We have been teaching a general microbiology course where the content
material that we cover is complex. Our goal was to offer a variety
strategies for students to be successful as learners. We wanted students
to have varied opportunities to think about the course material.
To this end we wanted to employ various pedagogical approaches that engaged students in active learning, required students to participate, gave context to course content, offered opportunities for writing, discussion, group work, as well as options for problem based, inquiry based, and case based learning.
Creating/managing a learning environment that embraces a plethora of active learning opportunities is time consuming. In an environment where there is one instructor and a small class this goal is manageable, as is demonstrated by many wonderful examples at small colleges. However as class size becomes larger – the challenge increases, the student population is likely to become more diverse. Intimacy with the class decreases. Assumptions the instructors make about what students know and need, begin to become incorrect. The environment is very complex –and there is diminished feed back to the instructor. The instructor looses connection with the students when the ability to look around and assess student reactions decreases. There is an increasing challenge in reaching all students, or actively engaging students. This environment becomes overwhelming to the instructor.
Our solution has been to enlarge the instructor base in our course. We have established a teaching team that includes a set of science faculty who lecture in the course, Education Faculty who serve as consultants on education theory and use of technology, Graduate teaching assistants, many of whom develop an interest in education and join our Center of Teaching Excellence Certificate Program, and Undergraduate Teaching Assistants who are biology students interested in people oriented professions. These collaborations enlarge our instructor base and allow us the manpower to manage a complex leaning environment, and to assess the success of our active learning endeavors.
Our teaching team is diverse and each member provides a unique perspective allowing us varied expertise when developing course learning opportunites.
Faculty instructorsWhat are the benefits of a collaborative approach to teaching?
Ann Smith – Instructor
Patty Shields - Instructor
Richard Stewart & Jon Dinman – Associate Professors
Robert Yuan – Full Professor
Teaching Team: Education Professionals
Masters degree in Biology
Ph.D candidate Education Policy, Planning and Leadership, UM College of Education
Ph.D. Education Policy, Planning and Leadership
Manager, Teaching Learning Support, OIT, UM
Provide education perspective, knowledge of learning theory, and teaching methods, experience in education research.
Teaching Team: Graduate Assistants
Life Sciences graduate students
Experiences as a student, knowledge of the field, liaison with students
Teaching Team: Undergraduate Teaching Assistants
Alumni of the course
Enroll for elective credit
A special set of undergraduates involved in the course have completed the University of Maryland College of Life Sciences Undergraduate Technology Apprentice Program, these students are trained in technology.
Are there costs of collaboration? We have employed this method with no monetary increase to the course budget. We have received some University support for meeting attendance and for the purchase of computers to support our use of technology. However we have used our existing people power. The main cost we have encountered has been in faculty control over course direction. In a collaborative environment, the team members must relinquish some control. Further, our time commitment to the course has increased. Working together, we must commit to desingating time to meet, plan and discuss.
To facilitate the success of the team and further the goal of adding active learning to the class, a mechanism for increased communication was required. We accomplished this by adding technology.
We began with the goal of adding active learning to our large enrollment microbiology class. Our approach has been to establish a teaching team where members work collaboratively to design, implement, and assess active learning strategies and use technology to establish an on-line learning center to provide a site/time for communication, organization, and active learning options.
Results from a UM General Education Course survey conducted by the University of Maryland Undergraduate Studies office showed that showed that in 2002 our course scored significantly greater than other Life Sciences Lab General Education courses in the incorporation of active learning options. We performed our own qualitative analysis using surveys delivered in WebCT to determine if we had been successful in engaging students.
When we asked about one of newly incorporated strategies - the online discussion, students responded favorably with comments such as "we liked the opportunity to discuss our ideas with students!", “so many different ideas and tangents to explore and learn about”, "it is great to learn new information from each other". Additional comments described the positive aspects of working in a group, meeting new people, and the online venue providing flexibility in space and time.
Our work with the on-line discussion as an active learning option began in 1999. It has taken time to establish logistics. We pair a month long on line small group discussion with one 30 minute lfull class discussion in the lecture hall and follow this with a group report assignment. We have found this scenario to be very good mechanism to engage students in the consideration of multifaceted topics. But for a large lecture course (300-400 students per semester) completing an online discussion where students work in small groups of 6 in private online discussion spaces requires too many logistics to offer more than once in a semester. Another option we have tested is the use case studies to engage students, followed by directed discussion in lecture that extends learning.
We feel that the collaborative effort of the teaching team has changed the dynamic of our class. Rather than a faculty member being overwhelmed and limited by a large enrollment course, our team embraces our student population. And through the added support structures on campus (our Department, our College, Center for Teaching Excellence, Office of Information Technology), and in our discipline societies (ASM Education, Project Kaleidoscope), coupled with the use of technology to disseminate information and engage our students, we have created a viable framework for introducing active learning into the large enrollment course.