I teach at a small college that typically serves non-traditional students from lower income brackets. I find one of my biggest challenges is to get my students truly engaged in the material. I am competing for their attention in a busy world with many distractions. Many of my students have children and full time jobs. Some are taking care of parents, grandchildren and extended family members. In our noisy, digital world of Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, Youtube, reality TV, a whole host of electronic media are constantly vying for my students’ time and attention.I have to create a course framework that captures their attention and causes them to make an emotional investment in the material. My students need to know WHY they are studying the material.
This summer I am teaching a course in parasitology for upper level biology students. This is a subject matter that I absolutely love. My husband thinks I’m crazy for being so interested in parasites, but I find their lifestyles and the diseases they cause absolutely fascinating. There is so much variety and these organisms have unique adaptations that allow them to live inside the human host. I could go on and on about parasites, unfortunately my students don’t always share my passion. I find that it is important to discuss the biology of parasites within the context of their broader human impact.
What can I do to get my students to connect to this subject? I came across an idea on someone else’s blog and I decided to expand upon it. I designed a class project that includes elements of project based learning, game based learning,and service learning. One theme that is discussed over and over again in any parasitology course is the necessity of clean water and adequate sanitation. Instead of a term paper, I gave my students an assignment to write a blog post on a topic of their choosing related to the broad topic of clean water and sanitation targeted at a general audience. You can find their posts here. To bring about awareness of these important issues and to introduce a spirit of gaming, I am awarding a prize to the post with the most Facebook likes. The winning student will receive a Giant Microbe (pictured below) of their choosing.
Finally, the last component of the assignment is that each student will submit a proposal for a service oriented project that can be executed on our campus. The projects can include awareness campaigns, fundraisers to build wells or buy medicines or campaigns to collect needed supplies. I am leaving the door open so that my students can exercise their creativity. I plan on bringing at least one of the projects to completion over the course of the next school year. I am teaching Microbiology in the Fall so I hope to expand upon this project and see where it takes me.