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Summary of Teaching Responsibilities for Jay Hosler

Data summarized from Spring 2009-Spring 2011

Course Name


Enrollment per year

Type of Students

Biology II


BI 106


Biology (90%)

Social Sciences (8%)

Humanities (2%)

Sensory Biology


A non-majors course

BI 142


Social Sciences (63%)

Biology (12%)

Humanities (9%)

Non-degree (16%)

Biology Freshmen Seminar


BI 189


Biology (100%)



BI 339


Biology (85%)

Social Sciences (15%)

Invertebrate Biology

Lecture & Lab

BI 350


Biology (100%)

Animal Behavior

Lecture & Lab

BI 399


Biology (100%)



BI 450


Biology (95%)

Social Sciences (5%)


Teaching Challenge.

Over the last two years, I have taken a number of steps to understand how to assess learning outcomes and use that information. Of these, two steps in particular have proven very fruitful; the assessment of a comic book textbook I created and building a course portfolio. Both have provided me with insights into my own expectations for students as well as giving me a sense of what does and does not work in class. I will start with a broad discussion of my portfolio and conclude with the more specific results from my assessment of the comic.

Writing a course portfolio based on the model outlined by Daniel Bernstein, et al in Making Teaching and Learning Visible: Course Portfolios and the Peer Review of Teaching has given me an opportunity to examine what I do and why I do it. My portfolio focused on my Animal Behavior course, which is representative of all of my courses with respect the pedagogies employed and the assessments used.  There are a number of ways I attempt to assess students over the course of a semester. Each class starts with a daily 5-point short-answer quiz over the material from the previous lecture.  This gives students the opportunity to practice their written explanations.  They get the quizzes back the next day, so they get frequent feedback before the first test.  After the quiz, I may lecture or start an in-class case study. If the former, I punctuate my lectures with Quick Questions that students take 1-2 minutes to answer. I use these question to have students a) summarize the major points of what I have just talked about, b) analyze a graph from the their text and/or c) apply the information we have been discussing to solve a problem.

When we use a case study, it is generally an interrupted case that allows me to gradually give them pieces of the puzzle as they work with their colleagues to decipher data and design experiments. The ability to design experiments is especially important when the class also has a lab component. I try to base my laboratory courses around collaborative experimental design so that students develop a sense of the struggles of doing well-designed experiments.

Student writing in my course takes three basic forms: the traditional laboratory report, a popular science article reporting recent findings from the literature in layman terms and a science comic in which students must write and draw a short comic story aimed at explaining a biological concept to middle school students.  Each exercise is designed to train students to think about explanations geared to different audiences, distill complex ideas down to the essence and put those ideas in their own words (and pictures in the case of the comic).

As part of my portfolio process, I have collected all of the student work from Animal Behavior.  My hypothesis is that that the frequent writing for different audiences leads to a general improvement of their ability to write articulate explanations of basic concepts in Animal Behavior by the end of the semester. Although the analysis is not yet complete, the process of making the portfolio and collecting data has provided me with some essential insights. First and foremost, as I was writing my goals I discovered that I often had no clear learning objectives in place to help students reach that goal.  For example, the third objective was for the course for students to ”understand the relevance of animal behavior, both as a biologist and a human being.” Unfortunately, I had no activities in place to help students achieve this. My solution was to take time during lab every Tuesday to find and discuss articles relevant to animal behavior in the New York Times Science Times (the NYT is free for students on our campus). 

The assessment of the effectiveness of teaching with comics has provided me with more focused experience in measuring student learning.  Optical Allusions is a comic book textbook I wrote that uses biological themes about vision and evolution as scaffolding for the comic book story.  The comic book was designed for a non–majors Sensory Biology course and was used during the section of the course that focuses on vision and evolution. Interleaved with the comic stories are fully illustrated, traditional text pieces that provide students and instructors with a more in-depth exploration of the biology introduced in the immediately proceeding comic story. 

The students in four classes completed identical pre- and post-instruction assessment instruments; the pre-instruction instruments were administered at the start of the semester and the post-instruction instruments were administered two weeks after the completion of the unit on eyes and evolution.  At both time points, I used the Biology Attitude Scale (Russell and Hollander, 1975) to measure student opinions of biology and a modified version of that scale to assess their attitudes about comics. In addition, I used the same content-based assessment tool to assess what students knew about the material before and after using the book.

The results from this work indicate that the comic was most effective for non-science majors and majors with weaker initial content knowledge. Students in all classes showed a significant improvement in their content knowledge between the pre- and post-test. However,  two groups, 1) non-majors and 2) majors scoring below the medianon the content test showed statistically significant improvement in their opinions of biology and comics after using the book.  There was no change in the opinions of majors scoring above the median on the content test because their opinions were generally very high to begin with, thus the lack of change was probably due to a ceiling effect.

When I consider the non-majors on a student-by-student basis, I found that the change in the opinion of biology was correlated with their change in the opinion of comics. Although this is obviously not a causal link, it does suggest that comics play a role in shaping the opinion and perhaps in turn, their willingness to engage and enjoy the material. My experience in the no-majors course I teach is that these students are quite capable but often convinced they cannot “do” science. As a consequence, they often enter the class with great trepidation and anxiety and that only exacerbates their fatalistic outlook. I believe that the comics can play role in alleviating that stress and helping students develop the basic science literacy skills needed to engage with the material more fully. This hypothesis has become the focus of my current SoTL research and developing studies to assess the validity of this hypothesis in an unbiased and robust way is my goal. Consequently, learning more about different methodologies and strategies to evaluate student learning becomes an integral factor in my professional development and that is my major motivation for applying to the BioScholars program.

Professional goals.

The last two years have been an exciting time for the dovetailing of many of my professional interests. Six years ago I received an NSF Course Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement grant to develop a comic book textbook for my non-majors Sensory Biology class. An important component of that grant was assessment. Although at that time I had been teaching at Juniata College for five years and making educational comics for seven, I was a novice when it came to assessing the effectiveness of my work. The NSF grant led me to take my first, unsteady steps into the scholarship of teaching and learning.  Over the last six years that path has led me to a position on the board of Juniata College’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Center and next year I will become the Center’s director.

Through the Juniata College Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Center I have had the opportunity to refine my understanding of the execution and evaluation of scholarly teaching. The center hosts a bimonthly series of teaching seminars called Brown-Bag Lunches in which faculty can discuss various aspects of teaching and assessment. These seminars routinely draw 20-30 faculty and over the course of the last two years over 60% of the faculty have attended at least one. The Brown Bags are also used occasionally to mentor faculty developing SoTL projects.  By the time the Center had been established I was already assessing the use of comics to teach biology as a part of an NSF-funded project.  I do not doubt that the process of designing my experiment would have been much more efficient had I had the benefit of the insights from my colleagues.  I have mentoring session already scheduled for the end of February as I prepare for the next phase of my research.

The SoTL Center has also established a portfolio learning community that focuses on faculty teaching development. Over the last two years, I have been part of a group that has been reading about and developing course portfolios. The book Making Teaching and Learning Visible: Course Portfolios and the Peer Review of Teaching by Daniel Bernstein, et al provided the framework for our discussions and work. My portfolio focuses on an Animal Behavior course that I am teaching for the first time.  The course portfolio process involves writing a series of memos that will act as planning document for the course.

The portfolio memos force you to consider what the course is, the student constituency, the goals and the learning objectives associated with those goals. The entire process has been an eye-opening experience. The great benefit for me was seeing how what I hoped to accomplish aligned with what I actually did. Often times, I had a goal but no deliberate mechanism to attain it. This preparation (and the adjustment of goals and objectives) made me feel more confident in my execution of a course for the first time than I ever had before. The experience was so valuable for many of us in the portfolio group, that Juniata hosted Daniel Bernstein for our 2010-2011 faculty conference to share the idea of course portfolios with the entire faculty. The experience energized an already active discussion on campus.

My pre-existing interest in assessment, in addition to my positive experience with the SoTL Center, motivated me to apply to the Center’s rotating board of directors.  I am currently the director-designate and during the 2011-2012 school year I will rotate into the director position I am very excited about the opportunities the center provides our faculty.  We serve two constituencies. The first, and largest, are faculty that are dedicated to excellent teaching but not interested in doing SoTL research.  For these folks the Brown Bag seminars function as place to learn about best practices and to share their own experience and insight.

The second constituency is composed of faculty who are also interested in excellent teaching but want to contribute to their field by planning, executing and publishing SoTL research. For this group, assessment strategies become a key component for which few have been formally trained or have expertise. 

In addition to the Brown Bags, the Juniata College SoTL Center provides a number of learning opportunities for teachers. We have learning communities that focus on 1) portfolio development, 2) supporting young untenured faculty and 3) supporting faculty in finding and competing for extramural research funding. Our SoTL center facilitates SoTL projects by providing support and guidance for experimental design as well as summer funding opportunities. I received a summer grant in 2010 to develop materials for my work with educational comics.

Since my selection to the Juniata College SoTL Center board, I have also been attempting to expand my professional development in SoTL. In the fall of 2010 I was selected to be a Teagle Scholar by the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College and this spring I will be attending the SoTL Commons meeting at Georgia Southern University to participate in the presentation of the faculty-driven model of our SoTL Center. My hope is that with through these activities and a residency with the BioScholar Assessment program, I will be able to bring a broader understanding of assessment to my own research area as well as serve as a resource to our campus community which, in turn, will broaden the impact I can have with students and colleagues alike.



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