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Published October 6, 2016 | Biology

Top up Your Tank with Commitment and Fun in Biology

With the collaboration of Alexandre Dal-Pan, Teaching trainee at Cégep Garneau.

I've been teaching college-level biology for more than 20 years. I am naturally curious: from the very beginning of my career I have been interested in interactive platforms. I slowly got rid of my paper notebook in favour of an interactive and electronic alternative. At the start, I had some ecological concerns. I quickly noticed that students were more engaged in their learning with my new way of teaching. What's more, they could redo their activities as many times as they wanted, and have fun too!

This new approach also allowed me to do more activities with the students and pass less class time on correcting formative evaluations. The electronic format also facilitates student self-correction by providing students with immediate feedback.

Active Classroom Pedagogy with Moodle

I started using e-learning platforms in 1999! The first 2 biology courses that I had to adapt were supported by the DECVIR corporation, which is now known as DECclic. The goal? To offer my students the possibility of doing part of their course at a distance.

Since I prefer interacting directly with my students, I finally gave up this approach and now work exclusively in person with the Moodle platform. I opted for an active classroom pedagogy with the inclusion of several technologies (iPads, interactive white boards, e-Books, etc.).

My classes take place in a laboratory classroom. I alternate between the classroom and interactive activities. I had to evaluate, do some trial and error, develop my patience, persevere and seek out the assistance of a few of my colleagues (Monic Chantal et André Boivin) to build the material that I now use in class. For me, it was a long-term investment.

Dealing Creatively with Constraints

When running the classes, I had my learning intentions, but I also had to take the technical aspects into account. The students were provided access to several iPads and a few computers in class. I divide my class into 3 different groups.

  1. A first group works with me on the interactive white board using activities that I created with the Smart NoteBook software that is integrated with the white board.
     

    Catergorization exercices using the Smart NoteBook software.

     

    Example of a game that was played by a team using the interactive white board.

  2. A second group works on solving a problem created using the software Neobook. This tool allows you to create 'in-house' applications which could be used on a few computers that were available in the room that is adjacent to my class.

    Concept map. An activity created in NeoBook.
    (Source: La biologie humaine : une approche visuelle. Martini, Ober, Bartholomew and Nath, ed. ERPI, 2015.)

    Activity created by André Boivin with NeoBook: Prep for a dissection lab through the identification of structures that will be observed.

  3. The third group uses their tablet and works with the Moodle Platform. I offer them some exercises that I designed to verify the degree to which they have acquired their knowledge.

    Example of an activity in the form of a questionnaire that was developed using the Moodle platform.

I also chose to work with a digital textbook. This facilitates note-taking and highlighting directly in the student's textbook, but also provides access to additional video content. The students can therefore develop crib notes of their readings and arrive in class with a better understanding of the theory.

Preparing outside of the normal class time allows me to optimize my time in class to practice exercises together and to revisit the subjects that the students have not understood. This helps students to improve their assimilation of the content they have been taught.

Alternating with these interactive (and often amusing) activities helps to facilitate the participation of students amongst themselves and to keep the group more alert during a 2 to 3 hour class.

Positive Shared Impressions

I have a certain facility with technological tools and multi-tasking, but more than anything else, I draw my energy from the commitment and pleasure experienced by my students. The motivation to participate and exchange is nice for everyone, we build in the fun. I think that it's important.

Crossword puzzle on an iPad (activity designed with Moodle).

A game of Hangman on the iPad (activity designed with Moodle).

The benefits of using various technological tools:

  • Creating situations where the learning is reinforced.
  • Alternating between these situations/formats (lecturing, reading, facilitation, exercises with different tools, etc.) to vary the pedagogical approaches.
  • Using interactive platforms like Moodle can be as useful for beginners as it is for experts, due largely in part to their simplicity and all the use cases both in and outside of the classroom.

Some elements to take into consideration:

  • You have to invest time, as much for the design of the material as for the required pedagogical adjustments.
  • Organizing summative evaluations within interactive platforms requires a large number of computers connected to an invigilation software like NetSupport.

I noticed an increase in the participation of my students during my classes as well as their commitment.

Next Step: Digital Badges and Interactive Course Notes

At the moment, I am testing a number of other tools, such as the integration of digital badges in order to solicit the participation of students and bolster their motivation. There's so much to tell that it will probably be grounds for a second Real Life Story!

I'm also hoping to use OneNote in order to allow my students to progressively produce their course notes. They may also add activities that they do in class here, electronic or hand written notes, audio or video comments. To be continued!

Have you experimented with similar practices? Do you have any questions about my projects? Feel free to leave a comment! I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

About the Author

Nathalie L’Heureux has a Bachelor's Degree in Biology/Ecology from UQAM and a Master's Degree focusing on Bighorn Sheep from the Université de Sherbrooke. She began her career in teaching in 1994 at the Cégep de Drummondville. She left teaching temporarily to work in project management and species conservation at the Granby Zoo. She has taught at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit since 1997.

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