Teaching Responsibilities, Challenges and Growth

Teaching Responsibilities

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& 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 at RTC I taught multiple sections of Anatomy & Physiology 1 and 2 and General Biology (both online and in person).

Teaching Challenges and Growth

New Curriculum: General Biology Labs

During the 2015-16 academic year, Cheryl Stover and I were Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education (PULSE) fellows. During that year, we began planning for a new research-based lab curriculum in alignment with the national initiative Vision and Change. Vision and Change lists core concepts and competencies for undergraduate biology students, and we realized that we were teaching the core concepts well, but our students were lacking in the competencies, especially in their ability to plan experiments and collect, analyze, and communicate results. We presented our plan for the new lab curriculum at the Northwest Biology Instructor’s conference in May 2016. I also attended a workshop in June 2016 with a group of instructors from around the state who are working to integrate research experiences into non-majors classes in biology and chemistry, led by Gita Bangera at Bellevue College who has done similar work with majors classes throughout the state with funding from an NSF grant.

This fall, I piloted the new lab curriculum with students. Students researched background information and wrote their own procedures ahead of time for each lab experiment and kept detailed lab notebooks. After a few whole-class experiments, they worked in groups to design, perform, and analyze their own 4-5 week experiment using bean beetles as their study organism. On December 2nd, they presented professionally printed posters at a session I invited all college employees to attend. It was a lot of work, but I’m extremely proud of the students and how much they grew throughout the process. Mark White attended the poster session and wrote a short article on The Wire, RTC’s online newsletter.

A few challenges I plan to address before teaching this curriculum again in Spring include:

  • Some students consistently turned in lab notebooks without enough detail
    • I plan to create a reference presentation with examples of pages from excellent lab notebooks that students can refer to
    • I also plan to create “self-check” lists and require students to regularly reflect on their own lab work
  • Uneven work distribution among students in groups and occasional confusion about what to do on a particular lab day
    • I plan to choose the groups myself next time and ensure students are grouped with others who will challenge them but not be overly intimidating to work with
    • At the start of the group projects, we need to assign group roles and set ground rules
    • Show groups how to break large tasks into small action items and assign someone to be the lead on each action item
    • Make individual contributions to the group poster a larger portion of the grade

Online General Biology

In Summer 2016, I took over teaching online General Biology in addition to the face to face version of the same class. For this class, I collaborate with Danielle Szabo, who teaches 3 face to face Saturday labs that the online students are required to attend. While I’ve taught hybrid classes in the past, being the lead teacher on an online class is new to me. As a department, we’ve had problems in the past with online students being unprepared for future courses in a sequence, so it was very important to maintain the same level of rigor as the face to face class. I expected online teaching to be more flexible, which I needed due to the many committees I serve on. I’ve found it to be more difficult than I expected. Here are some of the challenges I’ve faced and how I plan to address them.

  • Time management (self) – I spend so much time replying to student discussion messages and e-mails that I get behind on other tasks. Students commented on my slow grading in their evaluations. To save time, I plan to do the following:
    • Keep a list of replies to common questions in OneNote that I can copy and paste and tailor to individual students when needed
    • Ensure that most of the questions students commonly ask are easy to find in the course material
    • I’ve recently started using KanbanFlow to prioritize and track tasks
  • Student discouragement and resistance to reading and application tasks – Students constantly request long lecture videos from me and complain that studying the topic objectives did not help them on application based test questions.
    • I have begun to add automatic feedback to all the practice quiz and exam questions so that students can see which topic objective each question ties to, and what course materials address that objective.
    • I plan to make a few more short videos on especially complicated topics, but also to use Reading Apprenticeship activities to ensure students understand the importance of reading and are supported in their reading and application.
    • At the end of Fall quarter, I asked students to make their own study guide page in Canvas that others could view. A few people suggested that finals would be less overwhelming if this was a progressive assignment that they began at the beginning of the quarter and added to over time. I really like this idea and plan to implement it.
    • At the beginning of the course, discouraged students often referred to a video I made in the course intro about keeping a growth mindset, and it seemed to help them deal with challenging material better. I need to find a way to inspire students to think back to the growth mindset and other metacognitive concepts on a regular basis throughout the course.
  • Technical issues – mainly with the new exam proctoring software RTC is using and with BioBeyond, which is adaptive courseware developed with funding from the Gates Foundation. Here’s how I’m addressing these issues:
    • I recently consolidated all the technical support information in the course into one reference page so it will be easy to find.
    • I have been in constant communication with people from BioBeyond whenever major issues crop up. They recently gave my students access to a discussion board monitored by TAs who have gone through the entire BioBeyond curriculum.
    • I’ve learned to use videoconferences in Canvas and have set up a weekly evening videoconference so that online students can ask questions about the course content and technical issues.

Other General Teaching Challenges and Goals

  • I want to increase the proportion of active learning activities and reduce lecture time in my classroom, but it’s already difficult to get through all of the required course material for prerequisite science classes in the time allotted.
    • My tenure committee suggested I find some faculty who are using alternative models for teaching such as flipped classrooms and observe them. I think this is an excellent idea. I’ve also found a few good Youtube videos where teachers model learning activities in the classroom.
    • In one class this Fall, I abandoned my Power Point slides and projected a word document on the board with major objectives. As we talked about each major objective, it was much easier to switch directions or add a short activity based on student interests and areas of confusion, and we got less behind than if I’d felt the need to go through every single slide in a Power Point. This worked because I had online content to supplement any pieces we didn’t get to in class.