Did you have to remind me?

I wake up this morning to discover Doonesbury telling me stuff I already know.

newsem

Yep, classes start for me tomorrow at 8am. I have a lighter load than the grueling mess last semester, and I also get to teach my fave class, developmental biology. No new paradigms this time, though — I think it worked fairly well the way I did it last time, with a mix of once weekly lectures and lots of class time dedicated to discussion and analysis. I’ll also be compelling my students to set up blogs and write about science publicly, so I’ll occasionally be linking to a lot of student work.

One thing I’m considering doing differently…I might post summaries of lectures and discussion topics here, if time allows. Public exposure of all the stuff that usually goes on behind the doors of the classroom? I don’t know if the world is ready for that.


I’m including the syllabus for my developmental biology course. Just in case you think I’m totally slacking with just one class, I’m also teaching a course called Biological Communications, a writing course that tries to get students to read and write in the style of the scientific literature, and am also doing individual studies with 5 students.

Comments

  1. Ogvorbis: Uncomfortable because I really do feel good. says

    Girl’s semester starts tomorrow. Boy still has two weeks before classes start.

    Public exposure of all the stuff that usually goes on behind the doors of the classroom?

    You mean sitting around as students feed you peeled bonbons?

  2. katiemarshall says

    This looks like a wonderful syllabus! We’ve really struggled at our uni to incorporate scientific literature and alternate learning methods (rather than just midterms, exams, and in-lab assignments) because they add so much value to classes. Just out of curiousity, how many students would you have in this course?

  3. says

    It’s a big course for me and UMM, small for other places. Our computer system is down for maintenance right now, so I can’t give you a specific number — but last I looked it was somewhere around 12-15 students.

    Which is a nice size. Enough that you have critical mass for discussions, not so big that anyone can be neglected.

  4. Ogvorbis: Uncomfortable because I really do feel good. says

    It’s a big course for me and UMM, small for other places. Our computer system is down for maintenance right now, so I can’t give you a specific number — but last I looked it was somewhere around 12-15 students.

    Which is a nice size. Enough that you have critical mass for discussions, not so big that anyone can be neglected.

    My upper-level history courses usually had 6 to 10 students (and we all knew each other (and the professors) quite well) which made the classes more discussion and participation and far less lecture.

  5. says

    Oh, and I should mention that I often get very mixed evaluations on these sorts of courses. Some students feel that I should be at the front of the room shoveling knowledge into their brains every day, and I do do some of that (lectures are important, they distill down what a knowledgeable person considers to be central concepts in the course), but the parts where I make the students actively evaluate and analyze what they’re reading…ooh, some of the students think that’s me being lazy.

  6. Ogvorbis: Uncomfortable because I really do feel good. says

    …ooh, some of the students think that’s me being lazy.

    How dare you ask students to think critically. In a science class, no less. What do you think this is, a history course?

  7. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    The danger with having students write in the style of scientific literature, is what literature they are reading to determine this style. While every field has its own terms and nomenclature that should be used when appropriate, the writing should still be written as clearly as possible without unnecessary jargon, waffling and posturing to sound ‘more scientific’. So many new researchers write turgid prose because that’s what they’ve come across when doing their reading and that is what they think their writing should be like.

    Of course this is an excellent opportunity to nip this tendency in the bud.

  8. Sarah says

    That syllabus looks great. I would have loved my undergrad bio courses to be in that format. Guess I should have gone to a smaller school. Oh well.

  9. shouldbeworking says

    I’ve been trying to get my physics students to write in a more scientific manner. Almost anything would be an improvement over this semester’s results. One student wrote in his evaluation of experimental error ” … the amount of friction was larger than we expected and my lab partner is an idiot”.

  10. says

    Writing courses are challenging to teach and grade. My English professor friends do a lot more paper reading and correction than I do. On math exams I get to circle errant minus signs and deduct a few points. They mark non sequiturs in essays and write marginal notes explaining why X does not imply Y (except they usually don’t get to use handy shorthand like X and Y). I have the easier task.

    My calculus class was completely filled during early enrollment, including a packed waiting list. I sent everyone an advance copy of the syllabus. A couple of spaces quickly opened up when people saw my class includes an essay assignment. Run away! Run away!

  11. says

    PZ

    One thing I’m considering doing differently…I might post summaries of lectures and discussion topics here, if time allows.

    Yes! Please.

    (I know how annoying this is, but (of course it’s not going to stop me asking), could you toss up .pdf warnings? My tablet automatically downloads them. :-/ )

  12. Ogvorbis says

    A couple of spaces quickly opened up when people saw my class includes an essay assignment. Run away! Run away!

    The howls of dismay and anger were impressive when our glass blowing instructor (yes, I took glass blowing to fulfill my fine arts requirement. for four semesters.) explained that he wanted a paper (two to four pages with at least four sources) on anything to do with glass and/or optics.

    I think the paper took me one hour and I used only sources sitting in my apartment.

  13. shouldbeworking says

    I had a math course that required a 5 page paper. I lucked out and got quadratic equations as the topic. As a physics major, I had trouble keeping to the maximum page limit.

  14. says

    I’m also teaching a course called Biological Communications, a writing course that tries to get students to read and write in the style of the scientific literature

    Hmm. I am going to assume that this means, “Accessible to the public literature”, since it seems that, in general, the, “Opaque and incomprehensible.”, sort comes much more naturally. ;) lol

  15. didgen says

    Please, please do this. It would be wonderful, I don’t think I could survive a formal learning environment due to issues I have with memory. I love learning biology and chemistry.

  16. cactusren says

    I TA for a science writing course for undergrads. The biggest problem is that they’ve spent a long time learning how to take up lots of room with very little material, so they can meet requirements like “write a 10 page paper” without necessarily saying much. We force a complete 180 on them by starting off with a few short papers (500 words) reviewing papers they’re reading for class. I’ve gotten multiple papers that top 1000 words for these assignments. They do improve through the semester, but economy of words is not something most college students are used to.

    Oh, and I’d really like a stamp that says, “No, your results do not prove anything-they support your hypothesis.” I get really tired of writing that.

  17. Karen Locke says

    Teaching how to write scientific papers should NOT be a single course. I finished my MS in geology a year ago, but coming from a computer engineering background I had to take lots of upper-division courses as well as the graduate courses. Every single one had at least one paper or poster required, as well as at least one public speaking event. (Those of you who have never done a scientific poster at the graduate level, trust me: they’re waaay harder than papers. They hone editing skills like nothing else.) The department’s goal, of course, was that everyone who graduated could write scientific papers well and present their work publicly, whether it be to a professional conference or just a small meeting within a company. On the whole, I think the department succeeded. But what was necessary was practice.

  18. Lofty says

    Good grief, teaching students to think? When all they want in life is a secure middle management position with a cute secretary. Next thing you’ll find them developing a Hexapod or something.

  19. cactusren says

    Karen–My experience of graduate courses and writing has been similar. I still think it’s also a good idea to have undergraduate courses that introduce students to the practices of scientific writing. No, one writing course is not enough, but it’s a useful starting point for the writing done in all those graduate courses.

  20. says

    I like the open course biology stuff on the MIT site (7.014). So it’s a few years old, but it’s the basic stuff mostly. I have no idea how students get through this 1000+ page textbook though! I just finished charter 6, and it doesn’t look like I’m making a dent in this thing. On a positive note though, the book is around $170, and I got a new “used” one for $1.56 through an Amazon partner.
    Maybe you could put up some old lectures in a few years if you start recording them now?

  21. Tabun says

    Oh, and I’d really like a stamp that says, “No, your results do not prove anything-they support your hypothesis.” I get really tired of writing that.

    Or one that says “You have provided no [evidence, data, results, calculations] to support that claim”. That was something I had to write far too many times in the last semester (first semester as a lab demonstator).

  22. NitricAcid says

    Luxury. My classes (including the three-hour evening class, twice a week) started January 2nd.