Different Courses Different Styles

We are coming to the end of my second year using our new Active Learning classroom and, as usual, instead of getting on with my grading I have been thinking of other things… in this case, how much my different courses taught in the room have varied.  All my courses are upper level, mostly ecological, biology courses and I used to think that they would be similar to each other once in our new room.  Little did I know!  Each has developed a different character.  My Marine Biology course is focussed on a textbook used to power a “flipped” design while the Ecological Animal Physiology (EcoPhys) course doesn’t even have a text.  Marine Bio also heavily uses the internet and video resources to bring the ocean to the upper Midwest. The Ecology Theory & Methods class is structured around data handling, mostly linked to a text as well as student generated data.  EcoPhys has headed in the direction of lots of student presentations as well as digging into the primary literature. All these classes have heavily shifted away from lecture and toward in-class activities, but otherwise they have really diverged in style and even pace. I would like to say that this variation in style is intentional – and I guess it is – but much of this seems to be driven by the content and the need to have different active strategies for different groups of students.  Some activities just “feel” right in some courses and not in others. I think that I expected that these courses would be more similar, especially since I was teaching them all!  This may seem likea really obvious observation, but as the courses have been redeveloped for active learning they have become more distinct.  Maybe this strikes me because when I developed them as lecture courses, they all basically had the same structure and feel.  Sure, the content varied, but the overall flavor of an upper-level ecological lecture course was pretty constant.  While refurbishing the courses has certainly been challenging (and time consuming), I think that it has been more enjoyable that the usual stress of course development because I like the creative angle (yes, scientists do have a creative side!)  And the courses are, of course, also more fun since we are doing different things every day – the students seem to appreciate the variability as well.  We’ll see if any of the folks that we have been working with in this project feel the same as they try out new courses and embrace their creative sides:)

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