As a result of COVID-19 and moving to 7 week courses, many adjustments have had to be made across campus to ensure a safe learning experience. The team of faculty behind our introductory Bio 151, Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity course, has had to make their fair share of changes to this course as well.
Instead of meeting in Valders 206, this large class moved into the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) main hall. Students are physically distanced and are also able to watch the lecture over Zoom. Dr. Eric Baack, associate professor of biology and one of the professors teaching Bio 151 this fall, mentioned that the CFL “feels very empty”. He has been using a microphone so that all students can hear the lecture. Students present in the CFL are broken up into small groups several times during a lecture to discuss questions and scenarios. Students are able to share their answers with the larger group by using microphones placed around the CFL.
Bio 151 lab has also had to change. Students are split up between two labs connected with a Zoom call, allowing students in one lab to interact with students in the other lab. Professors and Lab Assistants switch between the two rooms periodically to ensure that both groups of students are getting the attention they need.
The Bio 151 team prioritized learning goals for the course a few years ago, and has “kept stuff that went beyond memorization”. One of the big changes was to cut some of the vocabulary terms to make the class more manageable. The lab curriculum has also become less intense so that students are able to ask more questions during lab.
One of the benefits that a Luther education offers is the one on one experiences with professors. In a time when physical distancing is vital, this can become a challenge. However, when asked, Dr. Baack stated that students are still able to have these interactions with professors. He feels knowing the names of his students, having conversations with his students before and after class, and having several hours of office hours where students can come in and discuss their questions have all helped facilitate meaningful one on one interactions.
While changing a tried-and-true curriculum was difficult in such a short period of time, Dr. Baack felt that this exercise in flexibility and thinking on one’s feet was necessary and overall, is very successful.