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Active Learning in BIS2A

Active learning in BIS2A

In every lecture, we will ask you to answer questions, either in a small group or individually. These questions serve several purposes:

Functions of in-class questions

  • Questions stimulate students to examine a topic from a different perspective, one that the instructor considers relevant to their learning.

  • Questions act as mini "self-tests" for students. If you are uncertain about what question is being asked or how to answer it, this is a good time to (a) ask the instructor for clarification and/or (b) take note to review this immediately after class with a TA, the instructor, classmates, or the internet. If the instructor took the time to ask you the question in class, this is a big clue that he/she thinks that both the question and the answer are important.

  • Some in-class questions will ask students to formulate questions themselves. This is typically an exercise that is designed to force the student to reflect on and try to articulate the point of the lesson. These are critical exercises that force you to think more deeply about a topic and to place it in the broader context of the course.

  • Some questions may ask the student to interpret data or to create a model (e.g., perhaps a picture) and to communicate what they see to the class. This exercise asks the student to practice explaining something out loud. This can be a great self-test and learning experience, both for the person answering and fellow students who should also be using the time to examine how they would have answered the question and how that compares with the feedback of the instructor.

  • Questions in the discussion that follows and the thought process involved in solving a problem or answering the questions are opportunities for the instructor to model expert behavior in an interactive way—sometimes it is equally important to understand HOW we arrive at an answer as it is to understand the answer.

Some questions are designed to stimulate thought and discussion rather than to elicit a discrete answer. If called on, you should not feel compelled to have one "right" answer!! Understanding this is very important. Once you realize that it is perfectly acceptable (and sometimes desirable) to not know all of the answers (if you did, what would be the point of coming to class), it can take away a lot of the anxiety of getting called on. While it is okay to not know "the answer", it is nevertheless important for you to attempt to make a contribution to the discussion. Examples of other meaningful contributions might include: asking for clarification; associating the question with another class topic (trying to make connections); and expressing what you are comfortable with and what confuses you about the question. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know". That's perfectly okay and even expected sometimes. Be prepared for the instructor to follow up with a different question, however, that will try to either highlight something that you likely do know or to ask for your help with identifying a point of confusion.

Getting ready for lecture

To help you get ready for each lecture, we provide study guides that include instructions on how to prepare for class. You should do your best to complete the assigned reading and suggested "self-assessments" before coming to class. This will ensure that you are ready for discussions and that you can make the most of your time during class. We do not expect you to be an expert before lecture, but we do expect you to do the pre-reading and by doing so make yourself familiar with the required vocabulary and spend some time thinking about the concepts that will be discussed. We will build on that basic knowledge in lecture. If you do not have at least some of the basic building blocks before hand, you will make less efficient use of your time in class.

We cannot emphasize too strongly that YOU have the primary responsibility for learning the material in this (or any other) course. Although we are invested in your success, your instructors and TAs cannot magically implant knowledge. Like any other discipline that requires mastery (e.g., sports, music, dance, etc.), we can help guide you and critique your performance, but we can not replace the hours of practice necessary to become good at something. You would never expect to become a proficient pianist by going to lessons once or twice a week and never practicing. To most of us, it seems self-evident that you need practice to become good at something like music, art, or sports. It should not be surprising that the same rule applies with learning biology or any other academic subject.

We see ourselves as your coaches for this class; we want all of you to succeed. However, for this to happen, you have to take your practice seriously. This means coming to class prepared, participating in class, studying the material covered in class as soon as possible, identifying where you are uncertain and getting help to clarify those topics as soon as possible, and trying to make thoughtful contributions to the online discussions (not just the bare minimum required to "get the points").

Bottom line: you need to be active participants in your learning.