RCC 100: Biology for Every Day Life is a non-majors biology course taught on campus without a lab component. Its purpose is two-fold: to meet a general educational requirement for a science course and to meet a college success readiness requirement. Thus, there is an extra meeting on Fridays that might cover things such as counseling, how to use the library resources effectively, etc. All first-year students are required to take an RCC course of their choice. In this non-majors biology course, some students do want to go on to major in biology, but they didn't enter college with the proper credentials to take the majors course. Of the 17 students enrolled in this course, five intend to take the majors course.
This unique course is structured into four units: 1) Cancer; 2) Infectious Disease; 3) Nutrition and Urban Deserts; and 4) Biodiversity.
An RCC course should be challenging, but also designed to encourage students to succeed in college. Students are assessed by three exams and a final. There are also four projects keyed to each unit. For example, the Cancer unit's project requires students to investigate a specific type of cancer and present their findings to the class in PowerPoint format. Thus, the student also learns how to build PPT lectures. In the unit for Infectious Diseases the project involves students in an investigation of bacterial populations on campus . Since there is a also a strong service learning component in RCC, the students were tasked to work with fifth graders in a local public school in designing an experiment, collecting data and analyzing results according to good scientific methodology. MasteringBiology homework was worth 10% of their overall grade.
This term we tried something new. Students were assigned readings and then asked to complete MasteringBiology homework before attending the lecture. It was helpful from a teaching perspective to see how much they understood from the readings. There were 13 assignments in all, about one a week. In addition, they had other homework outside of MasteringBiology.
Students didn't mind having MasteringBiology homework due before lecture. Some students didn't do very well on the homework, but it came to light that they attempted to answer the questions without reading the text first. In such cases, MasteringBiology was a learning experience for the students on how to study effectively. But overall, it was helpful for the students and for me. The level of students in the class was quite varied. By assigning the homework, MasteringBiology could quickly identify struggling students or a particularly difficult question on an assignment. I was thrilled with this new approach of assigning homework before lecture. I plan to use this new method with at least 50% of the MasteringBiology homework I assign in my majors course next term.
Another interesting trend I noticed was measuring the improvement between a Pre-Test and Post-Test given within MasteringBiology. I generally give students a pre-test on scientific measurement / design at the start of the class; and then I ask them the identical questions on the final. What I love about MasteringBiology is that the students were able to take this first assignment within MasteringBiology before we even met for class. At the end of the course, they took the same assignment. All I had to do was copy it! The results are quite dramatic. MasteringBiology is a useful tool in helping me to measure my own course innovations.
MasteringBiology is an online homework program that allows you to monitor student learning in a fast and meaningful way, with minimal effort! It is not just an online grading homework system, but it includes helpful diagnostic information for the teacher. The best part of MasteringBiology is the feedback it provides me as a teacher. I can see what the students are doing. For example, at a glance, I saw the pink in the Mastering Gradebook on the cell structure homework I assigned. From there, it was easy to open up to find out that students had no concept of the endomembrane system after reading the text. It was this one abstract topic that was their stumbling block. So within 2 seconds, I knew where I had to focus in class that day. That's the power of MasteringBiology.