This week, I started picking up messages on my feeds about Pedagogy First!, a year long open course dealing with online teaching (and learning). I commented on some of the blogs I follow, and then started looking at some of the conversations that have started during this first week of the course. Enjoying a good challenge, and looking forward to inspiring discussions, I decided to join in.
As reflection is a great way to analyze your experiences, I decided to reflect on my foray into hybrid online/face-to-face teaching. My discipline is biology, which is a very content heavy subject. Traditionally the introductory levels are focused on low level Bloom’s objectives, mainly remembering and some understanding. In teaching college seniors, I started to see a problem; they were not remembering foundational concepts, and they really didn’t understand their supposed major. As with so many disciplines, there is an overall picture of life science that is made up of individual jigsaw puzzle pieces. We use to start with having students memorize the pieces, and then later they would see where the pieces fit until they saw the whole picture.
Unfortunately, our society started changing the goal of education. A common meme is that all you need is an A. While a good grade is important when applying to medical school, so is understanding your discipline. “What are you going to do when you get to med school,” I once asked a student who had horrible study skills and time management. Her replay, “I’ll start studying then.” My response, “when will you learn how to study? Do you expect to miraculously change?” Over the last few years, I’ve realized that my A students, the ones who I’m suppose to consider as my best students, were cramming and flushing information. When I saw them as juniors and seniors, they could not answer simple questions that I know they had answered when they were freshmen. I was despondent about teaching, so I decided to start at the ground floor and reconsider my teaching goals: “what did I really want them to leave my freshmen class with?” While content is always important, I realized that I wanted them to start putting the puzzle pieces together. I wanted them to learn how to learn. I wanted them to realize that they were building a mental framework, a foundation, where they could hang further, deeper information about biology. Ultimately, I wanted them to be active learners.
So I started to transform my classes. I originally used the term MOOC, but as Lisa Lane pointed out in her blog, the term MOOC really does not apply to what I’m doing.
For seven years, there had already been a heavy set of online activities for my students, and I had tried to get them to participate in discussions, forums, and even group papers. I’ve done active learning and case study exercises. Each had high points and low points, but I was still missing the important piece, getting the students to sit with biology, explore the concepts on their own, and really work at learning.
When I started my Biology MOOC, the goal was to have students blog daily about topics in biology. I sent them out a daily newsletter to keep them focused, and each newsletter contained a challenge they were to blog about. Three times during the semester, they would compile information they had been writing about, and build a Milestone paper. At the end of the semester, the three milestone papers became a Learning Reflection paper. At each milestone, they also had an online test, with an in class comprehensive final at the end. As for points, very few things were high/punitive point values. Most of the points were small, and there were variable pools of points so that students had multiple ways of earning some points. The goal was to get student working throughout the week on biology, instead of the day before the exam.
It actually worked better than I thought it would.
I’ve been working on a new platform, and with the help of our University Relations department, there is now a logo and badge system. The current open courses can be found at http://www.bologsu.us/mBOLO/ . More information about Project BOLO (Biology Online Learning Opportunities) can be found at www.bologsu.us.
Looking forward to interacting with everyone throughout Pedagogy First.