In a typical class I assign primary readings for my students. Although I try to pick accessible readings, the students can still find the readings challenging, so I provide a good deal of support and discussion in the classroom to help my students understand this material.
With the shift to remote learning in the spring, I knew this practice would be a challenge. Instead, I opted for more general readings, e.g., Scientific American and Foreign Policy, on the COVID-19 virus and its ramifications. Not only did we look at how the virus evolved and spread, but the complications of human encroachment into wild areas that can lead to things like the COVID pandemic.
This dual approach was perfect for an Ecology and Evolution course. While I always found the ethical side of such matters like human encroachment interesting, I never addressed this in this course. The current crisis gave me a natural way to discuss moral implications centered on a topic that fully engaged the students as they were living it.
Surprisingly, I never used discussion boards before. However, with this topic as the hook, I found the students fully engaged in the conversation. For each article they had to post two questions and answer three within one week. Notebowl made it easy to track student contributions and make sure they met the 35 word minimum. I was pleasantly surprised by the student engagement. This approach allowed students who don’t normally participate in oral discussions the time to think, which led to fantastic responses from them.
With the deep and lasting impact on our students, I will continue to use the COVID pandemic to engage my students and help them better understand their world.