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Biological knowledge is central to many disciplines. Increasing popularity in areas such as medicine and environmental science has led to an increase in enrolments in core biology subjects at some Australian universities. Within many institutions, biology is taught traditionally through lectures and practicals. Often it is a challenge for academics to engage and motivate students and to develop the skills in lifelong learning. To address this issue we modified the curriculum and assessment methodologies in two large biology subjects (up to 550 students) at the University of Wollongong. Our multi-faceted approach involved the addition of group work dependent on the context and sub-discipline, inquiry-based learning opportunities which were based on the real world and self-directed and peer-assisted learning and assessment including regular feedback. This approach increased student engagement and interest in lifelong learning in biology. To evaluate this approach, we used a combination of peer observations, paper-based student evaluations and focus group interviews. We found that through these innovations students were more motivated to learn and engage with biological content. Through group work students were better connected with others. Students communication skills also increased and the model of reflective practice enabled students to view interconnections in biology concepts which could be applied outside the discipline.