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The Elusive Functional Group Project

First, Updates!

Yikes! Half the semester has flown by already! What have I been doing if not writing blog posts? A few things:

  1. Teaching, of course. The non-majors biology, turned Neuroscience and Society, course is going really well. We just finished talking about neurotransmitters, how drugs influence behavior and how drug policies in our country would be different if they were established on the basis of science and not racism. I think these topics are not only a good way to use the hard science we learn, but also generally important for my students to know as they turn into citizens of the world. They seem to really be enjoying the course and I’ve already found a few places I can tweak for next semester when I teach another two sections.
  2. Applying for jobs. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Research. My capstone students are making some really great progress and will likely each be turning out a publication at the end of the year. They have simple projects, but those projects are pretty foundational as far as where my research program is going. We will also add another layer to the projects by including some transgenic mice!
  4. Just livin’ life. Last weekend was fall break and my beau and I did some hiking at Ricketts Glen.

    It was beautiful. ūüôā


Designing the Perfect Group Project

Does it exist? I don’t know. But it’s part of my professional mission to figure out the most effective and efficient way for my students to do group work.

We are all familiar with the issues of the standard group project. All of those issues, which I will not list, come down to THE PROBLEM, which is that not everyone contributes equally. Unfortunately, it is really difficult, nay impossible,¬†to see where the work of one student starts and another’s begins when it come to assessing. In the end, each student receives the same grade on the project regardless of contribution. I struggle with this because I hate giving good students bad grades and vice versa. I’ve decided to try, and improve upon, an approach that mimics the workplace and puts accountability on the members of the group. Groups will designate a team leader whose only responsibilities¬†are¬†keeping the other members organized¬†and tracking¬†individual members’ responsibilities – and grading them. Unlike previous trials of this system, this semester I will be providing incentives for the¬†student leaders -they will receive an individual grade based on the overall project grade. ¬†I’ll explain…

The Project and the Incentive System

In this back half of the semester my classes will be working on their group service projects. As a reminder, groups will be creating an interactive activity that will help school-aged children learn a neuroscience concept. We will take the activities to the local elementary school’s Family Fun Night at the end of the semester to share with the kids. In addition to the¬†number of criteria that the projects must meet to be considered an ‘A’ project, I have required the students organize themselves in a specific way during the group work.

Each group will self-assign a project manager / group leader. This student is in charge of keeping the group on task, organizing group meetings, and monitoring the quality of the project. The other group members are the worker-bees. They will be assigned specific tasks over the course of the project timeline that will bring the project to completion. These tasks aren’t necessarily assigned by the project manager, but the manager should be keeping track of when member do, or do not, complete what was assigned to them.

In addition to this ‘real world’ organization of groups, I have also incentivized it. Each individual has 25 personal points to earn for these projects (the projects themselves are worth 150 points). Each member will be awarded¬†their individual points by the project manager. So, if a member completed tasks on time and participated to the satisfaction of the project manager, they will receive all 25 of those individual points. If the member does not perform well, they will earn less than 25, again at the discretion of the project manager.

The project managers also have 25 individual points to earn. I will be assigning the project manager points based on the performance of the group. The top 1/3 of the projects, based on grade, will earn the project manager all 25 points. The middle 1/3 and bottom 1/3 will earn the project manager 15 and 5 points, respectively. My hope is that this will inspire the project managers to encourage their groups to perform at a high level.

I used the project manager role in group projects last semester, but had not used this incentive system. I actually found the outline for this system in a paper by Ferrante et al. (2006).  They included a survey for the students before and after on their views of group work and overall saw a positive change in feelings toward working on a team. I think that this structure will increase efficiency and quality of the projects, as well as teach students some valuable workplace skills.

Since I do want students to learn some good group work skills and keep their work organized, I gave each group a binder with some essential information and worksheets to complete. The materials include a calendar to write due-dates and meetings, a worksheet to help them plan/create their activity, an example of a high-quality project, meeting worksheets to organize tasks and talking points, rubrics, and much much more. The binders will be turned in at the end of the project with everything completed, making my job of grading a little less overwhelming…I hope.

Upon introduction to the group organization scheme and the binder, the students seem positive about the work. I’m looking forward to how this plays out and will definitely be reporting on the success from my point-of-view and that of the students. I think there’s a lot of potential here to not only make group projects easier, but to also teach students valuable group works skills.

Have you ever done something creative with group projects that worked really well? Is there anything you’ve been wanting to try? Let me know, I’m open to ideas and suggestions!!

Reference

  1. Ferrante, C. J., Green, S. G., and Forster, W. R. (2006). Getting more out of team projects: Incentivizing leadership to enhance performance. Journal of Management Education, 30 (6), 788-797.
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Summer Research Symposia

Hello again! As promised, I am writing about the poster presentations that my students gave following their summer of research.

I’ll start off with saying that I am very proud of their work and commitment, and am even more psyched that they are excited and inspired to expand on their projects into the school year!!

So let’s talk about this last week…

To get ready for the symposiums, my students had to build their posters from scratch. This is a big deal…because constructing a poster from nothing is really difficult. How do you tell your story to a multi-field audience on 36” x 48” of space? To be honest, I don’t think I was even prepared to tackle this with my students. But, we figured it out. Here’s how we did it and how I would do it differently in the future:

I started off by providing the kids with a poster that I had created previously. This way they didn’t need to mess with size setting, the format was already in place, they would just need to replace the content. I asked my students to take the template I provided, plug-in their content, and send me a draft. What I anticipated receiving was posters¬†that needed minor editing, what I got was…less than that. An analogy I used to describe my situation to a friend was this: I wanted a baked and iced cake, which I would then add the final details to to really make it pop. What I actually received, however,¬†were the ingredients to make the cake myself…you see where this is going. I think I spent, like, 6 hours working on posters.

Outside of moving things around and resizing and finding better photos, I also had to do a lot of work on the writing. I think I forgot how inexperienced students are with writing. Even though we had all worked on the abstracts, the introductions that my students sent seemed, to me, really off-target. There was good stuff in there, but it wasn’t as succinct and intentional as it needed to be. In the future, I plan to dedicate much more time to writing the introduction (and methods and conclusions and future directions)¬†with my students rather than seeing what they submit and scrambling to re-write it before the deadline. ¬†I think, overall, condensing their thoughts was really difficult for them. I saw a lot of “fluff” and repeating. This went for the conclusions and future directions as well as the introduction. Does anyone have some good resources they refer their students to to help with this?¬†

Poster organization was also another aspect that I think they will become better with over time. For example, each poster started off with the pictures and graphs each as individual figures thrown into the middle of the poster. What I think is more appropriate, and how I hope they organize it in the future, was to split the data up by brain region and dedicate each region to a single figure. Such that Figure 1 was all about the prefrontal cortex and within that there was Fig. 1A, 1B, 1C, etc. with images and graphs. Figure 2, then, was another group of images and graphs dedicated to the hippocampus. I find this easier for the audience to help move through the poster because it makes in clear that a lot of the information is specifically referring to one thing, in our case, brain regions.

After lots of back and forth, we finally got final products done and printed. Phew.

Overall, my lesson was this: Take the time to work on each aspect of the poster with your students the first time around. This will save time and frustration. For real.


Once we got past actually making the posters and getting them printed at the last possible moment (making me feel like a grad student again), we could look forward to the presentations. My students would only be participating in the poster sessions, not giving any talks. I thought this would be a good choice since they probably didn’t have enough data to talk for 10 minutes…next time! I talked with each student at length about how to balance their 2-minute spiel with introduction/background, results and conclusions. We were all confident, so I did not have them practice in front of me before we went. It’s not like we left ourselves with time to do that anyway…

I also discussed wardrobe with my students. Business casual. Always. For everyone. I’m hate to be a presenter-shamer, but dressing down (shorts/jeans/t-shirts) or like you are going to da club (tight/short) is one of the best way to take the focus away from your poster. End of rant.

Finally, I warned my students about the haters out there. You know, the folks that come around and tell you that your methods are wrong or that your data is wrong. I have never experienced such aggression at any one of my presentations, however I have heard horror stories. And while I think that the response to these people is a no-brainer, I took the time to discuss it with my students. My advice: always be polite and never get upset. Thank them for their observations, tell them that they bring up valid points (whether or not they really did), and assure them that you will seriously consider their suggestions as you move on with your unfinished project. I see no quicker way to diffuse a situation. Anyone else? 

Fortunately, I think confrontations like I described above are unheard of at undergraduate poster symposiums, so I really wasn’t too worried. However, it never hurts to be prepared.


The first symposium was at Bloomsburg University and the second was at Moravian College. Both venues were great and there was a great showing of students who were very excited to talk about the work they had been doing all summer. All three of my students enjoyed walking around and hearing about what other projects had been worked on and what they could bring back to our lab. They also did really a really fantastic job presenting their work. Some of my colleagues listened to them and reported that overall, the prepared talk and the posters were good, no red flags. Really, I am so proud of them!

Like any proud parent I was sure to take photos that I will now share with you:

Following the symposium, on our 2 hour ride home from Moravian, they all shared some ideas they have for their projects, some cool things they learned from other fields, and how much they loved presenting!! Music to my ears!! I think that these two days were not only a great way to wrap up the summer, but have also propelled us into the fall semester. These three are actually EXCITED to get into lab and see where their projects go. Isn’t that the point of undergraduate research? To expose students to the wonder of asking questions and learning how to answer them and then to inspire them to keep asking? Goodness, I’m having a moment. I’m a little inspired, too!

Anyway, I’m proud of them and how far they have come. I’m very much looking forward to what is next and to see how much each of them grows as a researcher over the next school year.

As always, thanks for reading and please share some of your thoughts on student presentations and how you’ve prepped your researchers in the past!

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Starting a Research Program with Undergraduates

One of my tasks this summer was¬†to get a research program up and running with undergraduate students. Let me give you¬†some background before I begin on my plan of action…

My position her at SU is as a Teaching Postdoc, meaning that according to my contract, my responsibilities end at the classroom. Fortunately, I have been given¬†opportunities to start doing research here – which I NEED to do because I’ll be applying for tenure-track positions this fall. Let me count the ways I have been assisted in this venture: First, I have an AMAZING department that is supporting research projects I conduct with student research assistants. The cost of antibodies is covered and my colleagues allow me to use chemicals and solutions they have with out asking for anything in return. Second, I was awarded a mini-grant from¬†SU, which is also covering the cost of supplies I need. Finally, ¬†my colleague Dr. Keen-Rhinehart has generously offered some of the brain tissue she still has from other projects and, more importantly, introduced me to her¬†collaborator at Bucknell University, Dr. Judy Grisel, who has opened her lab to me and we have already started a project using her mice.

I don’t know what I did right in this life, but I have been so fortunate to have such generous colleagues and a supportive department to help get my research program up and running…especially when it’s outside of my duties and they could all have told me “no can do”.

Like I mentioned above, thanks to my collaborators, I now have plenty of brains and plenty of work to do. Essentially, my projects involve examining the microglia in these brains to see if there is any correlation with some of the behavior outcomes of those rodents. After we collect some data, we plan to get some follow-up studies underway. Helping me with these projects are three undergraduate students: Jordan, Lauren and Liz. They are all rising seniors and are taking advantage of the summer to get a start on their capstone projects (SU requires biology and neuroscience majors to complete a capstone research project). Jordan and Lauren are teamed up taking on the “ethanol project” and Liz is working on the tissue from Dr. K-R.

So I have the support I need to run a research program, I have the brains (literally, I have rat and mouse brains to use), and I have the students…but what else do I need? Lab management skills...which no one trains you on as a student of science. Elizabeth Sandquist states the situation¬†perfectly in a really nice article…”You chose the research profession because you were fascinated with the world around you¬†…You have found that being the head of the lab is more than just making big discoveries; it is about managing a small business. Lab-management skills, while used every day by scientists, are not directly taught to young scientists. Rather, they are learned secondhand.” And if you have been in labs where no one was really managing, then you really have no idea what you have to do (points at self).

This seems a bit overwhelming…as a professor, not only do you need to¬†take care of classroom responsibilities and be a researcher, you need to manage¬†a small group of undergraduates. From experience, managing can be a full-time job by itself. Reading through some short articles on the topic offered a few good tips that I have absolutely been using. These included creating subgoals with my students and determining what motivates them (they are a competitive bunch, so having a totally baller poster was all they needed); giving pep-talks to remind them that it won’t be easy but they can do it; and setting a schedule on which they knew that I would assess their performance. The readings reminded me a lot of what I did in leadership positions for non-profits, so I started to think about my lab as an executive board – not so much a bunch of students I had to boss around, but colleagues who would come to me for guidance and support. I liked thinking about my lab this way because it’s very much in-line with the type of culture I want in my lab – students feel like they are valued and working toward a common goal and are respected by each other and me.

With my brain full of ideas and plans, it was time to take action. I decided to start the summer off by motivating the troops¬†and setting some goals: There are two research symposiums for the students to present at in July, so we definitely want to have a bunch of data by then. With the dates for the symposiums in mind, we worked backwards to figure out what needed to be done and by when (schedule of assessment). This was really helpful for everyone as¬†it showed us when we had to complete things by¬†and to understand the sequence of steps to collect data. I think this has contributed greatly to the exceptional¬†effort and after-hours work my students¬†have been putting in. So they¬†are working hard which I’m happy to see!

Weekly lab meetings/ journal clubs (the schedule)¬†are also a part of my research program. I feel that these meetings benefit the students in three¬†major ways: 1) they are evaluated on a regular basis and can see marked improvement; 2) and 3) pertain specifically to the journal club portion and allow for familiarization¬†with current research in the field and practice improving¬†their presentation skills. Enhancing communication skills is a big part of my teaching philosophy – as far as I’m concerned, they can be the smartest kids in the class, but if they can’t talk about the science or give an engaging presentation…it doesn’t matter. I tell my students to prepare a powerpoint presentation that doesn’t contain any full sentences. I actually suggest they try to avoid words completely and work with images. This is challenging for them at first, but the presentations are SO MUCH BETTER!! Gone are the days of students reading off of the slides! So far, journal club presentation have been the main show¬†each week, but starting this week they will actually have their own data to present!!

Not everything has been super smooth this summer, despite the planning. While we have set goals and they are working hard, often times not all tasks have been completed by the original deadline due to legit problems or a case of senioritis. While this can be agitating, I try to never show any frustration. My approach is to give a stern reminder of the goals and timeline, assure them that I do know that they are working hard, and to encourage them to keep up the good work. I don’t want my students to be afraid to come to me if they are having trouble or really need my help, which is why I don’t¬†get upset. I really do believe that I have a good working relationship with my researchers and that they do give me a really good effort (even with the occasional¬†reminder!) with this philosophy and course of action.

I’m super proud of my students this summer and I’m happy to report that their hard work is paying off! I’ll be reporting back pretty soon on their prep and performance at the two upcoming research¬†symposiums on the 27th and 28th!!

So, fellow investigators, what have you found that keeps the lab functioning? Any outstanding/unusual problems you have faced getting projects going? Whatcha think?

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The Virtual Classroom (Part II) – Lab Reports

Hey ya’ll! It’s been a while… but I’m ready to chat a little more about that summer course:

I talked about my 4-week Intensive Introduction to Neuroscience with virtual lab in my second blog post a couple weeks ago…it has since ended (it was only 4 weeks long). It’s been an experience.

The Pros: students can move at their own pace to a extent, I can use programs that allow me to assess them at multiple points and correct mistakes, with proper planning students can have a really good experience. “With proper planning…”

The Cons: I wasn’t always able to predict where my students would struggle and didn’t realize they still didn’t understand a concept until after the exam or lab report was submitted. And with a four week course, there’s no time to go back, fix things, try again because we have moved on to new material!

So, in short,¬†I didn’t predict trouble spots¬†100% of the time. Fortunately (and I do think this is fortunate), I saw all of my students (all 4) struggle with¬†the same concepts. To me, that means I know exactly where I need to increase instruction and attention.¬†One example of this was the lab on neurotransmitters. Despite the chapter reading, the lecture video with questions, my students still didn’t understand that the ‘mystery solutions’ we were using were having an effect on Daphnia heart rate because they were mimicking endogenous neurotransmitters.

So, the virtual labs. Lots of prep, but overall, worth it. As I mentioned, I created videos with instructions for students to follow so they could collect their own data. The data they collected was due by Wednesday of that week, and then I compiled all of it, analyzed it in GraphPad Prism, and provided the graph of the data for them to use in their final lab report, due that Friday.

First, I made a video with instructions¬†(you may have to create a free account with NJVID to see it). To actually complete the lab, I had to make a number of videos in which students could count the heart rate of the Daphnia. Each video contained instructions, such as: “Count the heart beats and multiply that value by 6 to get the bpm. After you have acquired the bpm for each of the 3 trials, average it and submit the value. That is the data point for that subject.” You can see an example here. Data was submitted on a Google Form so that I had all of their data in one place.

The lab reports were another beast. To start, not all of my students were neuroscience, or even science, majors. And even if they were, most of them (3/4) were underclassman, and likely had not had to write up a lab report before. Knowing this, I prepared a few resources to get them on the right track: I uploaded a lab report template, figuring that if they took a look at that, they would understand the basics of including an introduction, hypothesis, methods section, results section and conclusion. However, even when students know that all of these sections and components must exist, they don’t always know what they should be writing about, so I included a word document with questions that should be addressed in each section. While this was helpful, students either provided a bunch of single sentences smashed into a paragraph that didn’t necessarily flow, or they provided a list of responses. This is a big example of not knowing what my students don’t know and not giving them enough guidance.

So, on the second lab report, I provided some questions to get them started as well, but also included in the instructions that these questions should be addressed in paragraph form, should include transitions and should overall be giving the reader the information needed to support they hypothesis they would make at the end of the introduction. I also provided a single primary literature article for them to read and reference to support any claims they made. I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this with undergrads, but they like to make statements and hypotheses based on their personal feelings or experiences. I mean, I was probably guilty of that too, but I’m really trying to get my students to kick that habit, so I also included in the instructions that “You must provided a citation for any statements you make”. I think¬†that helped.

I also provided a rough format for students to follow for the methods, results and conclusions, as well as provided a graph of their data. A problem I encountered was that some students completely disregarded (or didn’t understand?) the graphed data, and made contradictory statements to it in their results section. For subsequent lab reports, I provided the graph as well as a statement about what the graph meant.

What I hope is that I was able to provide guidance for my students without completely holding their hand and writing the lab report for them. I did see improvement over time, and I also asked students to submit their lab intro with hypothesis prior to receiving a graph of the results. While these were graded, it allowed me to give them some feedback for improvement on the final lab report.

Now I want to ask: who else has run a virtual lab and how did you tackle the lab reports? I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, so if you know of some resources or have actually tried some methods of teaching how to write a lab report, fill me in!!

Overall, the online course was a good¬†learning experience for me. One student filled out the course evaluation and it was all positive. I definitely have some changes in mind, and I’m still trying to figure out the absolute best way to design a virtual lab, so I will probably write about that later (as a heads-up I’m currently experimenting with Microsoft’s Sway program).

Thanks again for stopping by!!

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Formative Assessment and a Product Review: LEARNi – The Teaching Panel

On a regular basis I look for new apps, programs and tools to aid in my classroom teaching – be it actually a new technology or just new to me. Last fall, for example, I used clickers in almost every Introduction to Neuroscience lecture I gave. It was great – in a classroom of 17 students I was able to test comprehension following each new concept, the students liked the high frequency of low-risk opportunities to test themselves and I like to see where I needed to re-visit material before moving on to the next topic.¬†This type of assessment is called formative, and is defined by Black and Wiliam (1998) as “all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.”

7/21/16 EDIT – LEARNi has been rebranded and is now LiveRhino. The product includes improvements which I will review once I’ve started using it during fall semester!

LEARNi

So late last fall semester during one of my “new app” searches, I came across a product called LEARNi. I didn’t put much thought into contacting the administrators to create a teacher account to¬†see what the whole thing was all about – and I am so glad I did, because I got to introduce my students to¬†a really fantastic product and experience.¬†At that point in time, LEARNi was exclusively used in elementary, junior high and high school classrooms; no college classroom had ever seen the likes of this classroom management technology. However, after a couple of skype training sessions with Noam, the VP of business development, I was ready to start piloting the program at SU in my Functional Neuroanatomy class.

In short (very, very short), LEARNi allows me to upload a presentation and then layer assessment into the presentation. Meaning, I may decide that on slide 4 of my presentation, I will want to ask my class a question about the content or if they feel they understand what I said. During the presentation, I can then share my question with the class and get their responses back in real-time, anonymously. I am able to see the results, and so are the students. This is nice because it shows them that more than one person may have struggled with a concept. I can add a number of assessment types into a presentation before I present, or while I am actually giving the presentation.

Here are some screen shots showing the addition of a poll to a presentation:

Here I used a very low-level type of question for the material being covered, but I think it demonstrates what you can do.

The other polling options, as you can see from the side panel are:

  • Snapshot – allowing you to simply ask the class if they feel “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” about the material thus far. This is nice for students who may not speak up about not fully understanding the material. When I get some thumbs down I will usually back-up and talk about a topic more slowly or more simplified.
  • Participation – this button “calls on” a student at random. All of your students should be logged on to the app, so then when you push this button, one of them will be selected at random to answer a question or to do whatever it was you needed a volunteer for!
  • Assess – allows you to build a more involved assessment with multiple questions. I typically save this for the end of a lesson and it includes multiple choice and true/false questions. I will also make these questions a little more tricky than the questions I scattered within the presentation.
  • Ideas – this is a fun way to get some open-ended responses from your students (in short phrases). Students submit responses that are then displayed in a word cloud! The most common responses are shown as large words in the word cloud, and less common responses are smaller.
  • url – this is a relatively new feature, it allows you to add a link to the presentation. This may not be too terribly exciting for many of us who use powerpoint on a regular presentation, but it’s nice to be able to use to enhance the presentation on this platform.

Like I said, I really enjoyed using this technology and introducing it to the class, however, you may be asking, “well, what did the students think??” They loved it.

As I learned with the clickers, and which stayed true in this course, students want lots of low-risk opportunities to test their knowledge and understanding of material. This allows them to test themselves without penalty and without drawing attention to themselves. This platform also allows for more than just multiple choice questions, which you are limited to with the clickers. Also, at the end of a classroom session, all the results from all the assessments are saved for you to reference later!

Now, there are some things about the platform that took getting used to and¬†there is still room for improvement. I also haven’t told you about EVERYTHING you can do with this app – like tracking which students are actually viewing the presentation and which ones have exited the app… but I really just wanted to introduce it to you and talk about formative assessment.

Other ways to assess

Obviously, clickers and fancy platforms are not the only ways to assess your students during the class period, these are just the two that I’ve tried out and have a lot of positive feedback with. Another technology I want to try is Socrative, which also allows you to create quizzes for your student, but does not tie into any type of presentation. Without trying it, it seems like it would just be easier to stick with clickers if you are using a powerpoint presentation, but I will keep you posted.¬†I’d also like to try more small group assessment activities.

What have you used to assess your students? Any other technologies, programs, or methods that have really stood out for you? Tell me about it!

Thanks for checking in, have a great week!

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The Virtual Classroom (Part I)

So, I’ve just finished my first year of full-time teaching! It was great…I learned a lot (how to teach, how to deal with students, the material I was teaching…) and I’m looking forward to implementing those lessons into my courses next year. However, I’m in no way done challenging myself!..keep reading!

Back in fall, when I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to be at SU for a second year, I elected to run a course that would end before the date at which my lease would be up. So, that meant a 4-week intensive Introduction to Neuroscience course – online. Oh, and the lab is online, too.

Truth be told, I knew nothing about how to organize and run an online course. My teacher training was already limited and certainly did not include material on this. But, I could see the value in learning via trial by fire. Not only is my inexperience a road-block, so is creating an experience for students that is as high quality as what they would experience in a classroom at SU. The small class-sizes with faculty who focus on¬†how to teach is unlike what students likely experience at large public institutions. How would I make sure that I was giving them a small liberal arts¬†online course? How could I make this four week course AMAZING? I’m probably putting a tad too much pressure on myself, but I know no other way.

Regardless of how this course goes, what I learn and how I change it in the future is going to be really valuable. E-learning will likely continue to increase in popularity due to low costs for the students and flexibility in time and location – students don’t have to quit their jobs (which pay for the course) to take the course. Learning how to successfully plan and execute a online course, be it four weeks or twelve, will likely serve me well on the job search and the students who are exposed to my creations in the future.

To begin planning my course, I went back to the Intro to Neuro course I taught in the fall. I liked the text,¬†The Mind’s Machine¬†by Watson and Breedlove, and I liked the inquiry-based lab activities we did. I chose to organize the course chapter-by-chapter, meaning we would move through the weeks covering each chapter sequentially. I think in the future I may do this differently and focus on major learning objectives, but for my first time, I think this is OK. I also chose five lab activities that I thought would be most valuable: eBrain+ Virtual Dissection (Sinauer Associates, Inc), MetaNeuron¬†– an interactive neuron simulation program, the Daphnia lab to study effects of excitatory and inhibatory chemicals, a somatosensory lab in which students time their motor responses to different stimuli, and finally, a cortisol ELISA assay to investigate neuroendocrinology and stress. My syllabus contained a schedule of activities that looked like this:

schedule

What you may also notice is that this schedule contains discussions. Having students bat ideas, responses and reflections around with each others makes the classroom a more interesting place and enhances learning, and I hope it does the same online. While there may be a number of ways to have a virtual discussion or forum, I chose to use an app that SU is piloting called Yellowdig. It allows for a virtual learning community where students, or myself, can post articles and content and then everyone else can comment or ‘like’ or what have you. The interface looks a lot like Facebook which is appealing to the students and not as clunky as the discussion option that is available on Blackboard.

Of course, I must assess them! As you can see in the schedule, I have a quiz mid-week and an exam at the week’s end. Very traditional summative assessment that gets the job done. What is not on the schedule are the videos that I made in which I talk students through some of the more complex topics, such as action potentials. For these short (15-20 min) videos, I have a powerpoint that I voice over. Once created, I can upload it to EdPuzzle¬†and insert questions into certain points of the video – some good ol’ formative assessment. I love it, the students love it, everyone is happy and learning. What is also cool about EdPuzzle is that I can see if students have watched the whole video and if they attempted questions and how they responded. So this would also be useful for a flipped classroom situation or something.

Anyway, this adventure embarks on Monday, so I will learn (rapidly) where the flaws are in content organization and how unclear my instructions are on some tasks. ¬†Keep an eye out for updates and let me know if you’ve tried anything in the virtual classroom that has worked particularly well! Thanks everyone!