Remote Teaching a Large Course and Lab in Evolutionary Anthropology

Example poll questions from Lesson on genus homo

Meet Dr. Elaine Gomez Guevara, Assistant Research Professor, who is relatively new to Duke and is teaching two courses:

  • EVANTH 101 Introduction to Evolutionary Anthropology with a laboratory (74 students)
  • EVANTH 359 Primate Conservation (12 students)

When she learned she would be teaching the remainder of Spring semester remotely, she transformed her Introduction to Evolutionary Anthropology course within Sakai.

First, she posted a very human and reassuring video explaining how the course would continue (entitled “Welcome back!) in which she sympathetically wished her students well, showed how she was adjusting (and struggling), and communicated her enthusiasm for the remaining course content, while maintaining eye contact! Her video is an excellent example that videos don’t need to be polished with fancy backgrounds to maintain connection with students; maintaining this connection is the most important goal for course videos in remote teaching.

Elaine Gomez Guevara in her Welcome Back video

The course content has been moved from the classroom to Lessons within Sakai. Each Lesson contains a variety of content, including:

  • a list of goals,
  • important terms,
  • short videos (made by Dr. Guevara and from other sources, for example this overview of 7 million years of human evolution),
  • images from a variety of sources,
  •  brief quiz questions (“Test your knowledge”),
  • supplemental links for learning more,
  • and spaces to ask questions.

Currently each lessons page is quite long, with multiple videos. Dr. Guevara is considering splitting each lesson into three pages, to make it easier for students with poor internet connections to navigate and download the videos.

Each lab has a forum, which is the new classroom for the lab. Currently scheduled lab times have been turned into office hours. The TAs, Arianna Harrington and Hannah Salomons, developed virtual labs with ideas and resources from other Evolutionary Anthropology faculty and communicated with students. At the time of shutdown, students collected and analyzed data from each other and themselves, but pivoted to look at the effects of quarantine. For example, they proposed and examined questions like: Do students become more nocturnal during quarantine? Do students eat less fiber during quarantine? Students proposed a hypothesis, and then posted a figure with data and a brief interpretation. Peers provided feedback for the figure and interpretation.

She also maintains a blog (using the Commons tool in Sakai) within her course site to highlight news directly related to course topics, and explains how they relate and why she appreciates these news items.

Within the course Forums, she includes coping tips, explaining:

We are living through a truly historic and exceptionally challenging moment. Let’s support each other by sharing what we are finding helps us to stay mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy.

Throughout, Dr. Guevara maintains a friendly, caring presence while demonstrating her enthusiasm for the course content. I envied her students!


Andrea Novicki

Author: Andrea Novicki

Andrea helps faculty teach effectively and efficiently. She works primarily with scientists, using her biology background, love of science and teaching experience. Her current enthusiasms include active learning, group learning (especially team-based learning) and assessment.