Evolution for Educators: Week 4 (Final Week!)

I think I’ll do a recap separately.  I just finished the last week of the course, and it’s not the absolute last day, but I’ve spent far more time today coping with the MOOC materials than I wanted to.  I’m caught up with all my coursework, and I’ve submitted my final materials and quizzes for this one.

I also got the feedback for my essay. I had four reviews, and I averaged 10.5/11.  One person indicated they couldn’t tell where this example came from in the course material (although I had specified it on the title line as section 2.4), but I rather expected some difficulty in that regard.  That’s why I was explicit.  Most of the reviews did not provide good feedback, only 1/4 did.  I’m also not surprised by that.  The reviewer commented that although my essay was well-written and enjoyable, they didn’t feel it met the intent of the assignment.  I suppose that’s interpretation.  I don’t think that they marked down for that–but this was also the individual that could not find the origin of my example in the course material.

Is peer-review fair?  I’m not sure.  In this case, a lot of the subjectivity was removed from the process.  That helped.  Could I implement this in my course(s)? Yes.  It wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but I think it could be done.  It was definitely a lot easier to review the required number of essays than I anticipated, and I did learn some from reading others’ work (though not the one person whose essay was “I ran out of time and didn’t get this done so I know I’ll have a zero.”  I am not joking; that was an actual essay I got to “review.”  That experience would be good for students.  I think it would be very good for them to get to do this and then have the opportunity to revise their papers based on the review for a “final grade”.  I will think about incorporating that into the course; perhaps for one of their lab reports, as those more closely follow scientific publishing models today.

This week’s material was more interesting, as it dealt with human evolution. Honestly, although I technically completed the course requirements, I feel that I need to revisit last week’s work and take notes (since I didn’t do that last week because I felt horrible and was sitting in water, which is not a recommended situation for using one’s laptop).  So, in my mind, I’m not quite done.

The recap of the overall experience is coming soon!


Evolution for Educators: Week 3 Progress Report

Last week, I resolved not to wait so late to do my coursework.  I was partially successful in that.

This week, in addition to our normal material and weekly quiz, I was required to provide peer review for the writings of a minimum of 3 other students.  Many of the papers that I reviewed talked about the same example: glyptodont(s) and armadillos.  That was exactly what I did not want to do on mine.  At least I hoped that those reviewing my essay were reading something more original.  I reviewed 10 essays.  Most were pretty short and not as descriptive or as deliberate. It was apparent that the level of skill and scientific knowledge varied widely among the students.  I was happy to note that none forgot to cite their sources!  Most did a reasonable job.  We were provided with a series of drop-down boxes to provide our “evaluation”–certain numbers of points for different criteria; for example, “Explained the example well in a scientifically sound manner” was 4 points, “Explained the example, but did not demonstrate sound scientific reasoning” might have been worth 2 points, and “did not explain the example” was 0 points.  Overall, the assignment was worth 11 points.  I wonder how I did?  I won’t find out until the Week 4 material is released.  I’m a little nervous, as usual.  I tried to provide feedback on all the ones I evaluated–with words and analysis and explanations of why I assigned the values I did.  I hope I get actual feedback, and I appreciated that we had the opportunity to do that.

However, I again procrastinated on the actual course material… and wasn’t feeling well at all.  I must admit that being able to do your coursework from a hot bath and/or bed is a definite plus to online courses.

I should mention that I’m enrolled in another MOOC simultaneously, and I did NOT get the required work done on time for the 2nd course; I will have a 10% grade penalty imposed for the late work.  I accept that–and I think I will start using that in my own classes!  It’s a one-time penalty, but it does get the point across.


Evolution for Educators: Week 2 Review

This week in my online course, I rediscovered that I am a procrastinator.  I realized that I had course material to work through that was due and a paper to write.  Needless to say, I started on this extremely early: a whole day before I had to have the paper turned in!

I tackled the material and weekly quiz first. Part of the material was a description of the intent and requirements of the assignment.

The writing assignment required that we select an example given in the course materials and describe how that example is evidence for evolution.  We had 600 words, plus 100 for references (we were required to cite our sources).  On the day my essay was due, I wrote it.  I’m not particularly embarrassed to admit that.  I chose a deliberately obscure reference from the materials: one that was mentioned in passing, but not explored or developed in the course.  That is typical of me.  I never chose the easy topic, I never chose the obvious example.  I seem to like to create work for myself.

In this particular case, I chose to write about cannibalistic tadpoles, and how that trait might fulfil the requirements for evolution: variation (within the species and among related species), heritability, and response to selective pressure; in particular, I wanted to address how a trait that seemed so counterintuitive to survival (cannibalism) could actually be adaptive.  I found it an interesting exploration.

I also discovered that it was nearly impossible for me to write something that short! I do suffer from verbosity, but aside from that, I found it very difficult to explore the topic in as much depth as I wished.  However, I managed to write the (very brief) essay and got it proofread before I submitted it (on time).

I also resolved not to wait so late on the Week 3 material.

Evolution for Educators: Week 1 Summary

The first week of classes is officially over with.  There were several video lectures and there were a few essays to be read.  At the end of the week, there was a practice quiz, followed by a real quiz.  Because I’m on the signature track, I also had to provide a photo of myself sitting on the couch doing the quiz (using my webcam attached to the computer at the time of submission of the quiz).  Did I get enough prepositions into that sentence?!

The last lecture was about pedagogy–specifically with an example that seems simplistic but wasn’t as easy as it appeared.  I might even use this very simple example in class.  It reinforces the importance of language and the understanding that terminology in science is sometimes misleading, as usage differs from everyday lingo.  It also reinforces the difference between “survive” and “adapt.”  Animals will try to survive.  They can change their behavior, spend more time hunting, find warmer environments, etc.  However, they cannot “try to adapt”, as adaptation (in an evolutionary sense) requires modification of traits that confers a benefit in survival or reproductive success.  One cannot change one’s heritable traits (leaving aside epigenetics for the moment).

I also spent some time going through some of the additional resources provided during the course.  I found these to be very helpful, even if I lacked the energy and desire to explore them all.  I find myself wondering if we can still access the course materials after the course ends.

I spent significantly less time on this course than I thought I would have to.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  However, overall, it was a good week.

Evolution for Educators: Day 1


Today, my online class officially started.  The course is entitled “Evolution: A Course for Educators” and it is offered through Coursera. I’m taking the class as signature-track, which means that I paid for the course, and at the end, I should receive a digital certificate of completion.  To do this, I also have to have webcam access and do a personalized typing profile to verify my identity.   There are nearly 13,000 enrolled: I knew the M in MOOC stood for “Massive” but I fear I seriously underestimated that!

The course itself asked that we start with a survey (mostly demographics).  I read over the syllabus and grading criteria and I have no major questions or issues at this time: we have one weekly required quiz with 10 multiple choice questions, and one peer-reviewed writing assignment of 750 words that we’ll be doing in weeks 2-3 of the course, and we’ll be reviewing 3 other students’ writings.

Today, I worked through section 1.5 of 1.9, so about halfway through the first week.  The course material so far has been a mixture of videos and essays (to be read); at the ends of most of the video topics, there has been one multiple choice question that was easy to answer.  From an educational perspective, I rather like that.  I wonder if it’s possible for me to incorporate something like that into my online course, but have a small pool of random questions. I can do something like that easily in the classroom as well with clickers or some of the newer cell phone apps.  I had no trouble with the material from a science perspective.

I haven’t honestly taken notes in years–not like for a course where I would be tested on the material.  I learned a few things about myself tonight, and about my note-taking.  Most of what I wrote down was not actual content from the course; I have no need of notes for terms or ideas that I already know.  However, despite that, I took probably 2.5-3 pages of notes, spanning about 40 minutes of lecture plus one essay.  That ratio oddly hasn’t changed much since high school-I typically take about 3 pages per hour.  Secondly, a lot of my notes are my connections to other concepts: how this topic (rheas) ties into something that I already talk about in class, how this topic relates, or how a particularly good example was described and executed in the video.  I used Microsoft’s OneNote to take notes, and it was awesome to be able to include screen clippings of bits of the videos or illustrations that I found particularly good at explaining something.  Occasionally, I liked a different perspective or way of explaining an idea, and I wrote that out in more detail for future use.  My notes, as usual, are very auditory; they’re not quite ver batim transcripts, but they can be awfully close.  I know that I can download the transcripts and the videos, but that won’t help me learn or remember.  Knowledge is the stuff I don’t have to look up.  Writing and taking notes helps me build knowledge.  Explaining (which is what I’m usually trying to do in my notes) helps me build knowledge.  I wonder how many of my students are having poor success because they’ve never figured that out?  I can tell them, but it’s not the same.  I kind of wish I could SHOW them what I consider to be “good” notes, but that varies by individual.  I’ve never been a bullet-point girl.

I also learned that I am a solitary learner.  By that, I realized that I have no desire to join a study group (though they are already forming).  I did participate in the discussion forums, and I enjoy hearing what others think and I’m willing to contribute thoughts and insights and examples, but I’m definitely less interested in the social aspect of this.

I know that my students have a difficult time paying attention for an hour (based on the number of sleeping students I observe).  I seem to not have that problem–and today I had a splitting headache that made it harder. I had people coming and going around me, yet I had no trouble focusing on what I was doing for the full duration.  My thoughts did “wander” in a sense, as I thought about how this related to what I taught in class or how I could re-evaluate how to explain something–but that’s actually exactly why I’m taking this course, so I’m not sure that’s wandering so much as “being actively engaged and thinking about the material.”  Those connections occur FAST, and it usually takes me longer to write out my thought than to have it.  One major factor in favor of online courses: PAUSE.  I can stop the video/lecture long enough to finish my thoughts in my notes and then resume (which usually only requires a few seconds).

At any rate, I can’t share the testing material questions or answers with you (that violates the honour code).