End-of-Semester Advice from Students: 2014 edition

2014-12-17 04.15.27 pmLast fall I wrote a three-post series about the questions I asked my students at the end of the semester:

  1. What was the most important thing you learned about biology this semester?
  2. What is something you think you’ll never forget?
  3. What is something you wish you had learned more about?

I distilled their comments into a three-post series, linked above.

This semester I kept the first two questions the same, but I tweaked the third prompt a little bit (as you can see in the earlier post, a few students mistakenly thought I wanted to know which topics they needed more help with). So for fall 2014, I changed the third question to “…something you wish the class had covered in more depth.”

The results for 2014 had much in common with the 2013 responses, in that the entire semester was well-represented. For the first question, 19 students mentioned chemistry, DNA, viruses/cancer, genetics, or inheritance as being most important, but 26 cited topics from the evolution/diversity and ecology units. Six expressed the insight that everything in biology is interconnected, and two mentioned study skills or time management as the most important things they had learned.

The “never forget” topics from question 2 trended more towards chemistry and protein synthesis than they did before (27  mentions total), though I don’t think I covered those topics very differently this time around. Another 15 mentioned animal diversity, how evolution works, and some variant of “Humans are jerks to the Earth.” Surprisingly, lab got 12 shout-outs. Two found the condom lab memorable, but the rest mentioned our hyper-popular animal diversity lab. In particular, a monitor lizard “coming to lab and pooping all over the place” struck four students as something they’d remember for the rest of their lives.

The wording of question 3 is still not perfect, as some students clearly thought I was asking what I should review more. Still, assuming most students understood what I was after, the big winner here was evolution and the environment (26 responses), with DNA technology and other cell/molecular topics coming in a strong second (20 responses). The “straggler” answers were beyond the scope of the class (e.g., the cosmos and colonizing other worlds, with 2 responses), involved the human body (2 responses), or expressed a desire for more videos and “stories that grab attention” (2 responses). Five of the 52 students who came to class that day were satisfied with the level of coverage throughout the class.

Once again, I am struck by the reminder that teachers need to convey the importance of EVERY topic in biology. After all, for any given topic, at least a handful of your students is interested, won’t forget your examples, and wants to know more. We owe it to all of our classes to convey every topic with enthusiasm — even the ones we don’t enjoy teaching — and to give our students the opportunity to discover for themselves what they love about biology.

P.S. This is my last blog post for 2014; it’s time to recuperate and prepare for 2015. I’ll be back again once the new year starts. In the meantime, to put you in the holiday spirit, here’s a link back to some fungal fun from the past: winter-themed fungus “paintings” on agar.

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