all the steps..?? Any ideas?


Examples of teaching practices, language problems by Maaria

“Outline some examples of the teaching practices or methods you commonly use in your EMI teaching. What demands do you think they put on the student and on you from a languages perspective?”

I am teaching in the “Evolutionary genetics study methods” course. This course is organized yearly for Master’s level students but it also attracts several exchange students in Ecology and Evolution (who may have quite variable backgrounds) as there are not that many courses taught in English at the department. This course is organized in 5 different modules each concentrating on one subject which is always handled during one week including one introductory lecture (90 min) and then two computer exercises each with 4 x 45 minutes. Introductory lecture presents the background for each of the subjects and then in the exercises students learn how to use e.g. different types of databases in practice. This year I was only teaching in one of the modules.

I my module students got detailed instructions of about 4 pages long with questions to be answered. I know it may sound or look like a children’s coloring book but I have noticed that unfortunately students don’t read the instructions very carefully if there is lots of text and tasks for them to do. Hence I had color coded some of the most important tasks of the instructions as follows:

The students had to finish all the tasks during the exercises and/or as homework. I had organized the questions so that they did all the different types of practices during the class (when they have help) and then the homework was just repeating the same things. Extras were for those who wanted to learn more and they will also “brought a plus” for the grade (I mentioned this in the beginning of class). Students wrote their answers together with figures, tables or any other extra information they wanted to have in their electronic computer notebook (a word file) which was then returned to me for evaluation. The idea was that the students write the notebook for themselves and can then make it more attractive if they e.g. during they Master’s thesis need these skills again but have then already forgot how use them.

The most challenging thing in this course from a languages perspective is that the vocabulary is very specific and many students may have never used or heard the words before. All the compulsory courses they need to do before this course are held in Finnish. Also the exchange students may have very limited background knowledge. Another thing is that the students have very different skills – some may have hardly used any computer programs and some are more professional which also effects the communication.

To overcome the problems at least partly I had written the instructions as detailed as possible and also used as “common language” as possible. We also have a Finnish-English dictionary in Optima in addition to other course material including the links to earlier (basic) lectures and some background reading. Students also need to fill an electronic diary for each course model and in there they still have a possibility to ask some specific questions from the teacher.

Figure describing the content of EMI/Maaria

Like discussed in the last TACE meeting I also think that the shape of triangle may not be the best possible for presenting “English media instructions” as it inevitable gives an impression of some kind of hierarchy between the different terms. Also, one could add few terms into the figure to make it more informative and I also feel that not all the terms are “at the same level”. Hence, I was trying to show some of the connections between the terms by using a Venn diagram.

The main terms would be people, institutions and pedagogy and all of these have content as a common term. Then, people and institutions would have culture, people and pedagogy language and pedagogy and institutions policy in common.

Our group discussed also during the last meeting that one thing missing from the figure is the range of the experience of the students attending the class as it effects greatly how the teaching is carried out. In my own teaching all the students are biologist and hence appear to be a homogeneous group. However, for example bioinformatics which is a research area combining biological and computer science, is sometimes pretty challenging to teach as many biologists find it either boring, too challenging or unnecessary for their studies. The main difficulty then is to keep the content of teaching interesting enough for everybody but also challenging enough for those who really want to learn in more deeply. Surely, our own experience as teachers also effects greatly how we behave in the class so now I think that “experience” as such, is difficult to add to the figure but could be part of people but also pedagogy in a way we use different methods and practices.

Use of technology in my teaching

I am teaching in bioinformatic and genetic laboratory & computer courses with my colleagues. We have been mainly using Optima for saving the study materials like lecture slides, course instructions and supporting material (articles for background reading). In addition, we also have returning boxes for individual assignments, English-Finnish translations for the most important terms used in the course, interactive learning diary, guidelines for course grades and the link for the course feedback in Korppi. In the diary students will wrote a short description (few lines) of their feelings from each course time and they can also ask if something was not clear in the course. Teacher can then explain it once more in the diary or agree to do that in the next course time if there are several students asking about the same thing.

In the bioinformatics computer courses we are using several different databases in the Internet to search for specific information. Here I am also using YouTube videos which give detailed instructions on how e.g. to use a certain database. There are also written instructions available but videos will show each of the different steps needed and hence provide a fast way for students to learn new skills.

I haven’t yet familiarized myself to Moodle but will start using it after Optima is no more used in Jyväskylä.