I observed an upper level biology class, in which the teacher is applying a combination of collaborative (team-based) learning, problem-solving approaches, discussions on "what-if" scenarios and student-teaching.
Below you will find a general overview of the class, a crude analysis of reasons for various successes and problems, and finally a more detailed analysis of things to address in this particular class.
The class atmosphere was congenial and the students were actively engaged in discussion. You have clearly developed a format where students participate in"authentic" discussion and understand theiraccountability to that discussion and to their peers. The learning environment is impressive for an upper level course of this size (~30).
Students themselves give the class overwhelmingly high marks. Nearly all the students are working harder in this course than in any other. Nearly all find the approachinterests them more in the material, and roughly two-thirds feel they are learning more material, learning it more deeply, and learning better communication skills in the process.
What's Working, What's Not--and Why
Students very much appreciate the chance to be engaged in "real" problems and analysis of complex situations and "what-if" scenarios that challenge them to think. Some of this seems to be enthusiasm for an upper level course, but much of it also seems to draw on your free-wheeling style (versus pre-planned lecture) that explores each situation opportunistically. Roughly half the students feel the course can succeed mostly because of what they have learned earlier in other classes: in this class they develop a deeper appreciation of the context and connections of concepts they've already lear...
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...ld not hear many students--and noticed that many other students "tuned out" on occasions where they could not hear: they did not ask their peers to speak more loudly. You might consider how you set an example, by asking each person to speak loudly and clearly (in a sense, honoring their contribution for all), and inviting others to feel free to request the same on their own.
Some students apparently want more visuals -- animation or handouts. Some of this may be insecurity, but it is also easily remedied. Some of it may be related to the advanced level you expect, which could be clarified by additional visual information.
Articulate more clearly the relationship between lab and "lecture," and perhaps give stronger or clearer justification for lab grade being 50%.
Your openness to questions in "lecture" seems not to be paralleled by an equal openness in lab?
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