Faculty embrace experiential learning and critical reflection in a general education science course

Brad Reynolds and Tom Wilson received a Beyond the Classroom ThinkAchieve grant to fund an experiential learning activity in a general education non-laboratory science course.  During fall 2012, students in Bio/ESC 1100 (Conservation of Biodiversity) were given the option to participate in a hands-on field experience and reflection activity in lieu of taking the final exam in the course.  Instead of just listening to a professor talk about conservation, these student volunteers actually practiced conservation and contributed to a real-life conservation-based research project.  The conservation project, still ongoing, seeks to monitor the impact of upland deforestation on local amphibian populations.

Professor Reynolds and a student recording data The instructors, Brad Reynolds and Tom Wilson, took the student volunteers to a local wetland where the students helped sample and process frogs and salamanders.  Once in the field, students checked pitfall traps for animals and learned how to properly identify, sex, and measure the frogs and salamanders they discovered.  They were likewise taught how to properly record scientific data, before releasing the animals into the wild.

Critical thinking was fostered in the student volunteers through active, experiential learning and critical reflection.  Students were expected to keep reflective journals before, during, and after the experience as a means of documenting the transformation that had taken place within them.  These journals also served as a vehicle through which critical thinking and the challenging of preconceived assumptions was encouraged.  According to Brad Reynolds, “We challenged the students to actively combat the biodiversity crisis by participating in a real-world conservation-based amphibian monitoring project. The end result was that the students developed a greater respect for reptiles and amphibians, and at the same time, had their overall conservation ethics impacted in a positive way through experiential learning and reflection.”

 

Brad Reynolds is a faculty member in the Biological and Environmental Sciences.  In addition to the Conservation of Biodiversity course, he teaches Introduction to Environmental Science I and II.

Thomas Wilson is also a faculty member in the Biological and Environmental Sciences. He teaches Herpetology, Ecology and Amphibian Conservation.

 

 


The Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

The Seven Principles

By: Dawn M. Ford

It was in 1987 when Chickering and Gamson wrote about the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education.  Years later, those principles still hold up, so it’s good to review them every now and again to keep us fresh.

seven principles

Principle one is that contact between students and faculty should be encouraged.  It’s important that students know that faculty care about them.  How can that be encouraged?  We can provide multiple ways in which students can reach us – email, phone, office hours – and of course, we should be responsive.  We can arrive to class early and stay late to encourage interaction with our students.  Principle two is that reciprocity and cooperation among students should be cultivated.  Deep and meaningful learning happens when students work as teams.  Otherwise, what’s the point of all of them being in the same room at the same time?  See my blog about team-based learning to learn more about using the team approach for student learning.  Principle three – encourage active learning.  I always remember the saying that learning is not a spectator sport.  From day one, engage students in course content through writing, discussion, application, etc.  They learn more by doing.  Principle four is to give prompt feedback.  I’m reminded of faculty who talk about students who do poorly on an end-of-semester research paper.  When I ask them what writing assignments came before the research paper, usually there were none.  We need to give students the opportunity to practice skills that we want them to develop and give them prompt feedback so they can improve over the course the semester.  Okay, principle five is time on task, which is related to principle four.  Time management for students can be challenging, and we can help them by giving and adhering to deadlines and modeling good time management skills ourselves.  Principle six is to communicate high expectations.   Expect more, and we will get it, expect less, and we will get that too!  Set expectations on the first day of class, it’s a good way to create a community of learning.  Principle seven…respect diverse talents and ways of learning.  I think we realize that students are different.  We can teach two sections of the same course back-to-back and the class sessions will go completely different.  We need to be flexible and adjust our teaching to accommodate students so that we accomplish what we set out to do.

Additional Resources

UF Center for Instructional Technology and Training.  (2012).  Chickering and Gamson 4 rules for undergraduate education.  Retrieved from http://citt.ufl.edu/tools/chickering-and-gamson-7-rules-for-undergraduate-education/.

UNC Charlotte Center for Teaching and Learning.  (2013).  Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education.  Retrieved from http://teaching.uncc.edu/articles-books/best-practice-articles/instructional-methods/7-principles.

 

 


Create a Community of Learning on the First Day of Class

It’s almost that time again – the first day of class.   I have sometimes struggled with what to do the first day; do I dive right in or just cover the syllabus and let the students go?  The literature tells us that the first day of class is important, if not critical, to the success of a course and the students.  The first day sets the tone because students form their opinion about the instructor and the course in the first few minutes. So what are the best practices for the first day?

first day of class

To create a community of learning from the start, make the students feel welcome, set clear expectations for the students, discuss the goals and student learning outcomes of the course, and engage the students in content.  Okay, let’s talk about tips for each of these.  To welcome students, get to the classroom early and greet students as they arrive. Start class on time (this conveys that punctuality and class time are important) and introduce yourself.  Next, talk to the students about your expectations and details about the course.  Students need to understand the goals of the course, what they will learn,  how they will learn it, and how they will be assessed. They also need to know about your attendance policy, late work policy, and behavior expectations (cell phones off?).  Sometime during that first class meeting, engage the students in an activity or two. Engaging students right away delivers the message that they will be involved in the course, not just spectators.

What are your first day of class best practices?  Feel free to share them!

 

Additional Resources

University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  (2013).  The first day of class.  Retrieved from http://www.unl.edu/gtahandbook/first-day-class.

Weimer, M.  (2013).  First day of class activities that create a climate for learning.  Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/first-day-of-class-activities-that-create-a-climate-for-learning/.