Dr Rosanne Quinnell

Affiliation: Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney


Biology Background: I have been teaching science in the higher education sector for over 20 years. My research background in biology is in endosymbiotic systems where the partnership is reliant on photosynthesis – symbiotic nitrogen fixation and coral-Symbiodinium associations. I view my research in science teaching and learning to be my main research focus.

Biomaths Background: From 2008 – 2009 I was the Learning and Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales. This fellowship gave me the opportunity to mentor those who were beginning to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning to improve classroom practices. It was during my time at the University of New South Wales that my collaboration with Rachel Thompson (medicine) Rebecca LeBard (molecular biology) and myself (plant science) was established. For several years now we have been trying to understand the so-called “maths problem” as it applies to students in science and medicine. We are using several theoretical frameworks to support our work exploring what sits behind statements like “I can’t do maths”. It seems that instead of maths being a “transferable skill”, the reality is that maths is more of a “transferable anxiety” and my estimate is that about 50% of my students lack confidence with using their numeracy skills in biology. This proportions seems in line with others and like many others, I have created online learning modules that have been shown to be effective in ‘consolidating’ new knowledge for those that used them. One of these modules was designed specifically to assist students with bench calculations when carrying out experiments in plant physiology (site now archived) but not all students used the online modules. For students whose thinking becomes ‘rigid’ when confronted with applying maths to their studies in biology (for whatever reason), the usefulness of sites that offer even more instruction on how to do the calculations seems limited. For these students instructions are not enough and focusing on motivation, relevance and/or confidence first is likely to encourage them to engage. I am also interested in differences in signature pedagogies across the sciences disciplines and am investigating whether students enrolled in professional degrees and generalists degrees approach their studies in biology differently.

Select publications:

Quinnell R, Thompson R, LeBard R. 2013. It’s not maths, it’s science science; exploring thinking dispositions, thresholds concepts and mindfulness in science learning. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology – special edition Quantitative Skills. 44 (6) DOI:10.1080/0020739X.2013.800598

Quinnell R, Thompson R, LeBard R. 2012. Academic Numeracy in Life Science Learning: Challenging Perceptions. Inaugural STEM Annual Conference 2012. The Higher Education Academy. United Kingdom. 12 Apr 2012 – 13 Apr 2012 Imperial College, London, UK. http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/stem-conference/BioSciences2/Rosanne_Quinnell.pdf

Quinnell R, May E, Peat M. 2012. Conceptions of Biology and Approaches to Learning of First Year Biology Students: Introducing a technique for tracking changes in learner profiles over time. International Journal of Science Education. 34:7 p 1053-1074

Quinnell R, Russell C, Thompson R, Marshall N, Cowley J. 2010. Evidence-based narratives to reconcile academic disciplines with the scholarship of teaching and learning. The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 10:3 p 20-30

Quinnell, R. & Thompson, R. 2010. Chapter 9: Conceptual Intersections: Re-viewing academic numeracy in the tertiary education sector as a threshold concept. In R. Land, J. H. F. Meyer, & C. Baillie, (Eds.), Threshold Concepts and transformational Learning. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. p 147 – 164

LeBard R, Thompson R, Micolich A, Quinnell R. 2009. Identifying learning issues for students working in the so-called ‘hard’ discipline of Science. National UniServe Science Conference: Motivating science undergraduates: Ideas and Interventions. The University of Sydney. Sydney 30 September – 2 October 2009 http://science.uniserve.edu.au/images/content/2009_papers/LeBard.pdf

Quinnell R, Wong E. Using intervention strategies to engage tertiary biology students in their development of numeric skills. Teaching and Learning Research including Threshold Concepts Sep 28-29; Sydney. The University of Sydney, Sydney (AU): Uniserve Science; 2007. p. 70-74. http://science.uniserve.edu.au/pubs/procs/2007/16.pdf

Quinnell R, May, E.L, Lloyd, HE. 2004. A comparison of student usage of traditional vs ICT learning resources in the Life Sciences. Proceedings of the Uniserve Science Conference 2004: Scholarly Inquiry into Science Teaching and Learning Symposium. p. 80 – 84

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