I have now given 3 class sessions with no lecturing. I start off class with 3-4 clicker questions on concepts covered in a recorded video lecture that I posted and asked students to view before coming to class. The next 30 minutes or so are devoted to group activities. The first class used the arsenic life paper to explore elements and basic biomolecules. The second class had two tables, one comparing polysaccharides, proteins and nucleic acids in terms of elemental composition, subunits, type of bonds between subunits, a rough description of the types of structures each formed, and their general functions. The second table listed various denaturing agents such as salt, vinegar, and heat and asked what types of bonds or interactions each agent disrupted. The third class (today) I used an abstract and the key table from the 1999 Brocks et al. paper on analysis of hydrocarbons from 2.7 billion year old shales. The exercise was to reinforce what I consider a central concept ignored in the textbook, that archaea have isoprenoid lipids in their membranes, and that sterols are a eukaryotic innovation that requires molecular oxygen for synthesis.
From my point of view, I’m having a blast. I’m having a room of 180 students actively discussing biology, using their laptops to look up Wikipedia articles instead of checking email or facebook or shopping, for the entire class period. I’m showing them how biology is not just a collection of facts, but integrates with other disciplines, and how different areas of biology interconnect. They’re looking and pondering the meaning of real data.
The problem is, many of them hate it. Here are some comments students have posted on our class site in Piazza.com:
I believe that we are missing out on the detailed explanations that the teacher gives us during the lecture. Also I think a better way to approach if you didn’t want to get rid of the activity then change it to regular lecture Monday and Wednesday. Then on Friday we could do the group activity, but it should be related to what we learned on Monday and Wednesday. This will actually enhance our knowledge of the subject by applying what we have heard in the lecture. I feel like we are just googling answers to put on a sheet and not understanding anything about it.
I don’t like it. This unit in biology is already inundated with tons of vocabulary and new concepts. Our previous lecture style gave me multiple exposures to the new material (book, lecture, masteringbio). Now i feel like I’m learning everything on my own and going to class to do activities that are somewhat related to the material.
I wish he’d go back to the old lecture style so I could learn more. I feel like there’s a reason 99% of professors teach- because it works.
I feel as though I learned with Dr.  and would attend class regardless of PRS/attendance points. I can not say the same for this new lecture style as I probably would not come to lectures if attendance was not recorded.
I agree on this subject. I don’t mind doing such activities sometime, but ONLY doing those during lecture time is really not helping me to get the material. Can we at least go through some important concepts in class?
My group members and I agree. I of course mean no disrespect, but at times, we simply can’t fathom Dr. Jung’s explanations. Comprehension is surely easier for the considerable amount of biology-related majors in the course, but I, for example, am a CS major. Chemistry and microbiology aren’t my bailiwicks.
As you stated, I feel as if I’m teaching myself in lieu of being taught. Even then, I find it difficult to teach myself considering I possess a paltry understanding in the first place.
The novel approach Dr. Jung utilizes is admirable, and over time, perhaps it will grow on me. Nevertheless, I don’t wish to be the experimental guinea pig.
I miss the old style of lecture I like the idea of doing activities in class to engage our learning in an active manner, but I feel like I learned more during traditional style lectures.
You get the general idea. There’s been a couple of positive comments, but the sentiment appears to be running heavily negative, although the evidence is anecdotal. Clearly, some students are feeling very uncomfortable. I need to make adjustments in simplifying the activities because one issue appears to be that students are floundering with some of the technical vocabulary – I will streamline the data and have better explanations.
I’m just unsure how to respond to the students. Do I show them data that students don’t really learn from lectures? That people are poor judges of their own learning? I want them to stick with it for at least a while longer. I’ll try to explain my rationale and ask them to give it a good try for the rest of this unit.
I welcome any suggestions or comments from readers.