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Reading Reflections

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  • Identify and describe one of your courses that will serve as your “project course” for the work you do at the Institute. 
    • Cell and Molecular Biology (fondly known as "Cell Hell") is the course Lee Abrahamson and I are working on at the Institute. This is the second in a sequence of three core courses for the Biology major at Bates, and is also taken for majors Biological Chemistry and Neuroscience. Students who major in other disciplines and are pre-health (medical/vet/nursing etc.) also take this course.
    • This is a survey course that covers basic cell biology and molecular information, and lays the foundation for taking upper-level classes in the life science majors.
    • The associated laboratory is intended to expand upon topics covered in lecture and introduce the students to basic lab skills used in cell and molecular labs (pipetting, lab math, spectrophotometry, etc). The lab exercises are a mix of one-week experiments and multi-week experiments. Students work in groups of 2-3. There is an big emphasis on journal-style scientific writing in the lab portion of the class.
    • For the multi-week lab exercises, we incorporate an element of experimental design for the students. They decide what parameters they want to test in a particular experiment (for example, measuring the amylase enzyme activity under different conditions). Again, this is intended to connect to these concepts covered in lecture.
  • What constraints influence how you teach this course?  (e.g., large class size, laboratory format, non-majors) 
    • This is a large class for Bates, averaging about 100 students in two sections of about 50 students each taught back-to-back. The size has an impact on how much small group work we can do in lecture time.
    • Bates semesters are short, 12 weeks long. Students are usually taking Organic Chemistry at the same time, and sometimes also taking Physics and Math courses. Because these courses take considerable time outside of class, the students have to manage their time effectively. Therefore, we constantly hear that they don't have enough time to do some of the work.
    • Because the semester is short, we constantly have to balance the breadth of the material we need to cover with covering topics in some depth.
    • There is a broad spectrum of abilities in the student group. Some students are very well-prepared and strong in writing, study, and math skills. Others are extremely weak in these skills, and we struggle to help them "catch up" while covering the course material. We have been extremely concerned about capturing and retaining this cohort of students.
  • What do you hope the students will learn in your course?
    • Basic information about cells and molecular biology (cell structure, macromolecule composition and regulation, structure/function relationships, some basic methods used in their field).
    • That this field is a work in progress; we do NOT know everything!
    • It is CRITICAL to ask questions.
    • To learn to APPLY the information they learn to new scenarios and contexts (they struggle with this hugely).
    • An appreciation for the experimental process, and to begin to use experimental data to build knowledge about cells.
  • How do you determine whether students have achieved the learning you describe in question #3?
    • In class exams are a major assessment tool. Exams are a mix of multiple choice questions and short answers, and diagrams with short answers.
      • Short answer questions are a mix of recall/compare and contrast questions and "What if?" style questions
    • In class "clicker" questions are used every day, usually on material covered the lecture before. These are multiple choice format questions. Depending on how they answer and the question, I will sometimes have them answer initially on their own, then discuss with a classmate, and then answer again.
    • Lab work.
      • Worksheets that they generally work on outside of class are used to measure some types of understanding (lab math calculations, some simple analysis of the lab exercise)
      • Journal-style laboratory reports. These are written as a group, which has its pros and cons...but it is intended to have them put the information they learn in the lab exercise into the context of the lecture material, the scientific literature, and to have them do some data analysis themselves.
      • Peer reviews. We have the students anonymously peer review each other's papers for the lab write-ups. We feel this is a valuable learning tool, but it's hard to know exactly what they get from DOING the peer reviews, and what they get from responding to each other's comments.
  • Provide a list of 3–4 specific assessment strategies you are most interested in exploring during the Assessment Institute?
    • Online assessments. Can they be used effectively to get a measure of preparedness/existing knowledge?
    • Using "clickers" to more effectively measure in class comprehension rather than just information recall.
    • In (relatively) large classes, is there a good way to use a take-home exam/assignment as part of an exam, to allow students to take the time to process the information to attain an answer?
    •  I am hoping to incorporate some case studies into class, and to flip the classroom on some of our topics. Ideas on how to assess whether these strategies are more effective than the traditional lecture approach would be great (clickers? what sorts of exam questions are particular telling? some sort of in class product/essay?)
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RE: clicker questions
We started using clickers last year but each week about 10% of the students had some clicker problem such as: I can't afford a clicker, my clicker is not working, oops I had my roommates not mine. How do you handle that?
Posted 10:32, 7 Jun 2013
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