Happy Holidays everyone! I’m sure you can tell by my stealth mode that I’ve been in the middle of another hectic but yet wonderful semester (with no time to blog!). This semester might have been the best yet because I felt like I finally got down the rhythm of both of my classes as well as the balance of how much work to give students (so that they still learn a lot but aren’t stressed out). Plus not to mention- we were back to in-person teaching (yipeee)! So I had full-reign with outdoor field trips for my USC BISC315 Ecology Students. (You can read about how I dealt with remote teaching here)
My amazing TA (Jennifer Beatty) and I definitely took it to the max this semester. To make up for lost time, we had the students conduct ecological field studies at the Ballona Wetlands and the Abalone Cove Tide Pools as well as at USC and the nearby Natural History Museum gardens. By the end of the semester- the students were definitely pros at surveying biodiversity with transects and quadrats as well as with pitfall traps (the former for plant and intertidal organism diversity and the latter to collect ground-dwelling arthropods). We also had a cricket-behavior lab and a parasite lab (the latter where the students collected snails and then dissected them for their trematode parasites!). I had a blast and I know most of the students did too! Throughout the course of teaching them experimental design – my TA (Jennifer Beatty) and I also provided them with the flexibility to ask their own scientific questions and to design their own experiments. We also taught them how to collect, analyze and interpret the data – using Excel and R. Here is a video where I presented for the CET Faculty Showcase and I describe the importance of student ownership when it comes to teaching data analysis:
The semester then concluded with a poster symposium where the students chose their favorite study to focus on and present (photos below). It was tons of fun!
I suppose all of this makes it a bit bittersweet to announce that I will be changing it up a bit and transitioning to a new career (which I’m stoked about -as bittersweet as it is to know that I won’t be teaching Ecology next year).
ok… you are in suspense I know.. Drumroll Please….
NEW Job Alert!:I’m going to be a Sustainability Data Analyst for the Office of Sustainability at USC! I could not be more ecstatic to combine my skills in data analytics and visualization with my passion for sustainability. I will definitely write more about my position once I start, but briefly: I will be responsible for collecting, analyzing and visualizing all the different data on USC campus that relates to USC’s sustainability initiatives. Ultimately this data will be used to evaluate areas where we can improve -including metrics like: waste, water and electricity usage, education and engagement, etc. This data will be presented in reports that are assessed by the STARS – Sustainability Tracing Assessment Rating System. The ultimate goal is to go from our current silver rating to gold and eventually platinum! This job is awesome because I get to stay at USC and I get to be part of this fabulous sustainability ride. Stay tuned and enjoy your holiday, or even just every day!
Recommended holiday break reading
‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle – all about being present in the moment, really helpful during these chaotic and uncertain times.
“Do you dream of Terra-Two” by Temi Oh – I would describe it as similar ish to Harry Potter but with astronauts and space (no magic) – the first fiction I’ve read since college and it was delightful!
Happy 2021! Here we are.. still in a pandemic, but at least the political scene in the USA has improved since I wrote last (Great news for Mother Nature and Society!). Anyhow, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently part of the 6 mo Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Challenge, an accelerator program that culminates in different workgroups trying to solve some of the many complex issues inherent in the global plastic problem, particularly the plastic that ends up in our water ways and oceans. I’ve definitely learned a lot in the past two months, with experts speaking about issues ranging from human behavior and what incentives are necessary to decrease littering and wasteful behavior; to the policies and regulations involved in trying to decrease plastic waste as well as the difficulties of getting corporations on board for the long-haul, and the ins and outs of obtaining and analyzing data on the types and amounts of plastic waste that we find in the environment! Shout out to the Trash Data Treasure Trove via Win Cowger and his colleagues on the latter! https://osf.io/k4th7/
Even though corporations do have a large role in a lot of the plastic waste observed in our environment, I came out of this short-course series with still the same main opinion I had at the start: INDIVIDUALS (YOU AND ME) STILL HAVE A POWERFUL ROLE IN DETERMINING THE AMOUNT OF WASTE THAT IS PRODUCED, AS WELL AS THE DOWNSTREAM HANDLING OF THAT WASTE (aka – preventing it from getting into the natural environment!). So let’s stop waiting for corporations to start changing/taking action, and let’s talk about what you and I can do (some of which includes buying less of the more wasteful products and single-use plastics which then puts financial pressure (aka incentives) on the corporations to change their ways! Take that! Karate Chop! HiYah!
Below are some swaps for things that you can stop buying (and save $$!):
For cleaning cooking, drinking and eating:
Instead of Single-Use Water Bottles – use a Reusable Water Bottle, and get a cheap water filter for your home tap water (if you are concerned about your tap water). Honestly, unless your are in Flint, Michigan (and my heart goes out to you guys)- the water quality in the USA is pretty well regulated (typically more so than bottled water)-and you can just google ‘water quality’ and the name of your city to find out what is in your water- see here for California
Instead of SaranWrap – use Tupperware, or Beeswax Wrap
Instead of Paper Towels- use Washable and Reusable Cloth Towels/Rags
Instead of Paper Napkins- use Washable and Reusable Cloth Napkins(you can make both of the above from old tshirts or towels if you are short on cash)
Instead of Ziplock bags– use Tupperware,silicon ziplock bagsor do what I do, and reuse the ziplock bags from trailmix, and other snacks that you buy from Trader Joes or other stores that use too much packaging!
Instead of Aluminum Foil or Baking Sheets- use a silicone baking sheet, or keep your food in a covered pot in the oven. I will admit though that this can be tough for very large dishes such as a Turkey… but that is only once a year- so a box of foil could last you a life time!
Instead of single use Cleaning Cloths (such as the lysol ones)– use a soapy sponge- works just as well and is less toxic and cheaper.
Instead of One-Time Use Masks: Use Reusable/Washable Cotton Fabric Masks -ideally the ones with 2-3 fabric layers (unless you are working in the medical field of course).
For Self Care:
Self Care- What you can stop buying:
Instead of Cotton Rounds/Balls – make your own washable ones by cutting up an old tshirt into little squares (you can sew the edges if you want them to look pretty, but I just stuff my cotton squares int a glass jar and call it a day!). Pro-tip- use a lingerie bag to wash and dry the little pieces so they don’t clog your washer or get lost!
Instead of tampons – use a diva cupor another type of silicon menstrual cup (they are more hygienic also, last forever and are easy to clean! Plus you save $$$$!!!
Instead of buying dish soap, laundry detergent, and all of the other household products that come in plastic containers-check out these cool detergent pods that you can use in refillable containers! https://www.blueland.com/
Instead of buying new shampoo, conditioner and body soaps in plastic containers:buy the bar forms of shampoo, conditioners, soaps and lotions, or buy refillable products where you can return the containers and the companies sterilize them and reuse them! My favorite is: https://www.plaineproducts.com
Instead of Buying New Clothes- go to a Tailor with Existing Clothes from your closet or a friends closet to spruce them up, make them fit better and/or fix that zipper (or do it yourself)
Instead of Buying New Shoes– take your shoes to your Local Shoe Cobbler – they can replace the heals, fix the straps, and shine them up like new!
Check out trendy thrift stores near you– like Crossroads Trading Store in Santa Monica! They actually have very fashionable and new-looking (lightly used) items. It is so fashionable that they consistently reject all of my clothes when I try to sell my stuff to them… .lol Don’t judge me!
Conduct clothing swaps w/ friends (outdoors or after the pandemic of course)
Eat at Home More Often (no this does not include takeout): It’s Cheaper + Less Plastic WasteTo make this easier- try food-prepping or cooking while watching a tv show on your laptop or listening to a podcast- or better yet- do it with a friend!
If you do go out to eat to support the local restaurants: Be sure to Support the Businesses that do NOT use Styrofoam, and ideally support businesses that use compostable or recyclable or reusable containers + Don’t forget to bring your own utensils and ask the restaurant to hold off on the single use silverware/ and straws (for takeout). If you are dining in/outside then bring tupperware with you when you go out to eat so you can pack the leftovers in your reusable containers.
Instead of Buying Coffeeat Starbucks or another cafe– Make it at Home –and please don’t use those plastic pod coffee things.. yuck! Although if you must, they have ones that use recyclable pods. Ideally use a french press or an italian espresso maker. If you do go get coffee then use a reusable coffee travel mug (during non-covid19 times…)
Bring reusable grocery bags to the stores – Almost all stores are now letting you pack your goods in your own bags again now (thank goodness!). If they don’t let you then just take the unpackaged goods to your car and load it in a bag in your car. A little more effort on your part makes a lasting effort on Earth : )
Shop at places that have bulk items in bins to so that you can pack dried goods in reusable cloth bags (or ones you make out of old pillow cases that you wash and sew). The bummer is right now most places that used to do this are pre-packaging their bulk items in plastic- yuck! However! You can try to find shops like this one in Los Angeles (Tare Grocery) where they will pack up goods for you in your own glass or aluminum containers (no cloth allowed right now). I actually just went to this shop last week! They pack everything in paper brown bags (from recycled paper) if you don’t bring your own reusable containers.
Similarly- Don’t use Plastic bags for Produce! I mean really.. do you really think you are being more sterile by putting it in plastic instead of directly in your cart? How do you think the produce got to the store and onto the display cases? (people’s hands!) I just put mine directly on the cart (wet and everything) and then on the checkout counter directly before putting it into my reusable grocery bag. I have not gotten Covid19 from doing this for the past year… you will be fine as long as you rinse off your produce before eating it (which I’m sure you do anyhow).
Don’t buy/use Plastic Garbage Bags– Use biodegradable bags– I mean .. really.. why are we buying plastic just to throw it away? The biodegradable ones work great- especially if you compost your food waste in a separate container.
Compost your food waste (no meat or diary, just fruit, veggies, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea, etc.). Just keep a small container under your sink next to the trash so it is convenient to use. Then if you have a garden, you can get a compost tumbler and use the compost-produced soil for your garden; or if you don’t have a yard then chance are you can throw the fruit and veggie scraps into your green yardwaste bin! USA cities typically provide every household (and apartment complex) a green waste bin for free.
Use rechargeable items, and use re-cheargable batteries for items that cannot be recheargable.
Remember: Take it one small step at a time– don’t try to go completely zero waste all at once, just see which of the tips/tricks and online suggestions work for you the best and start there. You got this!
Below are some resources for zero-waste goods that you can buy online
(I don’t get any kickbacks of any sort- these are just the companies I use).
Thus- it is critical that we all take steps to prevent more damage to our oceans and at the same time help the oceans recover. The first step is reducing our waste, which I will cover in a future blog, but another step that we can all do is to cleanup our parks, streets and beaches to prevent more plastic waste from entering our oceans. We can even do this during Covid19- while socially distanced outdoors and wearing our masks and gloves!
So this ‘Zoomester’ I decided to organize a Plastic Cleanup- with an in-person beach cleanup event at Playa Del Rey Beach in Los Angeles and a remote option for those individuals that were living afar. This took place last Saturday (10/17/20) and all in all it was a tremendous success with about 15 people that participated! This included faculty, staff, graduate students and undergraduates, including four undergraduates from my Environmental Studies class that I had never met in person prior to this day (I get so excited to meet people in real life now.. ha). In the below photo are two students (and roommates) from USC posing behind some of the trash that they and several others collected. Unfortunately I forgot to ask everyone to stack their trash, so I wasn’t able to document all of it.
The fabulously talented photographer: Maurice Roper (USC) also came and documented the whole event! Below I have included a gallery showcasing some of the photos he took!
In addition to Maurice Roper documenting the event, I was very fortunate to have the wonderful support of USC’s Environmental Studies Program and the Wrigley Institute. I want to give a special shoutout to Dr. Jill Sohm (Director of the Environmental Studies Program) and Dr. Ann Close (Wrigley Institute, Associate Director) for their help. Lastly, I was able to use hands-free online waiver forms with the help of Kate Tucker at Resmark Systems with “WaiverSign” (I highly recommend them for your hands-free events!).
I truly felt like this event was impactful. Aside from all of the trash that we cleaned off the beach (the majority of which was plastic), there were many people that watched us and thanked us, and even some that joined us! So I have hope that this event spread awareness as to the little things that WE CAN ALL DO to help our oceans and environment!
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!
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.
So I’m not sure about all of you, but I think my main activities outside the house since March have mainly included escaping*1 into nature! Mainly surfing the local beaches in LA, hiking on some local trails, and two multi-day backpacking trips in the Sierras.
Since I love these treks so much, I recently took some youth, instructors and parents from a local South LA educational program*2: https://www.theknowledgeshopla.com/programs on a nature hike yesterday. I decided to take them to the Los Leones trail – since its only a 30 min drive, not too strenuous and is a fairly short hike (if your want it to be). The hike is 2.6 miles round trip if you decide that your end game goal is the bench overlooking the Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica and the ocean. You can however go much further!
In addition to cape ivy- another invasive plant that we found and that I hadn’t previously known about was the invasive black mustard plant! (see the yellow flowered plant below)- not only is it destructive to native flora and fauna but it can also serve as kindle for Autumn fires in California- yikes! Read more here
Originally one of my aims was to show all of the participants how to use iNaturalist so that they could all try to identify the flora and fauna while on the hike, and after the hike in their own backyards/neighborhoods. They all had downloaded the app onto their phones before coming to the hike- however one short sight I had is that we did not have very good cellular service.. ha (oops!).. So instead I tried to tell them a bit about what I knew (without the help of iNaturalist) and we also took a lot of photos (above) for post-hike identification (Ive tried to identify a lot of these in the captions above!).
I think overall everyone had a lot of fun. After the group nature hike, I ended up taking the trail for a couple miles further to enhance the workout factor!
*Footnotes! (or how about some Footloose?!) Dang I just gave away my age….
*I will admit that I should not be using the word ‘escape’- see this great essay by William Cronon -since nature is technically all around us all of the time.. take that fly that is on your windowsill or maybe even on your arm right now! I think in this sense that we should all appreciate both proximate and distant nature, and take extra care of our immediate surrounding nature-so that we never feel like we need to escape to wilderness.
TheKnowledgeShop works in conjunction with Stem54.. and these two educational youth programs and their leaders- including Yolande Beckles and Dr. Michael Batie are truly making an amazing difference in the South LA community and Beyond! Check them out!
Wow has 2020 been an insane year globally and in the USA..
But has it? In my opinion things have always been insanely messed up in this country and finally now the majority of Americans paying attention and trying to do something about it.
We have seen protests all over the country and world, which is a promising sign. However, we have also seen anti-protestors, white supremacists and fascists trying to stop these protests and trying to cause harm to the protestors and African Americans.
In fact, my cousin-in-law Daniel Gregory, whom is African American, was recently shot while trying to stop an anti-protestor that had driven his car through a crowd of protestors in Seattle, WA on June 7th, 2020. You can read the article here. I am relieved Dan is in stable condition now, but he is ridden with medical expenses, so please donate to the gofundme page hereif you are reading this and want to help Dan the Hero (or you can bypass the fees and send Dan funds directly through cashapp: $Dthunderg).
Perhaps protests like these, and those all around the world, as well as long overdue-attention have finally arrived due to the imperfect storm of COVID, Environmental injustice and civil injustice including the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other African Americans in the image below.
I’m not African-American, so Im not going to act like I know everything, or try to tell their narratives. I also have not gone into sufficient detail describing the atrocities against people of color in this nation or the concept of structural racism. Instead I’ll link to resources below this post that have been distributed from graduate students in the Earth and Sciences Department and have been circulating around at USC. Many of the resources (listed and linked below this blog) have been produced by African Americans, the very voices that deserve to be heard louder than any white narrative.
However, one subject that I am more knowledgeable in that relates intensely to the Black Lives Matter Movement is the intersections between Environmental Health and Social Justice – aka Environmental Justice.
To clarify Environmental Justice, let’s use the definition from the EPA:
“Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys: the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work”.
To explore how communities of color are exposed to more pollution and hazardous waste- check out this environmental justice mapping tool, and enter in your address to see what types of pollution or environmental hazards are near you. https://www.epa.gov/ejscreen
Go ahead, and explore this for yourself, by using the COVID mapper: https://covid19.jvion.com/#! and then again go back to the environmental justice map I showcased previously: https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/ and you will see for yourself how environmental health and social justice intersect (again this is called Environmental Justice).
Below, I have also included list of what you can do to become more educated about anti-racism and being a better ally to the black community. Because remember Environmental Health and Social Justice are linked, and you need to be informed about both to make a difference! You can do it.. now go out there and be the bad ass activist that you are!
Justice in June – a syllabus for folks new to anti-racism (or wanting to learn more) to spend some time each day in June learning how to be a better ally to the black community (this contains several of the resources listed below)
Wow.. has life taken a surprising turn.. not just for me but for the whole world. With the onset and spread of the COVID19 pandemic we have seen people across the whole world have to adjust and make changes in both their personal and work lives. It’s been interesting for myself and other teachers (K-12 and Higher Education) to try to quickly readjust and attempt to deliver a premium education for our students. Its also been comforting to see the rebirth of ‘community’ such as folks helping out their elderly neighbors and teachers banding together and sharing online teaching resource and tips.
Thus the focus of this post is to share what others have shared with me, as well as some of my lessons I have learned in the first week of online teaching.
However before I go into the meat of online teaching.. let me back up a bit to BC (Before Coronavirus) time period. As you may know – I recently started a teaching postdoc position at the University of Southern California (USC) , which has been absolutely amazing so far. In the Fall semester I taught an upper division Ecology class and a lower division Env. Studies GE course, and now in the Spring Ive been teaching two sections of the lower division Env. Studies GE course (no labs this semester thank goodness!)
It all seems like a blur but just two weeks ago USC was still proceeding business as usual… as were most schools in California. Then as we got closer to our Spring Break, USC announced a ‘trial-period’ of online teaching for 3 days before Spring Break so that we can adjust our methods as needed “IF” we needed to extend to online teaching. Then as the # of COVID19 cases rose (see here a live tracking website made by 17 year-Avi Schiffmann)- USC quickly changed the plan to teach remotely after Spring Break until April 16th… and then two days later extended online teaching to the end of the semester. Ha.. people’s plans have been changing so fast.. but not as fast as the virus spreads and mutates: https://nextstrain.org/ncov
Immediately I had mixed feelings about online teaching for the rest of the semester: Cons: Im not very good at this online teaching thing yet and now I better get good at it fast! Pros: I can teach in my workout clothes (with makeup on and a nice top) and foster or adopt a dog since Ill be home all day! (..already made progress on latter- see my foster-fail/adopted dog- Yesenia) from the North Los Angeles Animal Shelter. I still have to officially fill out her adoption paper work.. but haven’t been able to go to shelter yet due to COVID19 restrictions.
Yesenia loves playing ball
and loves hikes!
Anyhow, now that I have my trusty dog by my side, I have been focusing on how to improve my online classes. I also have received lots of helpful links that I am pasting below this blog post to pass on the shared resources and knowledge.
At USC most of the teachers and myself have started using Zoom as well as Blackboard, the latter which most of us have regularly used to post announcements and assignment instructions, as well as a platform for students to turn in assignments which we can grade online. So far: I have definitely learned some dos and don’ts with Zoom and remote teaching and testing:
DO RUN A PRACTICE SESSION FIRST! I suggest practicing with your actual students in the physical classroom if possible prior to going to online only (this is what I did and we sorted out some issues on the student’s side of things this way, as well as how to share the powerpoints for them in slide show not presenter mode), but if not possible – get together w/ some colleagues and practice with each other (my mom actually did the latter and I thought that was a great idea!)
Do set the settings to put everyone on Mute when they enter the room
Do tell the students to unmute themselves when they have questions and feel free to speak whenever (much more engaging and feels more like a real class than written chat-room based questions/comments)
Do TURN YOUR VIDEO ON and encourage students to turn their videos on if they feel comfortable-I noticed it makes me feel like Im actually talking to someone than just a green light on my laptop
Do use the ‘polls‘ in lectures to mix things up and encourage participation
Do record your lectures in the cloud in case you have international students that are in different time zones.
Don’t just lecture at the students and forget about encouraging participation and interaction (I actually am still working on this one.. it is more difficult than in-person classes because you can’t see all your students…)
Don’t assume that all of your students are on the same time zone. I know for me it took me a couple days to realize some of my international students had gone back home. Thus I needed to adjust my expectations for them and let them watch recorded lectures and makeup any in-class activities w/in 24 hours .
Don’t talk too fast (oops.. Im also working on this one…).
Blackboard tips and protocols for online testing: So I actually had in-class midterms planned for this week (BC) and I had to adjust to remote testing formats. I knew I didn’t want to use the ‘honor system’ since some students might cheat and that wouldn’t be fair to others… so I decided just to make it completely open-note, but I expanded on the # of questions in the exam so that it is fast paced enough that the students won’t have time to look up every question. Thus they still have to prepare for the exam a decent amount. I also decided to go with the “Respondus Lock Down Browser” app available in Blackboard for Online Exams. It basically locks out everything on a student’s computer except for the exam. For me the only reason why I decided to go this route is so that students can’t copy and paste answers from their lectures or from internet sources. But I did tell them they could use their ipad or iphones or other computers and notes for information. The key with online testing, just like with online classes, is to have the students PRACTICE! I offered my students 2 pts extra credit to try a practice exam with sample questions and the lock-down browser so that we could get all the kinks out of the way ahead of time.
I also told me students to have a plan for what computers and internet sources they were going to use, and a backup plan in case they had an internet or computer malfunction. As for the actual testing day/time I will be online and can answer questions my students have via email in live-time.
For my international students and DSP students, blackboard testing tools lets you make make exceptions and adjustments to the test time period, date and time of test on a person-by-person basis. So for my students in countries with very different time zones, I adjusted the time of the exam to be at a more reasonable time for them. For my DSP students, I was able to provide them with extra time to take the exam.
As far as how to make exam questions- I used the Blackboard ‘question pools” and then used questions from those pools to make the exams. The students are not able to see the question pools or the tests until the available date/time that you dictate in the settings. The tests are this week.. so fingers crossed they go smoothly. If not then Ill have to adjust and just make a take-home essay-based assignment for the final exam. The key about teaching and adjusting to a global pandemic is to be flexible, adapt and stay healthy. To stay healthy, again I totally recommend fostering or adopting a pet, as well as getting more into cooking and working out everyday. (Lots of great online videos to stay in shape while sheltering-in-place, such as this oldie but goodie with Billy Blanks!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOaartzSX6A)
With this said, Im leaving you with some great resources that have been forwarded to me from many great teachers: You got this!
So, I have some exciting changes and news! Starting Monday I will be teaching two undergraduate classes at USC this Fall! I recently changed positions at USC as a postdoctoral researcher (studying parasite-host interactions in the marine phytoplankton community) to a new postdoctoral teaching fellow position. As much as I love research, I really missed teaching and mentoring and wanted to dive deep into teaching to gain more experience as an instructor of record.
I will be teaching an upper division Ecology course with a lab (BISC 315), and a lower division Environmental Studies course (ENST100). I’ll also be participating in USC’s CET New Faculty Institute , a faculty development program. I’m super stoked, and have been hustling for the past month to modify and design the curriculum and get all of the materials ready for the Ecology lab course. I thought most of my time would be modifying and designing new lectures and labs…. and I’ve definitely had some surprises along the way regarding where all of my time goes:
It takes a lot of time to prep a lab room/facility if by chance you are ‘lucky’ enough to have a lab that does’t have a lab manager…. The benefits are that I don’t need to share the lab w/ too many other classes.. so I can leave things set up from time to time. Plus my TA can use the lab as her office hours! Cons- it is up to me to fix everything and get everything ready for the semester! So I definitely spent some time on tasks like getting rid of that old whiteboard that doesn’t erase anymore and fixing the new one that somehow arrived broken (thanks to the hubby for the latter!). On the same note- all of that old hazardous waste in the fume hood.. yup- need to condense it and call EH&S to whisk it away. ….Those old dead snails that have been rotting in the back of the room for over 6 months.. .yea I put those in the dumpster. That cart with some strange devices that look like broken microscopes.. turns out nobody knows who it belongs to.. but it can’t be thrown away. I think that one will just get put in storage…. Oh and then the broken Monitor that we need to use for presentations…thank goodness for IT support…
Then there is the ordering and organizing of all of the supplies for each lab. Which means you have to modify or design labs and fully prep all of the lab instructions and hand outs before the semester starts (which is a good thing anyhow). I did this… and I even made sure we had phase-contrast microscopes before I designed a lab. However I learned a big lesson- always physically check out the equipment before you spend all of the time designing a lab and handouts! Turns out – the phase-contrast microscopes that we have available for our teaching labs don’t have 20X objectives. Later I learned it is standard for most microscopes to only have 4X 10X 40X and 100X.. and I guess 20X is rare.. who knew!?! Unfortunately, one of the labs I spent a couple days designing (including all the handouts, instructions and reading materials)- requires 20X objectives lens… oops! So had to scrap that one and cut my losses. In the end it worked out and I extended a lab on insect diversity instead which I think will be better anyhow. On this note- I am super grateful to the Entomology Curator, Brian Brown, at the Natural History Museum for donating some of their no-data insects for my class insect collection. Im planning on putting them on a backdrop of the phylogeny and evolution of insects (Misof et al. 2014, Science) so students can see the different adaptations that have evolved through time in the Class Insecta.
Lastly there are the little things- like moving into a new office and setting up the space so that it is beneficial for office hours; learning how to use the departmental printer/copier; going to all of the classrooms and making sure my computer connects properly (and organizing those chairs in the classroom since it looks like a rave recently happened!); and meeting with teachers and TAs that taught the classes in previous years so that I can get the run-down on what worked and what didn’t work.
testing the room out!
Everything works! Yay!
Getting the office space ready
Printing the syllabi out for the smaller class!
Then when I do actually have time to work on my lectures.. I find myself going down rabbit holes of finding cool documentaries for my Environmental Studies lectures, such as my new one on the interactions of society, culture and the environment- (Check out this cool documentary series on Native Americans and their stewardship of the land and waters); or going through all of the scientific literature on interesting topics that I am incorporating into my lectures such as sex-changing fish for my ecology lecture on mating behavior and sexual selection (which by the way is how I got interested in ecology in the first place over 20 years ago!.. oh geez Im getting old!)
Anyhow… Monday is right around the corner.. so with that Im going to start uploading everything onto our online BlackBoard system… here we go!
Ps- if any of my students are reading this— don’t worry- I got this! You are in good hands… ha ha ha.
My main learning objectives for the students in the workshop were to: 1) Define different types of ecological relationships, including the different types of symbiotic relationships; 2) differentiate among parasites, parasitoids and pathogens; 3) get acquainted with different parasite lifestyles- including direct transmission, vectored transmission, trophic transmission, parasitic castrators, host behavior modification, etc. 4) revel in the sheer shock and aw of diverse parasites; 5) become familiar with using microscopes; and 6) gain experience with some basic dissection techniques.
I found some super awesome and educational parasite videos during the process of getting my interactive lecture together-including videos of:
This was also a great opportunity to become more acquainted with local parasitologists and the common parasites and hosts in the Los Angeles area. This meant connecting with my local parasitologist colleagues (many of whom are part of the Southern California Society of Parasitologists) and finding some parasite ‘hot-spots’ so that I could bring in ample numbers of snails, crabs, shrimp and protozoans for some hands-on activities including dissections and mounting slides on the microscope.
Below was one of the students’ favorites – the parasitic isopod couple (yes.. male and female showing their love for each other all while parasitizing the host shrimp). ‘Couples that parasitize hosts together.. stay together!.. awww’
Photo: 2017 @HakaiInstitute Bioblitz Team
Ectoparasite demonstration at my workshop for IEA-LABs on Feb.16.19
They were also amazed by the marine protistan parasitoid Parvilucifera sinerae, that they happened to catch in the act of bursting out of its dinoflagellate host (and thus killing its host!). I am particularly fond of this parasitoid right now.. since I’m working with marine plankton communities every day at USC. You can read about some of my current postdoc work here
This event reminded me that one of the main reasons why I love science is actually the amazing support from other scientists.. and getting to know these scientists as people! For instance, I could not have done this workshop, without the support of Dr. Kevin Lafferty (USGS, UCSB) and Dr. Ryan Hechinger (Scripps-UCSD) who provided me with some hot spot localities for collecting highly-parasitized populations of the California Horn Snail, and how to access those hot-spots. These snails are parasitized by many different species of trematodes (Platyhelminthes), which are trophically transmitted parasites. This means that these parasites use multiple hosts to complete their life cycle and thus require their first set of hosts to be eaten by their final ‘definitive’ host. These parasites are also great for show-and-tell purposes since the cercariae (parasitic stage that searches for the next host) are larger than 100 um, move around quite a bit and can often have charismatic features, such as eye-spots.
Typical lifecycle of parasitic trematodes that use the California Horn Snail as their first intermediate host. Figure from: Torchin et al. 2005, Biological Invasions “Differential parasitism of native and introduced snails: replacement”of a parasite fauna
I also got more great advice from Dr. Kimo Morris, a Professor at Santa Ana Community College and Dr. Ralph Appy regarding what other critters I could collect, and how to alter my workshop and lectures to appropriately target middle schoolers. Dr. Ralph Appy actually invited me to his laboratory to learn how he digests crabs and shrimps with an acidic solution to fool the parasites (in these hosts) into thinking that they are in the stomach of the next host of their life-cycle.. with the ultimate goal of collecting the parasites into a pool of liquid for research or show-and-tell. Dr. Ralph Appy provided me with a ton of ghost shrimp, mole crabs (sand-crabs) and the really cool mud shrimp that was parasitized by two ectoparasitic isopods (one female and one male).
All in all… I definitely learned a ton from this great opportunity.. and look forward to giving another parasitology workshop to K-12 students in the future (next time with fresher snails.. so they don’t smell so bad!).