2009 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., April 21, 2009
HUB Ballroom

Session Description



Cultivating a passion for the natural sciences: developing an active learning course in ecology

Ursula Valdez (Biology)

Although large numbers of students begin college intending to major in biology, many (including underrepresented minorities) end up dropping off the major. The vast majority who continue are interested primarily in medical school, biotechnology and neurobiology labs. . Despite the wide variety of options available, a relative small number of students retain an interest in organismal biology, ecology, evolution, and other topics directly related to understanding the natural world. What has led to this situation? Education researchers hypothesize that conventional lecture-oriented course formats, with their emphasis on passive learning, have contributed to the inability of students to appreciate the full scope of biological sciences, and thus have failed to retain students in the major.

With support from a 2009 Huckabay Teaching Fellowship and the Biology Department I have designed a Tropical Ecology course to be offered in Summer 2009, that aims to engage students in the study of natural history and ecology. The course will instruct students in the fundamentals of tropical ecosystems dynamics through engaging and innovative activities. Students will use critical thinking, apply hypotheses testing skills, lead lively discussions, and conduct short research projects in unique partnerships with field-based tropical researchers. Students will be trained in science communication skills by writing short scientific papers, magazine and newspaper pieces designed for actual publication. Students will present the results of their work to non-scientific audiences of their choice (i.e. retirees, truck drivers, high school students, fraternity/sorority fellows); using any format they have skills with (formal talk, video, play, dance, music, photos, website design, etc). Assessment of the achievement of learning goals for this course will be tested through comparisons of the knowledge gained among students in the class, from other traditional ecology courses, and students who take a hands-on course during a UW study abroad program in Tropical Biology.


Index of Symposium Presenters