Better prepared students, more participation

Will Wilson (Duke Biology) wanted to engage his students and have them come to class prepared, having read the text.  He wanted the class meetings to go beyond the text, and include more student discussion. He’s incorporated two new features in his course this year to achieve these goals: reading quizzes at the beginning of class and 3 minute papers.

Students in Bio 173 (People, Plants and Pollution) have a 4 minute, 5 question multiple choice quiz on the reading at the beginning of every class. Students may bring whatever resources they’d like to class, but the short time ensures that students must be familiar with the material (and that they arrive in class on time). Student performance on the quizzes has improved over time, as they learned to read before coming to class. Now, students do well on the quizzes and are motivated to discuss the questions immediately after he collects their answers. Because the students come to class prepared, Will can add to the materials from the reading during class, instead of going over it, and students participate more than in previous courses.  Because Will wrote the text Constructed Climates, it is well suited to his course (available soon from University of Chicago Press).

At the end of a section, students are given a one page 3 minute essay, which is anonymous and not graded. Students are asked about what interested them most in this section, and what they’d like more information about. He addresses the student answers from the 3 minute essay in the next class. In one essay, Will asked students for feedback on the course design, and received all positive comments.

Will is participating in a CIT fellows program to incorporate Scientific Teaching in Biology; he credits the  program with inspiring him to change his teaching.