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Reading Reflections

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1.     Identify and describe one of your courses that will serve as your “project course” for the work you do at the Institute.  


The “Phage Genomics” course that I teach will serve as my project course. In this course, 16 first year students carry out their own novel research projects and engage actively to learn current laboratory techniques in the fields of microbiology and genomics. One of my primary learning goals in this course is to help students cultivate an intrinsic curiosity that promotes autonomous learning and the willingness to take intellectual risks. I believe that the excitement about conducting their own research project greatly increases their motivation to learn. The active research component of my course is integrated with group activities and assignments that teach scientific content while simultaneously teaching students a variety of personal, interpersonal, and learning skills that are essential to good science. These include the ability to construct knowledge, to question and to think critically, to have courage and persist in the face of challenging problems, to communicate ideas/results clearly, and to develop some degree of self-awareness, openness, and the kind of interpersonal effectiveness that enhances the development of individual learners who work well within a research team.  


All reading assignments and learning activities are designed to build the cumulative skills and knowledge needed to write a scientific manuscript. Science content and learning skills are divided into 7or 8 sections. Each section involves a reading assignment that students complete out of the classroom. We begin with less complex textbook material and gradually shift to peer-review journal articles. In class, students work in small groups to carry out written activities designed to help them integrate information from a reading assignment with concepts from their research projects, and to apply their new knowledge to problems. Activities are also designed to help students develop reading and writing skills. Each activity builds on content and skills learned in previous assignments. Activities in the second half of the course are geared toward the steps needed to write each section of the scientific manuscript: organizing data in figures and tables, analyzing data, and looking for relationships between the data and the literature. Each activity begins with a specific exercise. One example is creating a thinking map to organize information and make connections between concepts. This helps students structure a piece of writing. All activities are completed in groups but submitted by individuals to me for educative feedback. Writing assignments are submitted to me with feedback from two peers and the author’s response to peer feedback. 


The scientific manuscript serves as a final assessment of students’ ability to conduct independent research, to analyze data, to understand how their data relates to what is already known within that field, and to communicate their results in a written format.  


These in-class activities are followed by weekly multi-purpose reflection assignments. Reflections help students heighten awareness of what they have learned, how they have learned it, and how concepts are interrelated. Written reflections also offer an opportunity to celebrate successes, to identify weaknesses and struggles, and to ask questions. I discovered that it was also an opportunity for me to better understand what students are experiencing in class and to offer positive feedback that normalizes their experience in the classroom.  


2.     What constraints influence how you teach this course?  (e.g., large class size, laboratory format, non-majors)  


Students are members of the Honors College at the University of Maine. While they are capable students, their learning skills, laboratory skills and personal development vary greatly.  


I am also concerned about retaining students in the first week or two of the class. Students typically suffer from the imposter syndrome and anxiety builds as soon as they realize they will be carrying out very challenging tasks in my course. I like to invite previous students to come in and talk about their experience as a way to let incoming students know that they are not expected to know how to do any of these tasks yet.  


The workload and time commitment for this course are greater than that of other courses. This is in addition to the rigorous curriculum of the Honors College.  


3.     What do you hope the students will learn in your course? 


The learning goals for my course are fairly lengthy. Here is a paired down version.  


1.     Learn the basic concepts of bacteriology, phage biology and molecular biology.  

2.     Develop basic research skills, such as carrying out laboratory techniques and maintaining a laboratory notebook. 

3.     Be able to apply past knowledge to new situations or problems. 

4.     Be able to locate and obtain relevant journal articles. 

5.     Be able to critically read peer-reviewed journal articles and apply critical thinking. 

6.     Be able to persist in the face of challenge/failure. 

7.     Be able to generate a plan or strategy before tackling a task/problem. 

8.     Strive for accuracy and maximum effort. 

9.     Be able to pose questions about content that demonstrates a deeper understanding. 

10.Demonstrate openness to alternative strategies, alternative ideas and to new information. 

11.Be able to work effectively and collaboratively within a group. 

12.Be able to communicate with clarity and precision research findings and how they relate to the current knowledge of the field in the form of a scientific manuscript. 



4.     How do you determine whether students have achieved the learning you describe in question #3? 


Many of the learning goals I assessed via the written activities, reflection assignments and the final manuscript. I assessed laboratory skills by observing and interacting with students carrying out experiments. I also consistently evaluate their laboratory notebooks and look for improvement overtime in response to my feedback. Their writing skills are developed via activities linked to writing assignments. I provide students with feedback on these activities that they can apply to their final manuscript. Some of the activities require obtaining journal articles that are relevant to their writing topic. Their ability to understand these articles and relate it to their own findings is assessed in the manuscript. Many of the other learning goals are thinking and learning behaviors, which I assess via reflection and activity assignments or via observations of behavior in the classroom. 


5.     Provide a list of 3–4 specific assessment strategies you are most interested in exploring during the Assessment Institute? 


I think that my course design gives students the opportunity to learn and practice many of these learning goals and behaviors. I do not; however have a very systematic way of measuringthese outcomes. I would like to explore assessment strategies for measuring students’ ability to demonstrate these desired thinking and learning behaviors. This would require developing a rubric or a list of indicators for each of these desired behaviors. A list of indicators would not only aid my assessment of these behaviors but would also help students target these specific behaviors.  I am interested in trying to keep a journal or notebook that documents behaviors that I observe in class discussions, journal club, lab meetings, or group activities. I would also like to use Activity assignments but in particular, Reflection assignments, to assess learning and thinking behaviors. 


Last year, much of my assessment was in the form of written Activities. These are completed in groups but handed in individually. The Activities are graded based on correct answers but a bigger emphasis is placed on effort and teamwork. Activities usually include some information gathering questions followed by a question, problem or task that requires application of the gathered information. Because some of these questions were very difficult, I emphasized that the grading was based on effort to encourage students to try answering these questions, and risk making mistakes; which they could later correct.  This worked for some students but others didn’t worry about making mistakes, didn’t appear to make much of an effort and were not interested in correcting mistakes. I need to develop a more objective method for assessing the student’s ability to construct knowledge and to demonstrate specific learning behaviors. These expectations need to be clear to the student. 


I would also like to refine assessment of student communication through writing of their final manuscript and in their Activities linked with writing assignments.  

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RE: the written activities
Do you have much trouble with student complaining that their teammates are either not working or not competent? I have this problem in with my students.
Posted 11:27, 7 Jun 2013
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