Closing out the term- Reflecting on what worked and what failed miserably

Tomorrow is my last exam of the semester. Woohoo! Freedom! I’m not sure who’s more excited, me the professor, or my students. As always, it is a good idea to take some time to reflect and think about what has gone well this term and those things that probably should not be done again.

The Good.

I really enjoyed my microbiology class. I had several students this semester that had taken introductory biology with me in the past. I felt like the rapport in the classroom was great and I enjoyed getting to know a few of the students better. Some of them had really interesting stories to tell. Overall, the class went pretty smoothly. I use a flipped classroom model, where the students watch videos outside of class that are more of the traditional lecture format, and I use the classroom time for activities and group assignments. I also use clickers (we use Turning Point at our institution) which the students like and I can quickly find out where their weak points are. I still struggle with getting the students to prepare outside of the classroom, but I think the model is working. I am happy with the grade distributions and I feel like the level of difficulty is where it needs to be.

The Bad.

In an attempt to limit the amount of paper that sits on my desk each term, I started having students turn in lab assignments to me online. In principle this seems like a good idea, but as it turns out, it makes it much harder and takes longer for me to grade them. The students also seemed to struggle with the process of converting files to PDF and submitting them to the online drop box. I’m not sure if I’m going to throw this idea out completely next term or if I’m going to tweak it to make it easier for all of the parties involved.

The Ugly.

I really seemed to struggle this term with my Introductory Biology course. In general that class is a tough nut to crack. Most of the students are not at all interested in science and are just taking the course because they need a lab science and they were terrified of chemistry. Over the summer term I had come up with an idea to build fill-able outlines for my student to use during my lectures instead of just giving them my PowerPoint slides. My students really struggle with reading the textbook and capturing the main ideas so I wanted to give them a tool that they could use to guide their studies. It seemed to work well with my summer class. I really thought that it would be awesome for helping my students to get the main ideas. I was SO wrong. They focused so much on the outlines when I lectured that I don’t think they ever really heard me. It was terrible. I’d get stopped multiple times during lectures to go back in and fill in the blanks for them. Then, at the end of class, several students would come to the front of the room wanting me to give them my outline so they could get the exact wording that they missed. Talk about encouraging rote memorization. Maybe this would work better for my flipped classroom where they can stop the lecture and go back and fill in the blanks, but it did not work at all for my traditional lecture class. Fortunately I am not teaching this course in the Spring so I have some time to figure out a new strategy.

I am looking forward to the next few weeks of planning out the Spring term. I love to tweak my courses to make them better and I think I have a lot of material to work with after this semester.

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