2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


DOWSE, Mary E., Department of Natural Sciences, Western New Mexico Univ, PO Box 680, Silver City, NM 88062-0680, dowsem@email.wnmu.edu

What do you do when your carefully planned lecture class falls flat? My solution was to move to an activity-based class with minimal lecture.

Environmental Science is taught once every other year as a general education course at Western New Mexico University (WNMU). Despite being offered as a course in the WNMU Millennium 3 Honors program in the winter of 2004 it had an unusually low enrollment. At the end of the first unit it was evident that the traditional lecture format was not going to work in this class. Students were disinterested, I was frustrated and student performance on the first exam was disappointing. At that point I chose to redesign the course. The redesign began by soliciting input from the students. The students were presented with a list of possible topics and possible class formats and in a class discussion ranked topics and formats. The students expressed a preference for a lecture format, possibly because they perceived that as requiring less work on their part.

The redesigned class included warm-up questions on reading, active exercises, discussions, on-line testing, and limited lecture. For each topic students were assigned reading from the text and from on-line sources. Using the Just-in-time-teaching model students submitted answers via e-mail to warm-up questions before each unit. The responses to the warm-up questions were then used as discussion prompts where students were encouraged to share what they learned from the readings. One to two active exercises were developed for each class period. The activities varied in type but the emphasis was on having students gather and analyze data and discuss their results. At the end of each class there was a brief summary and review of key points. A ‘Superquiz' concluded each unit. The quiz was a combination of multiple-choice questions and short essay questions that were delivered on-line. Students took the quizzes at their own convenience.

After the redesign of the class student attendance increased, students were more active participants, raised more questions and test grades improved.