As a tenure track biology faculty member, my responsibilities include planning, instructing, and assessing students (both in person and online), academic advising, supporting other faculty in their assignments, and participating in college improvement initiatives. Courses I have taught since becoming an adjunct at RTC in Summer 2010 include:
- BIOL 105 Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology
- BIOL& 128 Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology (at Seattle Central College)
- BIOL& 160 General Biology
- BIOL& 211 Majors Cellular Biology (at Seattle Central College)
- BIOL& 241 Human Anatomy & Physiology 1
- BIOL& 242 Human Anatomy & Physiology 2
- BIOL& 260 Microbiology
- NUTR& 101 Human Nutrition
This year I have been the major instructor for General Biology sections (both in person and online), and I also taught Biol 105 and Biol 241/242.
Teaching Challenges and Growth
General Biology Labs
In my reflection last year, I discussed changes to my General Biology labs designed to give students research experiences in alignment with recommendations from the national initiative Vision and Change. As of Winter 2018, I am teaching the new lab curriculum for the 3rd time in its present form. I attended the ComGen summer summit again in June 2017 with my colleague Barcin Acar, and I have been working on writing up my lab curriculum in a form that can be shared with educators from around the state and region. Barcin was also using the new curriculum in her Biol 160 class, but unfortunately (for us) she was hired full time at another college this fall. You can see some information about my labs on the ComGen website.
Instead of doing “cookbook labs” with a simple procedure and known outcome, our Biol 160 students work in groups to design, perform, and analyze their own 4-5 week experiment using bean beetles as their study organism. Each week they write their own background and methods in a detailed lab notebook before coming to class. They investigate visual, behavioral, and genetic differences between different populations of these bean beetles, which are a cosmopolitan pest of dried beans. Some of the students from West Africa and India have personal experience with these beetles, and they’ve shared stories of accidentally eating beetle larvae in bean soup and of farmers whose crops were devastated. At the end of the quarter, the students make group posters which are professionally printed, and I invite people from around the college to attend their poster session.
Last year I wrote about some of the challenges I planned to address in the lab. I have tried all of the things I suggested in last year’s reflection, and while some worked better than others, the overall curriculum has definitely improved. I created a reference presentation with examples from previous quarters’ lab notebooks, and a detailed self-assessment checklist that students reference before turning their notebooks in. When groups have not been equally balanced, I have switched them up partially through the quarter. I’ve found that it’s best to get the groups settled quickly and then avoid changing them further so that students build trust with their lab groups. While I’ve attempted to assign roles within groups, students often ignore these and divide up the work the way they see fit. It has been helpful to have early group discussions about each person’s past experience with group work and characteristics of good and bad groups they’ve worked in.
We’ve also dealt with some technical issues involving the genetics experiment, which I added this year. It’s not perfect yet, but we’ve narrowed down the problem and determined that the PCR step is not working. I believe it’s important for students to realize that scientific experiments don’t always turn out perfectly, and often require troubleshooting. In Spring we had an extra lab where students could repeat steps that didn’t work, and it was obvious that their understanding increased the second time. Unfortunately, the Friday labs in Fall coincided with some holidays and we didn’t have time to repeat any labs. My dean was very willing to listen to input about the scheduling, and we should have enough lab time this quarter.
Online General Biology
Last year, I discussed taking over the online General Biology course and some challenges that posed. I have addressed most of these challenges, and the class has definitely improved. While I still get behind on grading, I have improved my efficiency by keeping some replies to common questions and issues that I can copy and paste with modifications. I’ve also made some changes to the course layout so that it’s easy for students to find the information they need. All the course policies are in the same spot in the syllabus, and I created a technical support page that is prominently visible. I’ve borrowed some clear guidelines with photos that my colleague, Cheryl Stover made for use of Respondus Monitor, which allows students to take exams at home using a webcam.
To address student complaints that studying the topic objectives did not help them with exam questions, I added automatic feedback to practice quiz and exam questions telling which objective the question relates to. I added references to Bloom’s Taxonomy to the “How to Study” page, and talked about how to write practice study questions based on the objectives. Here is an excerpt from a page on studying for Exam 2:
“When I write the exam questions, I look at the topic objectives and try to make sure that all of them are covered by at least one question. For example, one of the objectives says “Compare and contrast the major steps, products, and functions of two types of cell division and of the cell cycle as a whole.” I could make this into a matching question asking you to match each step of cell division to its description, or a multiple choice asking which event happens in meiosis but not mitosis, or a short answer question asking you list the major steps, products, and functions of mitosis and meiosis.”
While I tried having the students add to their individual study guide page on Canvas over the quarter, I eventually gave up on this idea. Some students struggled with the technical aspects of creating a page in Canvas and didn’t do the assignment, even though I made a detailed how-to video. It took a long time for me to create a new page for every student in the class and give them editing rights. A lot of students complained that they already had methods of making their own study guides on paper and didn’t want to change what worked for them.
I’ve continued my weekly videoconferences for the online students, and while the few students who show up always comment positively, it’s often pretty empty. To try to combat discouragement over the quarter, I like to add information about proven learning strategies to the bottom of my regular course announcements.
Other General Teaching Challenges and Goals
Last year I discussed my desire to increase the proportion of active learning activities in my classes, which have an intense content schedule. I’ve done a lot of searching for ideas, and a few things have helped.
I’ve stopped relying much on PowerPoint slides. Instead, I have been projecting a word document on the board which starts with the major objectives. We talk about the major points and take notes on the word document and I occasionally switch to a picture or diagram. I can copy and paste pictures into the word document, and I post these notes on Canvas at the end of class. When we cover a complex process, I stop and have the students pair up to explain it to each other while I walk around the room to gauge understanding. I cover the most difficult topics first, and if we don’t get to all the objectives, I expect the students to check their Canvas readings and bring questions.
Student Advising/Mentoring Challenges and Growth
Last year I discussed the problem that General Education students lack continuity between instructors and classmates from course to course and often get lost while planning their classes and navigating college culture. We still don’t have an advisor assigned to General Education students who are not in Running Start. One of the goals for the Guided Pathways work at the college involves finalizing a transfer advising model, and I’m hoping our recent College Spark grant will help us to devote more resources to these students.
In the meantime, I have started calling all the students who don’t show up to class in the first week, especially the online students. If someone drops the class and we add people from the waitlist, I call them too. This has definitely helped to increase my course rosters and get students on the right track.
I’ve also continued holding my office hours in the Learning Resource and Career Center. When I walk in, I check the computers and tables and greet any students from my classes by name and let them know I’m there to help if they need anything. During Fall 2017 I had a group of 5-8 students who came to office hours every day to study together and with me. Many of them took my advice about course sequencing and are now taking Microbiology together. I’ve seen a few of them this quarter, and they’re still studying together, and say that General Biology prepared them well for the topics in Microbiology, where they’re also keeping lab notebooks.
I’m still focusing on regular activities for self reflection in my students. We recently had a review day before an exam, and I asked the students to look at past quizzes to determine which objectives each question related to, and ultimately discover which topics to focus their study on. I’ve stopped making students who score below a certain percentage come to office hours as an assignment, because I discussed this with other instructors and concluded that this might stigmatize office hours or getting help as something you only do if you’re failing. I’ve found that as the LRCC has increased their hours and services, I’m getting a lot more attendance at office hours anyway.
I’m also still working on weekly self-reflections about my teaching and my students’ needs, though my consistency varies throughout the quarter. After attending the SOTL institute last summer, my reflections have begun focusing more on power and equity in the classroom. About a year ago, I had a powerful experience in class. We were playing a jeopardy style game to review for an exam, and the students were divided into teams. A student on one team was very vocal and confident in his answers, even though he was only correct about half the time. About halfway through, another student, who was one of the top students in my class, left the room. I assumed this was because I knew she had a child in the hospital. Later that day, she sent me a message filled with feelings of inadequacy about her performance in the class. She said that she spent hours and hours studying and felt like this other student knew much more, and maybe she wasn’t cut out to be a nurse. I was shocked by this message and immediately replied that she had the second highest grade in the class and gave examples of excellent work she’d done in class.
I dwelled on this experience for awhile, as I’ve noticed that my most confident students are often those who come from privileged racial and class backgrounds, even if they aren’t necessarily the students who understand the material best. At the SOTL institute, my small group challenged me to think about how my inaction in redirecting students who speak often may be upholding existing power structures. I am trying to make time to reflect weekly on whose voices are heard in class and how I can promote equity in class discussions.
College Service Responsibilities, Challenges and Growth
Please see the “Leadership, Service, and Professional Development” page.
Selected Activities and Achievements
- Achieving the Dream Conference, 2017 (group presenter for grant), 2016 and 2015 (attendee)
- Exploring the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) with an Equity Mindset Summer Institute, Summer 2017
- Teaching and Learning National Institute team participant, Summer 2016
- Faculty Connections Lead for “Engaging Adjunct Faculty in the Student Success Movement” grant for $160,000; major contributor to grant application and grant work, Summer 2016 – Summer 2018
- ComGen (Community College Genomics Research Initiative) Summit attendee, Summer 2017 and 2016
- Awarded Title 3 Mini-grant, Renton Technical College Fall 2015
- Quality Matters Master Reviewer Certification, Spring 2015
- NW Biology Teachers Conference, Spring 2016 (group presenter), and 2017, 2015 (attendee)
- Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education Fellow (2015-16) and continuing member
- National Association of Biology Teachers Conference, Fall 2014 (presenter) and 2013 (attendee)
- Exceptional Faculty Award, Renton Technical College Fall 2014
- Pioneered first hybrid life sciences course at RTC, Winter 2013
- Dissected my first cadaver and took charge of specimen ordering for Anatomy & Physiology courses at RTC, Fall 2013
- Quality Matters Peer Reviewer Certification, Summer 2012
- Applying the Quality Matters Rubric Course, Summer 2012
- Assessment, Teaching and Learning Conference, Vancouver WA Spring 2012
- RTC Online Inservice, Winter 2012 (participant) and Winter 2013 (presenter)
- Copyright for Educators, Fall 2012
- Introduction to the Reading Apprenticeship Framework, WestEd, Fall 2011