The Biology Department recognized the hard work and innovation of all of our Learning Assistants (LAs) by presenting “The Outstanding Learning Assistant Award” to a group of Biology LAs for the spring 2021 semester. These students presented a poster that was judged by the Biology Honors Committee to best outline procedures that will improve teaching in our undergraduate courses. Financial support for this award is made possible by Professor Emerita Elizabeth Godrick.
Kaitlin Farias, Tara O’Brien, Careena Uppaluri, and Rebecca Yu received the top award for Biology LAs for their presentation on the topic of shifting the BI 108 lab on epidemiology from Simutext to a Case Study Lab. Here is the abstract from the group’s presentation:
BI108 has utilized simutext in it’s curriculum for years which is a teaching platform that aims to be an interactive online learning experience for students. When the lab sections were in person, students would work individually or with a group, to complete these online simutext labs. There are currently 3 simutext labs integrated into the 2020-2021 academic school year based on cellular respiration, mitosis and meiosis, and epidemiology. These labs generally consist of a simulation section that teaches the topic with text, images, videos, and guiding questions. At the end of the simulation, there are a few graded questions that test the student’s knowledge on the topic. While Simutext is a great resource for students, it is not very interactive nor conducive to the lab environment. Simutext is designed to be an individual assignment, while one of the BI108 lab’s purposes is to teach and encourage teamwork. Simutext is more fitting as an assignment outside of the lab, or as something students can use as a study aide for the lecture portion of the course. Simutext is a virtual lab/lecture, which is fitting for the LfA format, but it is not as fitting for in person students, and for when teaching resumes back to normal. Also, it costs around $50 per student on top of the materials students need to buy for the lab and lecture. BI108 lab is designed for students to apply the things they have learned in lecture, and Simutext does not provide those opportunities that an in person or interactive lab can. To ensure students get the most out of the BI108 lab on Epidemiology, we are proposing a shift from Simutext to a Case Study Lab. The lab will consist of real life examples that aim to highlight the importance of epidemiology through graded questions based on the synthesis and application of the information given. Basic information about the topic will be given to students in the pre-lab video, which is watched before students come to class, to help provide the background information necessary to understand the case study. Additional Powerpoint slides will also be presented by the TF or LA at the beginning of lab to ensure adequate background knowledge before attempting real-life synthesis and critical-thinking questions. Changing the final BI108 lab from a remote and non-interactive format to our proposed Case Study Lab would provide students with the opportunity to synthesize the information learned in lecture and exercise their practical knowledge in the lab setting. Teamwork is a central tenet of BI108, and the Case Study Lab format will encourage group members to work together rather than work individually. This opportunity for teamwork is the greatest benefit of switching from SimuText to the Case Study Lab. Students have already worked with their specially formulated teams since the beginning of the semester, and the Case Study Lab would be another opportunity to strengthen skills in teamwork such as conflict resolution, active listening, and creativity.
A close runner-up:
Anna Cavallino, Daphne De La Piedra, Thuy Hanley, Juliette Pluviose, and Joseph Yap were the runners up for their presentation on creating a flowchart for resources in BI 315 lab. Here is the abstract from the group’s presentation:
BI315 lab is a fast-paced, content-filled course that inevitably results in expressions of confusion by students over how to navigate and succeed in the course. While there is a plethora of resources available to aid students in understanding and completing assignments, students often get lost in the sheer amount of literature and wonder where to start. As learning assistants, we gain valuable insight into the specific questions and concerns faced by students regarding specific activities and assignments, in addition to having faced similar points of confusion ourselves when having previously taken the course. Therefore, our solution is to create a flowchart that will guide students towards the most helpful resources and solutions depending on their questions. By creating a directory of tips and resources based on our own experience and student feedback, learning assistants can be more efficient when helping students. Rather than spending an extended amount of time individually directing students through the different resources, a student group can be set on the right path and utilize dialogic discourse to determine the correct resources. Previous research has shown that peer learning can effectively enhance students’ confidence and learning. We feel that the peer-created resources can also foster and enhance student learning beyond that of the established curriculum.
Congratulations to the award-winners and thanks to all the hardworking LAs who participated in the presentations. More information on the Learning Assistant Program can be found here.