By Celine Cluzeau, PhD
I am currently participating in the design of a “hybrid” cell biology course, along with four other postdoctoral fellows from the NICHD (Drs. Megan Sampley, Kate Monzo, Sarine Markossian, and Prasanna Krishnan), for the Integrated Life Sciences (ILS) Program at the University of Maryland (UMD).
Last year at the annual NICHD Fellows Retreat, I met Dr. Byrn Booth “Boots” Quimby, associate director of the ILS program at UMD. Dr. Quimby is interested in integrating active learning tools in her teaching classes, and she offered to facilitate a workshop for NICHD fellows interested in developing new teaching strategies. I attended her workshop to learn more about course design, learning outcomes, and active learning tools, which together help students achieve a deeper understanding of classroom topics.
During the workshop, we established learning outcomes for a specific module within one of the ILS Program classes. Several of the workshop participants, including myself, continued to work with Dr. Quimby in the development of a new cell biology course that will be taught next fall. The course involves blended (also known as hybrid) learning, in which online material is used to enhance classroom interactions with students.
The online portion of the course gives students necessary background information about each topic, reserving time in the classroom for in-depth learning activities, such as problem-based learning and small group activities. Online modules include seminar videos (from iBioseminars)*, recorded short lectures (using ScreenFlow), reading selections from the support book, and short quizzes to evaluate learning and identify difficult concepts to clarify during the next classroom meeting.
I am currently developing two online and two in-class modules of 75 minutes each. Preparation for the online content includes: identifying seminars and videos matching the learning objectives of the modules, designing and recording complementary material, creating a single video document, and developing a set of 40-50 quiz questions for each module.
The classroom modules are designed to encourage problem-based learning rather than didactic interactions. An important goal for classroom activities is to introduce the students to experimental design and critical thinking with real experimental data, from our own experiments or from published articles.
After this initial design phase, each of the five participating NICHD fellows will evaluate the modules developed by the other fellows for the cell biology course. We will utilize the feedback to modify the content, if needed, before we teach the class next fall. Through this experience, I have realized that an important aspect of course development, both online and in the classroom, is to first develop the learning outcomes for each module and then choose which type of activities fulfills those objectives and to establish which type of assessment is best to evaluate students’ learning.
*Editor’s Note: iBioseminars is a project of the American Society for Cell Biology to bring free, high-quality biology short talks and seminars to people around the world. Please visit their website (http://ibioseminars.org) for more information. ScreenFlow is recording and editing software that allows you to record your computer screen, as well as webcam input (audio and video), edit the video, and share it with others. More information can be found at http://www.telestream.net/screenflow/overview.htm.