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I have taught a course covering protist, plant, fungi, and animal taxonomy and comparative physiology at three different schools.  Biological diversity has been offered for the past three years at Brescia University.  In general, students at Brescia have shown less ability to handle the amount of content in the course than students at my last two institutions.  My bigger concern is that student performance over the entire semester but especially on lab practicals has declined rapidly over the past three years.
Will an open-ended, learner-centered approach to a content-heavy course enhance student learning and retention of content? 
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Just a reminder about something we talked about - check out other courses that have components similar to what you are trying to do - the one I know about is Michael LaBarbera's class at University of Chicago. It may have some elements you are interested in. I can also share my experiencs as a student at the San Juan Island Invertebrate Zoology class which had quite a bit of what you lecture about it seems - Iglika
Posted 16:40, 17 Jul 2009
The unknown specimens approach can be used not only as a test, but as a frequent practice approach. A structured example on phylogenies can be a great intro to principles. I have a great (and funny) simple but very great for intro student dry lab that I got from a dedicated teacher and systematist.
Posted 16:43, 17 Jul 2009
I think your idea to change the course is great. Make sure your assessments match your course goals. For example, if you're just hoping they gain content knowledge, be careful with testing for analytical skills (with the "unknown"). Also, if you do the unknown exercise, they should have some practice on how to do this type of exercise beforehand, so they don't fail just because they don't know what you're asking them to do. Miriam edited 16:44, 17 Jul 2009
Posted 16:44, 17 Jul 2009
If students are struggling, you might need to provide some direct active learning approaches. Making the class open ended is really interesting! But, it might be helpful to make the class open ended, but directed with other approaches to assist them with the large amount of information the students need to retain.
Posted 16:48, 17 Jul 2009
This is a great inductive approach. There will be a lot of challenges as with any radical transformation. Particularly the tendency of students to find the answers without doing the inductive work.
I suggest that you collect the emerging cladograms as evidence of student learning. You need to collect evidence on how students are building their conceptual structures about their taxonomies. Concept maps might be helpful here. You want to visualize the knowledge structures of the students as they develop
Posted 16:48, 17 Jul 2009
Interesting project.
Posted 16:48, 17 Jul 2009
Are they just going to look up the classification schemes? Do you care if that is what they do, or do you want them to come up with their own scheme?
Posted 16:48, 17 Jul 2009
check out- Just in time teaching
will you be changing the lab practical? if so how?
reflective journal for intellectual development - nice
retrospective post-testing on perception -
Posted 16:48, 17 Jul 2009
Very cool - lots of people struggle with teaching diversity. This is old school, letting students discover these fundamental relationships for themselves.
Posted 16:51, 17 Jul 2009
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