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"Giving a Powerpoint lecture with no real interaction is easy and comfortable. Stepping out from behind the lecture and flying more extemporaneously, less so."

Course: Local Flora

Department: Biology


At the beginning of this process, I wasn't sure about what changes I would make. I had heard a fair bit about "flipped classrooms," as well as developing more interactive learning environments with the use of "clickers," and other technology. After I attended some classes that used these learning/teaching techniques, I found myself evaluating the pros and cons about incorporating them into this particular course. Ultimately, I decided to make one major change (the citizen science assignment described above) as well as smaller alterations to the course.

I think my comfort level has generally increased, but participating in a formal course redesign process probably increased my comfort level even more. Giving a Powerpoint lecture with no real interaction is easy and comfortable. Stepping out from behind the lecture and flying more extemporaneously, less so.

The redesign process made me think more clearly and explicitly about the priorities I outline in my learning goals for the course. That was good! Moreover, going through a somewhat formalized process of "The Finish Line" also made me follow through with ideas. Some of these ideas I have for years, but I postponed their implementation because change requires extra time and effort. In addition, when deciding what to change in the course, I sought input from colleagues, teaching assistants, and past and current students.

I think the changes I've made during the course redesign process make an already good course better. They're probably especially helpful for first generation college students and for other students with a more peripheral interest in the subject matter. After the changes I've made, I think the course material is more inviting.

Course Description

The course provides several alternative objectives: for some students it serves as their introduction and inspiration to a career in natural science research and conservation. For most it is an introduction to a way to see the world and its resources that support human life. Many students tell me that the course taught them to see the world around them in a new way.

Projected Design Elements

-Flipping classes
-Experiential learning
-Non-traditional assessments

Because the course had been taught primarily through lecture and involved a lot of memorization, I wanted to see it "flipped" in some ways. In particular, I wanted to have the course less textbook- and lecture-based. In addition, I wanted the students to explore current research and topics to a greater extent. Moreover, I wanted the learning goals to be more "conceptual" and less "factual."

Ultimately, I wanted to pursue ways to make the "term project/paper" more experiential and creative, and have the labs themselves be more experiential.

Incorporated Design Elements

I replaced a term paper assignment worth 20% of a student's grade with an interactive citizen science assignment designed to increase interaction:
-Among class members,
-Between instructional staff (myself and teaching assistants)
-and between the students and other citizen scientists.

For this assignment, I incorporated the use of the Naturalist App, so that students could communicate with other citizen scientists.

I also made some more minor changes, including:
-Making learning goals more explicit
-Eliminating some peripheral/less critical content,
-and adding more interactive components to my lectures.

Program: Finish Line Project

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