Week 11-14 recap: Steady as she goes…

The course has shifted gears and is moving along this semester. Week 11 saw our first rounds of progress reports. This is something new I’m doing this semester, but has been incredibly helpful given the fact that we are all remote at this point. For the progress report, students submit answers to questions (see course materials) based on where they are with data collection, are they having any troubles, where they are with the next major assignment due, and if they have a question for me. They then sign up for a 15 minute meeting with me to discuss their progress. I planned to do these this semester to ensure students working from home were keeping up with their projects. They have been very beneficial. I get one-on-one time with each students (since there are no groups), I hear how things are going, and its time for us to discuss their projects and troubleshoot any problems. So, instead of all of us meeting for the full time during our longer Monday class period, I break that up into 15 minute individual meetings, providing the students with more time to work on their projects. We will be doing these every Monday until the end of the semester. On Monday I was going to go over data analysis and visualization in R, but there was some confusion whether there was class because it was our first progress reports, so I pushed that to week 12. On Wed. of Week 11 we had our last round of students presenting an article from the primary literature.

Week 12 started off with a lecture and virtual workshop on data analysis and visualization in R. I always struggle with the best way to approach this for our students. I started with a powerpoint and some code, that worked okay. Then we all went into R and worked through the examples together with some sample datasets. We didn’t finish, so we planned to continue. After an hour of working in R, we shifted to our progress report meetings. Again, these are really helping me understand where the students are. At this point, most students have collected all their videos. Some were finishing up collecting a few more, luckily we had some warm weather to assist us. Through these progress reports I have really started to see some disparity among the students in where they are with their projects. So I think it is good to meet individually, so I can help move them along and provide goals for our next progress report. The individual work has been a downside to our remote learning this semester. The benefits of students working in groups on these projects has become more evident in these individual meetings. Instead of students trading off responsibilities (some digitize, some analyze) each student is responsible for all of it. They also don’t have anyone to help troubleshoot. On Wed. students had their Annotated Bibliographies due. This was a new assignment I added after talking to some others at SICB a few years ago, and is an assignment I will keep in. During the first iteration, students only found a paper or two, having the annotated bibliography ensured they were looking into the literature more. I will post a rubric for this on the course material page. Wed. class time was devoted to how to write a scientific paper as they had paper drafts due the coming week. As I’ve mentioned, this semester I’m trying to provide more lectures focused on research skills, since we are virtual and limited.

Week 13 saw a similar format to Week 12. At this point in the course, I was trying to get students to finish data collection (digitize video and analyze them in R) so we could all work on analyses in R together. We spent more time on Monday going through analyses in R, then we had our individual progress reports. These seemed more beneficial at this point than actual class material. Wed. saw more working through R. I realized some of the example data I used wasn’t the best. I have also realized it works better with specific examples from the class, so I used one of the student’s data as an example. However, the best thing has been meeting independently. It is a lot though, as I am managing 9 projects this semester instead of 4. I’m not sure the best way to approach analyses in R in future iterations. I think when they are in groups it helps as one student might get it more and move the group along. But, it has been a lot of repeating myself over and over. We also had our paper draft due that Wed., with the intent that I would get them comments back before the Thanksgiving break so they could work on them. I did not have this assignment the first time around and some suggested adding it. I think it was helpful to produce a better final paper, but the disparity in the class really came through on this assignment. Some had complete first drafts, several pages long; others had very, very rough outlines barely a page long. The final paper is 10-15 pages (scaled down from the normal 15-20 to accommodate the lack of group work). It was a bit frustrating to see this disparity. I was trying to get them to start on their final papers early and not wait to the last minute, but it didn’t work for some. I’m not sure how to correct that and maybe some students will always wait until the last minute.

Week 14 was short, we only had class on Monday so I devoted all the time to individual meetings as I had realized they would be better for analyses. Nothing major was due as there was no class on Wed. I also took the time to talk about their paper drafts, which I uploaded to shared OneDrive folders with comments. After Thanksgiving students have to upload their data, as data integrity has become an important topic in research these days.

Semester is almost over. It has been interesting. New stresses for the students and I. But, I’m still impressed with what they are accomplishing at home in a pandemic. The disparity among students is bit concerning and something I think the pandemic is making worse. I know that if we were in class, some of the ones that are struggling more could get more attention and help reduce that disparity. Some are ahead, some are where I think they should be based on the timeline I showed to them earlier, some are behind.

A long overdue update, but things are steadily moving along.