From January-June 2012, I co-taught 3 undergraduate courses in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at The University of British Columbia. These courses varied widely both in the number of students and their structure. I have enjoyed the opportunities to experience three very unique courses, as I was able to employ a number of engaging teaching methods and found that each course was rewarding in a different way.
EOSC 315: The Ocean Ecosystem
Schedule: 6-9PM, Mondays and Wednesdays, May-June 2012
In early May, I taught two 1.5 hour lectures and one 3 hour lecture for this course for non-science majors, each of which I aimed to make very engaging – a daunting task for a 3 hour lecture – as well as educational. Highlights of this course have been associated with the active learning segments I planned. For a section I taught about water pressure, I brought in a “show and tell” of styrofoam cups that I shrank on previous oceanographic cruises (for a great explanation and excellent photos by the New York Times, click here). I have since received comments from students that being able to interact with an example of water pressure was not only “neat”, but drove home the concept for them. During my three-hour lecture, I introduced the students to phytoplankton of different kinds, and then held a “Phytoplankton Hunger Games” for 45 minutes, during which students educated themselves about and assumed the roles of different phytoplankton, taught their peers about their assigned organisms, and then discussed which photosynthesizer would outcompete the others in certain environments. I spent my time visiting groups, answering questions, posing new questions, and found that each group had very thoughtful reasonings for their answers. Many were able to reach the likely survivor based on the phytoplankton profiles I had prepared for the class. It was great to encourage the students to be teachers for a change, and to facilitate a new activity that the students enjoyed.
ENVR 200: Introduction to Environmental Sciences
Schedule: 2-5PM, Thursdays, January-April 2012
This course is built to be extremely interactive and is thus far from the traditional lecture. Each three-hour class consisted of at least one guest lecture and at least one activity. In addition to being one of the “guest” lecturers toward the beginning of the semester (feedback from which can be read here), I also worked collaboratively with my co-instructor on determining course units, appropriate guest lecturers and activities for these units, facilitation of these classes, and other administrative tasks such as website management and marking. Toward the end of the semester, I facilitated both the peer-review and instructor-review processes for students’ papers on environmental topics. Though challenging at times to ensure peer participation, I enjoyed the process of providing guidance on students’ final projects before the deadline. The opportunity to incorporate feedback prior to evaluation is something not typically done in many courses, and I believe it demonstrated the value of feedback and cooperative learning to our students.
EOSC 112: The Fluid Earth – Atmosphere and Ocean
Schedule: 11AM-12PM, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, January-April 2012
This course is structured as a large lecture, with the teaching and administration responsibilities split between two instructors. My role consisted of refining and teaching 50% of the lectures, as well as administrative work such as determining midterm and exam questions pertaining to the units I taught. Despite the traditional lecture style of the course, many interactive multiple choice questions are incorporated to each lecture to encourage student involvement and gauge their understanding of the course material. In addition to utilizing many interactive questions in each lecture, I also encouraged students’ voices to be heard by asking many open-ended questions. In the beginning of the semester, I found that the students were more comfortable answering the interactive multiple choice questions – an anonymous and silent process – but over the course of my lectures, I was able to get a number of students speaking up in class. This was extremely rewarding for me, as I took it as a sign that students felt safe and comfortable in class, achieving one of the fundamental goals I set for my teaching endeavours (see my teaching philosophy here). The absolute highlight of this semester was working with a particular student who was worried about her grade status. After failing two midterms, she contacted me prior to the third (and last) midterm. In meeting with her and emphasizing study skills (as well as going over her content questions), she increased her third midterm mark by 23 % and went on to pass the course.