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Deep teaching in a college STEM classroom: Part 2

At our May 25 meeting, we discussed the second half of the article, “Deep teaching in a college STEM classroom”, by Bryan M. Dewsbury, in Cultural Studies of Science Education (2020) 15: 169-191 (Dewsbury Deep Teaching).  Consider the following questions:


In what way is learning is a social behavior, as proposed in the article? Here are some of our thoughts:

  • This is hard to figure out than it first appears.
  • Learning in person is easier for most people—meaning, there must be social aspects.
  • Student success is better with interaction.
  • Small group learning is generally more effective—why?
  1. How can we communicate more empathy to students?
  • Use courseware to help students master content outside of class in order to free up in-person class time
  • Obtain demographic info on the students prior to each semester (from IR)
  • Give a student survey asking them about their previous experience with science classes, what will help you be successful, and/or their feelings on group work.
  • Do a reflection the first day, “I believe…” They can pick a core value to shape their decisions in life.  Pick one, any value they have.
  • Tell the class why you are doing this.
  • Give them opportunities to get know each other (e.g., small group discussions).
  • Give the students meaningful projects they can contribute to and feel a part of.
  • Try to get to know what they want to do. One participant shared that on the first day of class, asks the students to post a photo of what biology means to them.  She gets interesting photos (ex. butterflies, babies/giving birth, themselves, photosynthesis).
  1. What social assets do the different kinds of students bring to class that can be leveraged?
    • Leverage your own experiences as a model when teaching.
    • Try to make it personal. For example, consider sending an email to students at the beginning of each module with the question, “Does anyone have any experience with this?”
  • When teaching about pollination, one participant discovered that several students had relatives who were beekeepers in their home countries.
  • Another shared how she has asked her Comparative Anatomy students to bring in a photo of their vertebrate pets, or a photo of a vertebrate pet they would like to have.
  • Some students can contribute personal experiences when they do the topic of alcohol production (fermentation) in microbiology.
  • On the topic of ethnobotany the instructor can ask the students about home remedies.


  1. Try to use examples/models that show diversity. For example:

When we discuss research with students, show photos of students who are minorities.

Deep teaching in college STEM classroom: Part 1

At our May 18 meeting, we discussed the first half of the article, “Deep teaching in a college STEM classroom”, by Bryan M. Dewsbury, in Cultural Studies of Science Education (2020) 15: 169-191 (Dewsbury Deep Teaching). Consider the following questions:


  1. What is meant by ‘Deep Teaching’?
  • Connect with students to connect them with content.
  • We may have thought of “higher learning” as in Bloom’s taxonomy, but we must connect with students to get them “there”.
  • Students want to talk about themselves and seem more comfortable doing this online. How can we encourage the level of participation we’ve had online in person?
  • Continue discussion forums
  • 5-minute free-write
  • Think-pair-share


  1. How do we build relationships with students on and offline?
  • Asking about and using preferred pronouns and names
  • The names they tell us may be different from the names they call each other.


  1. How is self-awareness as discussed in the article is important for the instructor and what does that mean to you?
  • Am I welcoming? Reflect on your in-class personality.
  • Do the students feel they can answer?
  • Do I give feedback to colleagues differently than to students? Consider the tone in electronic communication.
  • Know your biases (consider taking Implicit Association Tests on a regular basis. Do we judge our students? Do we make assumptions? Many students take our class to get their degree and become a doctor.  Do we assume they won’t achieve this?
  • We must also deal with student biases. All of us at the meeting are female, some minorities.  Be transparent: “Here’s a bias in science.  Let’s discuss it.”


  1. What are the ways in which you build relationships with your students?

What strategies have been most successful in your STEM courses over the past year?

In our first meeting this semester, participants responded to the following questions. Their answers appear below. The intention was to share ideas about success strategies that have worked well in our STEM classrooms during the past year.

What are the top three things you do that contribute to student success?

• Teach a concept, then give an example, have the students practice, and check their work
• Use an “exit question”/poll at the end of class – is your answer right, and how did you get it?
• Use scaffolding with feedback week by week
• Do research (including hypothesis development and testing) as part of class activities – especially preps the students to get internships (ex. REUs).
• Have students “do math” as part of their learning at every opportunity (including using Excel to organize and analyze data)
• Post a “postmortem” for each exam (video, power point, or written doc)
• Ask students, “How do you know if you’re doing well in the course?”
• Manage student expectations – anticipated time spent on each course activity (including outside of class), how to take notes, how to study for specific courses, etc.
• Provide students with multiple “early warnings” before WN, and offer help
• Have students search scholarly databases to find and then read / interpret primary literature
• Involve students in large-scale citizen science (e.g., using iNaturalist) to help them experience how data are gathered and how science is done

What are the top three things students can do to succeed?

• Read assignments before class
• Ask the instructor for help
• Get to know the professor (office hours)
• Talk to successful classmates and find out how they study

How do we decide which strategies to prioritize?

• Professional development, student research, live interactions, course design, assignments/assessments, creation, etc.—there are so many, and we can’t do all of them every semester.
• Choice of strategies depends on course outcomes, program level, etc. For example, research in class may not be prioritized in a nonmajors course, but probably should be in an upper division majors course.
• Some strategies should always be employed in any course—such as managing student expectations and identifying students who need help early on

What would you like to discuss/read this semester?

• Assigned readings can feel overwhelming for a FIG
• Instead, focus on questions that faculty can respond to and share experiences / ideas
• Share a challenge or success from the current class

With respect to the above, for the next meeting, Kristin will send out a Google Form asking participants to identify a challenge and a success from the previous week for the group to discuss.

Next meeting time TBA (probably in one month—third week of April).


Alternative assessments

At this meeting, we discussed several types of alternative assessments for fully online learning, meaning assessments other than traditional exams. Participants contributed ideas based on our experiences, and brainstormed best practices.

Participants agreed that proctoring software is likely not the best approach, for the following reasons:

  • Students have the option to refuse
  • Students can easily find ways to use a second device even if proctored (e.g., their phone)
  • Online proctoring feels invasive and somewhat antagonistic, which is not the type of relationship we want to cultivate with our students

Here are the ideas we discussed:

Writing assignments

  • Prompts that require students to connect course concepts to their own experiences or to current events
  • Narrative or storytelling prompt, with a list of key terms to be included
  • Analysis/interpretation of original data
  • Case study analysis
  • Reconcile two opposing viewpoints (provide sources with differing viewpoints)
  • Tips to make grading writing assignments easier
    • Keep track of common misconceptions and provide feedback once for the whole class
    • Create (and share with colleagues) rubrics (click-and-grade option/)
    • Save a document with your feedback for common errors and misconceptions, so you can copy and paste as appropriate
    • Post video responses (individually or for the whole class)
    • Post a “wrap-up” announcement after each assignment

Lab reports

  • Analysis of data, creating graphs or charts, tables, Venn diagrams, etc.
  • Interactive websites, such as those that use student’s individual input to calculate an individual carbon footprint (students could then list 5 ways to reduce it, or complete a personal nutritional analysis and list 5 ways to improve it
  • Citizen science applications such as those for which students submit personal observations (such as iNaturalist) and/or look up data for particular locations (which could be unique to each student to reduce plagiarism)
  • Online interactive activities that require generation of data and variables that can be manipulated, so that each student’s input is slightly different
  • Tips to make grading lab reports easier:
    • Interactive websites that require answering questions in order to get to the end—have students submit a screenshot of the last screen to verify completion. Our group has generated a lengthy list of websites with virtual lab activities, as well as best practices for online labs on our Academic Commons webpage (see Spring 2020 notes).
    • Use charts, tables, and graphs, which are quicker to grade than written answers


  • Choose prompts with more than one “correct” response, or have students contrast two opposing views
  • Consider dividing students into smaller groups for discussions, rather than whole-class discussions
  • Discussion prompts that connect course concepts to personal experiences or current events
  • Have students propose hypotheses or experimental designs and then “add value” to each other’s hypotheses (in other words, suggest s way to improve the hypothesis or experimental design)
  • Have students find someone they disagree with and explain why in their response
  • Provide model posts and responses so students know what constitutes a “good” or “excellent” discussion post
  • Have students create video posts
  • Divide tasks and assign roles to students in each group (1st poster, question, answer the question, etc)
  • Blackboard can be unwieldy for reading and responding to posts (both for students and faculty)—consider alternatives such as padlet (com).

Online exams

  • Since these are necessarily “open-book,” consider some of the following ways to create exams that allow students to demonstrate what they have learned rather than what they can look up
  • Ask “What is the most interesting thing you have learned about _____________?”
  • Use a graph or other image that you have generated yourself, and ask questions about it
  • Instead of releasing answer keys, require students to email you if they want to know why they lost points on any particular question
  • Use multiple answer questions (“choose all that apply”)
  • Create test pools, and set up exam so that each students receives a random subset of equivalent exam questions (these can be grouped into blocks by topic)
  • If exams are multiple choice, set time limits that minimize opportunity to look up answers
  • Write the learning objective(s) and then ask students to list what they learned that best illustrates each concept
  • Consider using audio or video assignments or exams so students must explain their answers or their thinking orally

Conducting remote/virtual research with students: Resources and tips

For our second meeting of the fall semester, we:

  • Shared resources for conducting remote and/or virtual research with students
  • Discussed how to use these resources effectively

A summary of our discussion follows.


  • Schedule adequate time to explore the resources before beginning any projects with students. This will probably be a lot more time than you would normally need for project planning, as the topics and procedures are likely to be different from the research you normally conduct.
  • As you review available data sources, jot down as many possible research questions as you can. Then curate the research questions, ensuring that related hypotheses can be tested with available data. This will provide students with a variety of viable options to choose from, according to their interests.
  • Use YouTube videos (or videos you create yourself) to help students learn how research is done. For example, there are many short, high-quality how-to videos available on topics such as selecting a research topic, doing a literature review, reading and understanding primary literature, properly formatting references, properly formatting in-text citations, etc.

Data resources:

  • Science Forward: This website from CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College includes a links to collection of resources for helping STEM students do remote/virtual research. I found many of the data sources listed below on this site.
  • Global Biodiversity Information Facility: This website contains links to MANY high-quality open biodiversity data sets from all over the world. https://www.gbif.org/what-is-gbif
    • Click “Get data” at the top left to start exploring
    • Use it to find a specific data set (see examples below), to locate occurrence data for specific organisms, or to examine trends in biodiversity.
      • Examples of available datasets:
      • eBird from Cornell’s Lab or Ornithology, with species occurrence data
      • Paleobiology Database, with info on the location and age of countless fossil species
      • iNaturalist species occurrence data (research grade)
      • Many taxonomic databases (plants, animals, marine species, etc)
      • DNA barcode database (International Barcode of Life)
  • World Health Organization: Here you can access the World Health Data Platform, with MANY open data sets https://www.who.int/data/collections
    • You can explore the data and trends by country and year for topics such as immunization data, maternal health, antimicrobial resistance, invasive disease vectors (such as Anopheles mosquitoes), etc.
  • USDA: I was surprised to see how much is available on this site. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/
    • It is geared toward economic data, but other data are available as well, such as information on the adoption of genetically engineered crops in the US.
  • US Geological Survey: Includes open data on topics such as volcano and earthquake hazards, phenology, and water resources in the US https://data.usgs.gov/datacatalog/#fq=dataType%3A(collection%20OR%20non-collection)&q=*%3A*
  • US Department of the Interior: Includes open survey data for topics such as disturbance due to fires, seafloor topography, etc https://data.doi.gov/dataset
  • gov https://www.data.gov/ is a clearinghouse for all open US government data, and includes data related to climate, human health, energy, agriculture, maritime, etc.
  • Cancer BioPortal: open data related to cancer genomics https://www.cbioportal.org/
    • Here you can perform sophisticated queries and harness the power of data submitted from numerous studies on cancer genomics. The site provides tutorials (it’s a steep learning curve) and free, professional data visualization tools
  • BudBurst (open phenology data) https://accounts.budburst.org/data
  • The National Phenology Network https://www.usanpn.org/usa-national-phenology-network You may contribute data or analyze existing phenology data, exploring questions related to climate change, invasive species, etc.
  • NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) hosts open databases and many data analysis tool on its website https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ Data and software starting page: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/guide/data-software/

Online data analysis tool and resources:

Citizen science websites:

Active Learning Strategies for Online, Asynchronous Courses

At our first fall 2020 meeting on Sept 29, we discussed ideas and suggestions from the articles listed in the references at the end of this post, and then participants shared their own ideas for active learning online.

Highlights from our discussion included:

  • Why do faculty and students generally believe that in-person learning is superior? Riggs & Lander (first paper above) argue that this is because we know the value of engagement and active learning, and we assume that these are more likely to achieve in person. However, Riggs & Lander point out that engagement and active learning in an online, asynchronous environment are possible—it is only a matter of training and experience (professional development opportunity).
  • Riggs & Lander outline suggestions to improve active online learning in three areas:
    • Course architecture
    • Web tools
    • Discussion boards.
  • Here are the suggestions offered by the STEM FIG participants:
    • Include instructor profile with photo
    • Have students upload an image that is meaningful to them if they do not want to upload a profile photo or turn on their camera
    • Form small groups of students for online discussion or lab (4-6 students)
      • Assign group leaders (rotate weekly or monthly)
      • Survey groups anonymously about participation of group members
      • For lab reports, assign one student in each group to write Intro, Methods, Results, Discussion and make one student the lead author. Rotate these roles with each lab report.
      • Have students use wikis on Blackboard as a joint study guide
    • Give specific instructions/rubric for discussion boards
    • Decreasing “copy and paste” in student submissions
      • Require students to explain course concepts in plain English—decreases plagiarism and forces students to write in their own words (see website https://splasho.com/upgoer5/)
      • Have students google real-life applications of the concepts being taught, or apply the concept to their own experiences
    • “Botany walk”—have students take a walk outside, or examine their own refrigerator and kitchen to identify various plants and do plant dissections.
    • Live organism observations—for example, recording observations of vertebrates in the park or pets at home
    • Using iNaturalist app or website (https://www.inaturalist.org/) to record observations and share with the wider scientific community (citizen scientist opportunity)
    • Provide students with two articles or two videos on the same topic, and have them compare or identify similarities and differences between the sources
    • Consider the amount of work assigned each week—the group consensus was to assign three activities for “lecture” and three for “lab” each week.
    • Permit multiple attempts or extra credit options to incentivize additional practice of the concepts without adding to mandatory workload


1.Actively Engaging Students in Asynchronous Online Classes (paper posted at both of these links, in case one doesn’t work)



2. Active Learning for the College Classroom (the original paper has been adapted to give tips specifically for online learning)


3. Tips for Creating an Engaging Asynchronous Online Learning Environment (from Wiley Education Services)


4. Developing curiosity and challenging students to solve problems (NYT has a paywall if you are not already a subscriber, sorry!)


Creating and grading effective lab reports for STEM labs

In our final meeting for Spring 2020 on June 2, we discussed how to create and grade effective lab reports for online labs. The following ideas were shared.

  • Many different formats can work for online lab reports: a word document emailed or submitted on blackboard, a screenshot of a completed online simulation, etc.
  • Lab reports should help students practice specific learning outcomes
  • The outcomes students should master ought to be explicit, so that students can easily see why they are assigned to complete specific activities.
  • The instructions and expectations for lab reports should be clear to students.
  • Rubrics, which can be created and re-used in Blackboard, can be an excellent tool both for communicating expectations and for providing clear guidelines for grading. They also make grading more efficient (i.e., faster). A short demonstration ensued on how to create a rubric in blackboard, and how to use it for grading.
  • The demo for Blackboard rubrics led to participants sharing other Blackboard tips for the remainder of the meeting
    • Effective use of discussion boards
    • Creating exams and online exam protocols
    • Creating question pools
    • Using grade center effectively

Effective online activities for STEM labs

In our second meeting for Spring 2020 on May 12, faculty shared online activities they had used and found effective for lab. The list discussed appears below, and these (and others) were added to an online repository accessible to all STEM colleagues (for the moment, only KCC BIO Dept faculty have participated). This is the link, and all materials posted are freely available for anyone to use:


  1. A website on life cycles/meiosis/sporophytes. You can click on an item in the figure on a life cycle and see if you are correct.  It scores the user.  She also showed an app and demonstrated how it can be used interactively with plant phylogeny and plant evolution.
  2.  virtualbiologylab.org. You can create a series of islands that you can manipulate with reptiles, mammals, etc.  You can find equilibrium and can change/manipulate parameters and generate a bar graph to see changes.
  3.  iNaturalist.org/login. This is like having a dichotomous key.  You can use it to see world distribution of organisms, biodiversity and searches.
  4. Apps such as LeafSnap where you can take a photo of a leaf and the app identifies the plant/tree it is from.
  5. A website for microbiology students to measure zones of inhibition. It is: learn.chm.msu.edu/vibl/content/antimicrobial.html
  6. Many general biology virtual labs (see Dropbox repository).
  7. ELISA virtual lab
  8. Virtual Immunology Lab from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The group also discussed the following challenges in online classes:

  • Do students show their face during interactive sessions? Most responded, “No”. Discussion took place regarding why this is, and on options.
    • The book, Small Teaching Online, by Flowers has lots of tips for connecting with students. This book is the subject of another KCTL faculty interest group for Spring 2020.
  • Cheating, and how to prevent it online, was discussed by the group, e.g. timed exams, question pools that give each student a random selection of similar questions, randomized questions and randomized answer choices, limited time period for exam availability.

Teaching STEM labs online

In the first meeting of the Spring 2020 STEM faculty interest group, we had moved to emergency online teaching after the COVID crisis began. After 6 weeks of online teaching, we met on April 28 and discussed the following key questions. Here are some of the thoughts shared by the participants:

What are the goals for a STEM lab in general (online or otherwise)?

We want students to be able to

  • formulate hypotheses
  • gather data
  • draw conclusions
  • analyze data
  • think like a scientist

What has worked well in your online labs over the past month? What activities accomplish the goals of a lab experience?

What problems or challenges are you experiencing in delivering effective lab experiences?​

  • Students do not have access to a lab manual (a good reason to shift to online OERs or create your own)
  • Students cannot show up to synchronous sessions (for a variety of reasons)
  • Students have trouble understanding directions and cannot easily ask questions if asynchronous
  • Finding or creating quality resources is time-consuming

Next session:

  • Come prepared to share an online lab activity that has worked well in your class
  • We’ll discuss creating a repository for sharing resources more broadly

Second meeting

Goals for this semester:

  • Identify (and later, evaluate) resources and initiatives at KCC that support student success in STEM
  • Identify opportunities for research projects assessing the effectiveness of these resources and initiatives
  • Produce a report summarizing our findings (and figure out to whom we can present it)

Today’s discussion:

  • We reviewed the 2018 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report: “Indicators for Monitoring Undergraduate STEM Education” (Table S-1 on pp.5-7). Read online or download for free at:


  • We adopted the three goals in this table to guide our work, revising the wording of goal 3. Goals for our planned work now read as follows:
    • Increase students’ mastery of STEM concepts and skills by engaging them in evidence-based STEM practices and programs
    • Strive for equity, diversity, and inclusion of STEM students and instructors
    • Ensure adequate preparation for STEM careers
  • We developed specific research questions we would like to answer (based on the goals). These questions will guide our data gathering.
    • What are the evidence-based educational practices used by faculty in STEM disciplines?
    • To what extent are such practices in use?
    • What programs do we have at KCC to increase academic readiness, gateway course completion, retention, and transfer in STEM majors?
    • What programs, policies, and initiatives exist at KCC to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in STEM?
  • We agreed that the objectives and indicators in Table S-1 reflect our intent, and we intend to gather data for each of these indicators.
  • Data will be gathered from the following three sources:
    • Faculty survey (Loretta will develop questions for survey)
    • KCC’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness (Kristin will send requests to Chris Calienes)
    • Relevant administrators (diversity officers, ATD, Academic Affairs, etc) (Mary will request from diversity, Kristin will request from ATD through Chris Calienes)