Use of online homework to link courses in the curriculum

This post is generally related to pitfall number 5:Ignore the ways students learn from each other.

I consider it very important to have a handle on how my students link the material in my course with information in other courses, both those that they are taking currently and those they took in previous terms. To assess this, I ask the students to identify a subject that we will discuss in my course – usually within the next week or so – and find material from a previous course that will supplement my lecture. For example, we might talk about a particular bacterial species in my class… well, they had heard of that bacteria in Immunology class from last term. Students work in pairs and provide a visual from the previous class and discuss how it is connected with the subject that we will talk about. One-page assignments are delivered to me by email and I evaluate them every other day or so. I will comment if they have inaccuracies in their report and ask them to fix it. Students are responsible for four submissions per term and they can choose which week they wish to complete their homework.

I have used this for several years now and here following are the specific benefits I see:

  • I get a sense of what students know before they hear my lecture
  • I can position myself to stress concepts that were not evident in their homework
  • I can go talk to previous instructors about things I think they present incorrectly in their class (has happened!). Vice versa has happened as well- I have changed my lectures to reflect more accurately a concept from a previous class.
  • Students process information from the previous class in the context of what they will hear from me
  • Students review their previous class material as they try to find subjects to write about in their homework
  • Students work in pairs and can use the time to communicate about subject matter
  • Finally – if a student has a great question in class or a specific topic that they are interested in, I will ask them to explore that question in a homework format and submit it as one of their assignments.

I have found this approach very successful as I work to integrate course material vertically and horizontally in our curriculum. I expect to continue and perhaps expand this as I transition to the hybrid course strategy.

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About Doublebluff

Faculty in Biomedical Sciences, CCVM
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