Category Archives: teaching

Online teaching and self-fulfilling prophecy

My university is in the throes of figuring out what Fall 2021 looks like for teaching – while working under the enormous handicap of not knowing what Fall 2021 will look like for anything else: student demand, vaccination uptake, variant persistence, not-yet-relaxed Public Health limits on classroom capacities, you name it. This has of course brought with it another round of existential-angst-ridden debate over whether another semester of partly-to-mostly-online teaching will be a way out of our conundrum or the end of higher education as we know it.

It’s easy to be tempted into “end of higher education as we know it”. Continue reading

What if the way Covid-19 forces us to teach is actually better?

Well, I survived – barely – my first full semester of teaching online;* and I’ve jumped into my second. Will it be the last? My colleagues certainly hope so, with “I can’t wait to get back in the classroom” beginning to be the most distinctive vocalization of Homo professorius. And you don’t have to look far to find media articles condemning online teaching: it’s lazy, it’s short-changing students, it’s unfair, it reduces learning to watching YouTube.

What if all that is wrong? Continue reading

The teaching book I’ve always needed

I taught my first undergraduate course in 1992 (I think it was), as a final-year PhD student. I had no idea what I was doing.

28 years later, some days I feel like not much has changed.*

I’m like most university instructors, I think, in three important ways.  First, I’ve never had any formal instruction in how to teach.** Second, while I know there’s an enormous literature on the scholarship of teaching, I’ve read very little of it, and when I try, I usually find it impenetrable. Third, I care about my teaching and want to do it better. (Yes, I’m aware of the apparent tension between the third statement and the first two – but that will have to be a blog post of its own.)

What I needed desperately, 28 years ago, and still need now, is a user-friendly book that could orient me to best practices in teaching. Continue reading

The Easter eggs in my entomology course

No, not that kind of Easter egg.

Our fall semester is in the home stretch now, much to my relief – and I’m sure that of my students, too.  My teaching this fall was entirely online. While those with strong but uninformed opinions were furiously tweeting about slipper-wearing profs dialing it in from their easy chairs, I was working hard – unsustainably hard – to produce online courses that work.

Was I successful? I don’t know. But I used every technique I could think of to make my online entomology course navigable, transparent, and engaging. Continue reading

Student responsibility for online learning, the prescriptive battles the descriptive

Like most of my colleagues, I spent dozens upon dozens of hours this summer converting my university courses to an online format.  I showed you the result, for my 3rd year Entomology course, in last week’s post – and to be honest, I think the result is pretty good.*  Of course, what I think about it doesn’t really matter – what matters is what my students think about it.  Or maybe that’s what matters.  I’m not sure, and a seemingly minor decision puts the question in sharp relief for me: one long video, or a bunch of short ones?

My university made an early decision to go online for fall (both going online, and calling it early, were very good decisions).  That meant that our Centre for Enhanced Teaching and Learning had time to put on a course in online pedagogy and logistics, and I had time to take it. (Well, by “had time”, I mean “made time”; anyone who thinks that the move to online made professors’ jobs easier is, shall we say politely, incompletely informed.)  One recommendation got a lot of stress in that course: for the presentation of content, chunking material into short videos.  Five minutes! Four minutes! Three minutes!

This was a bit startling.  Three minute videos? Continue reading

What my online Entomology course look like

Warning: this got kind of long.  If you’re not interested in the online course delivery – here’s an unrelated but much shorter post instead. It’s kind of fun.

Like most university instructors, I’m teaching online this fall – 3rd year general Entomology, in my case.  Also like most university instructors, I had (before this summer) no training in pedagogy for online teaching, limited experience with the necessary technology, and a certain amount of skepticism that I could teach entomology – with a lab – without ever seeing my students in person.  But needs must, as they say; and here we are. Today, for those who are interested: a glimpse at my course.  I poured an enormous amount of work into this, and I’m hopeful that the product is pretty good. (In some ways, it may be better than the face-to-face version.) But, since it started just last week, you’re seeing an attempt of uncertain merit, or if you prefer, an experiment in progress. Continue reading

Drosophila, exponential growth, and the power of evolution

A few weeks ago I blogged about the way the universe is doomed by the exponential growth in readership of an old post here on Scientist Sees Squirrel.  That exercise was a bit silly, but I used it to make a non-silly point or two about biology.  My blogging example reminded me that I used to use an almost-as-silly fruit fly example in my undergrad ecology courses. I thought you might enjoy it – so here it is. (And if you’re teaching, and want to borrow it, be my guest.)

Imagine that you return from the grocery store with some bananas.  Unbeknownst to you, a single (inseminated) female fruit fly* has stowed away in there.  If all her offspring survive, how many fruit flies will your kitchen have after just one year? Continue reading

Moving courses online isn’t easy – or cheap

Yesterday evening (as I write*) I spent 40 minutes filming three minutes of video.  It was a clip explaining how to collect aquatic insects, for my newly-online-with-lab-at-home Entomology course. That “40 minutes” is just camera-rolling time.  It doesn’t count planning what to film, travel to location, or editing the video later for posting (I only stepped on a slippery rock and swore on camera once; but it was a good reminder that I should probably learn how to bleep the audio track). Continue reading

Cracking the code of biology tests: let’s get metacognitive!

This is a guest post from Greg Crowther

In a previous post here on Scientist Sees Squirrel, Steve raised an important and hard question: aside from helping students learn the specific content of our courses, how can we help students get better at learning in general?

Although it’s a hard question, I think I have a pretty good one-word answer: metacognition. Continue reading

Steal this (updated) syllabus for Scientific Writing

I’ve just finished the 3rd go-around of my Scientific Writing course.  When I first signed up to teach it, I was very scared, but now that I’ve been through it a few times, I’m quite pleased with how it worked out.

After the first offering, I posted my syllabus and other materials, and quite a few folks found that useful.  But I’ve polished and improved the course, so today I’m posting an updated set.  I’m also including some notes about adapting the course to online delivery – something I had involuntary experience with this year, as most of us did! Continue reading