This blog was started as my reflections on the 2011 Change MOOC. It is now an on going journal of my thoughts on Higher Education, specifically teaching Biology.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Personal Reflection on Online Learning and MOOCs #change11

      I've been teaching at the college level for over 15 years, and I have rarely taught a class the same way twice.  I'm always looking for new ways to reach my students and help them to realize that the greatest learning comes when they take ownership of the information and the process.  My field is Microbial Ecology, and I have taught freshmen to graduate students.  Regardless of the level, I am constantly amazed at the amount of information we are expected to cram into a person during two meetings a week for fourteen weeks.  Really, the amount of information that they need to process and begin to master can not be conveyed in face to face time allotted.

      About 6 years ago, I started to do some of my learning assessments online and assignments online.  The online quizzes got the students to start reading their textbooks before class, and they came into class better prepared.  I found that I spent less time going over basic material, and that the students were up to the task of handling some of the deeper, more complex, subjects.  Over the last six years, I've been adding more assignments to get my students to think about the course materials.
     Two years ago, in a course on Medical Microbiology, which is taught almost exclusively using case studies, I decided to give them assignments which made them convey material in new ways.  The first was to create video casts of the immune system.  In honor of our school having a football team, the assignment was to explore the immune response of our school's mascot, Pounce the Panther, from either the Bulldog Bacterium or the Yellow Jacket Virus.  I was stunned at how well they did!  While there were some science specific fixes I wanted them to do, their videos which went up on iTunesU were >90% accurate (and a lot of fun).
     Their second task was to create brochures, posters and talks regarding a communicable disease.  We even had a Disease Day on the Commons where they talked to their fellow students about diseases (unfortunately, turnout was bad because of the rain).  I will never forget a student yelling across the common, "Do you have Syphilis?  Well, do you know the Symptoms?"

     Currently, I am working on making a Hybrid inclass/online course for general biology.  The goal again is to help students deal with the overwhelming knowledge base of cellular and molecular biology by working independently and in small groups, on small projects (like discussions), and larger projects.

      I came across the idea of a MOOC while working on this hybrid class.  I'm intrigued with the idea, and what I've come across on the web.  I signed up for the Change MOOC course to learn more about this learning model, and to see if I can use some of the concepts in building a hybrid general biology class.


  1. Hi,
    Enjoyed learning about the work of your students. Unique undertakings. You mention that you are working on a hybrid course. Last summer I participated in a blended learning course offered by University of Central Florida and facilitated by Kelvin Thompson. It was well organized and highly useful to me. In case you haven't seen it or need more ideas check it out at:


    best wishes, Glenis Joyce

  2. Glenis Joyce;
    Thanks for the the information. I look into the course. I'm always in need of fresh ideas as I build this course.

  3. HI! I am interested in following your posts, as I am also a microbial ecologist and am taking part in #change11 to stay up to date on educational technology. I teach microbiology, intro bio, microbial ecology, and pathophysiology at Alverno College in Milwaukee, WI, but I visit Atlanta regularly to see friends and relatives. I look forward to seeing how a fellow biologist applies these ideas to courses that often have very concrete learning objectives.

  4. @SL Seston: Glad to meet you, and glad to see another biologist on board. If you come down to Atlanta, please feel free to get in touch. My basic contact information is at our departmental webpage http://biology.gsu.edu/5719.html

    And you have listed one of my main concerns: concrete learning objectives.

  5. @SL Seston: I remembered hearing about Alverno college, and then it came to me. Is it your school that developed a ePortfolio system for your students? If so, how do you like it? I'm working on getting the biology students to start portfolios of their work, and have been looking at various mechanisms, and trying to find out the functionality that worked for other groups.