A hybrid SUS102

SUS102: Intro to Environmental Science and Sustainability introduces students to the science behind critical environmental debates and the biological basis of creating and maintaining sustainable ecosystems and sustainable environmental solutions.  This course provides a broad introduction to many environmental science topics, and focuses on critical thinking skills, including information literacy and science literacy. I’m trying to equip students to compare and analyze evidence and arguments about environmental issues, to be able to identify and interpret trends and uncertainties in data and model predictions, and to realize just how much impact they can have (for better or for worse) in their daily decision making about which products to buy, which food to eat, how they dispose of “waste”, etc.  This course satisfies the Biological Science requirement of the Baccalaureate Core.

Currently the entire class meets for two 90 minute lectures (100-200 students; I teach) and one 3-hr lab (25 students; TAs teach) per week. In the hybrid format, I will maintain the labs in their current format and students will meet in lecture once per week. I’m still deciding between splitting the class into two back-to-back 50-min/100-student meetings or one 90-minute/200-student meetings per week.

The challenges I face in teaching this course in the traditional format include:

  1. the impersonal environment of a large lecture course (soon to be 200 students). I only ever talk to the students who are REALLY interested or REALLY struggling. I have noticed that I know a lot more about my online students then my in-person students by the end of the term.
  2. challenging and hooking the science majors without losing the non-majors. This isn’t as much a problem in this 100-level class as in a different, large, 200-level class that I also teach, but it is still on my mind. The bacc core attracts a lot of students who think they won’t pass traditional biology or think that this is more interesting than traditional biology. These students tend to shut down when they see anything resembling chemistry or math on the board; they also tell me that I go way too fast and use words they don’t understand. However, the bacc core also attracts a lot of engineers who often coast through class with (too much?) ease.
  3. appropriate assessment. I’m more interested in my students being able to THINK about interconnections of society and environment and APPLY concepts we learn to predict and understand environmental problems. But with 100-200 students, I feel trapped in a multiple-choice scantron exam format that tests their ability to recall terms and facts. The non-science majors struggle, so I end up offering lots of “alternative” credit writing assignments for those who do poorly on the exam or those highly motivated students who want to DO more.

My hopes for the hybrid format are as follows:

  1. more interaction and relationships with students: I will have them post online intros (with pictures) so I can better connect the face to the person during class time. By moving lectures online, I will get more opportunity to interact with students (and they will interact more with each other) while they work on more active learning tasks during our face-to-face time.
  2. students have more control of the pace: my moving lectures online, students can speed them up or slow them down as needed, pause to look up terms, etc. They can rewatch if needed while studying later. Then we can tackle activities like debates, problem-solving, hands-on demonstration activities, Q&A/review, etc. in the classroom. In these group activities, my hope is that the non-majors (and the majors) benefit from more and different exposure to the material, while the majors get the benefit of deeper learning by explaining concepts to their group members.
  3. more appropriate assessment. I will move exams online and make them open book (and maybe collaborative, as students are likely to collaborate anyway). I will either add essay questions to all exams (to be read only if they would change the grade) or provide an option for an alternate essay exam for those students who prefer that format. In either case, I don’t have to read 200 essays. I think I will replace the final exam with a final debate (currently the last “lab” of the term). I’ll talk about that in my next blog post.
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