What a turbulent, crazy year.. but .. I finally have some good zoomester news!
First: I just received word that my recent article submitted to J. Biological Control over the summer was accepted w/ minor revisions- so Yippee! It’s also exciting because it wraps up the last data bits leftover from my work as a Delta Science Postdoctoral Fellow back in 2016-18. I’ll be sure to link to the article once it is in press!
Second- so far this zoommester has been going ok.. and maybe even well! (I decided that ‘ok’ is actually a very positive word choice relative to how I would describe the majority of 2020). I managed to provide hands-on activities for students in both of my classes, particularly in my BISC315 Ecology class which was recently featured in the USC Dornsife News!
For my Ecology class (which has a lecture and a lab), the article highlighted my students’ insect collections and pit-fall trap surveys of arthropod diversity. Other projects that they are conducting include: 1) an iNaturalist study and report (where they submit photos of surrounding flora and fauna to an iNaturalist class project, and then they write up a report about their observations in nature as well as the life-history of some of the species that they documented), 2) an independent literature review (they research a research topic of interest in the field of ecology and then give an oral presentation on their findings to the class at the end of the semester), and 3) an independent research project (they write up a mini research proposal, conduct an experiment or observational study (post approval), summarize and analyze their data in R, and then make a research poster to disseminate their findings). I’m hoping they can present their research at the undergraduate research symposium in the Spring (but TBD via COVID19). For the students on campus, I can lend them equipment for their independent projects and sterilize the equipment before and after. Whereas for the remote students- I try to direct them to alternative free or cheap ways to conduct the studies that they want to implement.
Some of these projects are remotely guided, particularly for my students in Northern California, Michigan and Taiwan, and then others are a bit more hands on. For example-with the students that were able to come to USC campus, I handed out insect collection kits and demonstrated how to catch insects with a butterfly net in the first lab, and in the second lab, I handed out equipment and supplies for arthropod diversity field surveys and demonstrated how to set up pit-fall traps in the ground. For each of the -in person socially distant field-labs on campus, I also sent youtube videos to my remote students to help them understand how to catch insects and deploy pitfall traps.
I also discovered the beauty of teaching R via zoom (ironically I don’t have to physically ‘zoom’ around a room and can just calmly use breakout rooms with small groups of students or have students share their Rstudio screens with me one-on-one. I tried something new this semester as well and so far it is going great!-Basically I selected students that had previous R-experience and asked them if they were willing to be leaders of breakout rooms. That way small groups of students can help each other work through Rcode and practice datasets that I give them and then eventually work their way up to using their own research datasets and modifying the practice rcode. If they get stuck, they just simply buzz me into their rooms and I can help them pretty efficiently. So far so good! My TA, Tina Nguyen has also been instrumental in helping me manage all of this!
I’ve also thought about ways to make my other lecture-based GE course (Environmental Studies) more interactive, fun and hands-on. I try to use mixed media in my lectures- so good documentaries and podcasts, along w/ a mix of lecturing with powerpoint slides and lots of participation-point based breakout room activities that involve group discussions and case-studies. For the students that can’t attend lectures, they can always access the recorded material and can make up any point-based activity within 48 hours. I also recently converted one of the assignments on endangered species from a written word-docx assignment to a blog! I actually really enjoyed grading these blogs (way more than grading essays!) and I think the students enjoyed it as well. Not too mention the additional skillset they gained by learning how to make a blog.
There were many incredible blogs, but for the purpose of time/space- here are three excellent blogs from students in my class (I received permission from them to repost):
The coolest part about having to adapt to the current situation and make modifications to our courses -is that ultimately myself and other instructors are actually becoming better educators! The days of just lecturing (with questions and mini discussions here and there) are over- and that is a good thing. More on this soon.