Grocery Lists for Students Taking an Online Biology Course
Title: Biology Concepts: Bio 100
Institution: Mesa Community College, Arizona
Instructor: Peg Johnson, professor of biology and microbiology
Course content: The course provides a general education in basic biology, touching on ecology, chemistry, cell life, genetics, evolution, and other topics.
Target audience: The course is offered to non-biology majors at Mesa Community College, an urban commuter college in southern Arizona that offers distance-education degrees.
How delivered: Bio 100 doesn't have a laboratory, but the course still strives to provide hands-on learning. Ms. Johnson says that she wants her students to learn through inquiry, not exposition. A new biological concept is taught each week -- through an interactive lecture that punctuates textbook readings with online multiple-choice questions, a quiz, and experiments that students conduct themselves. Class members never meet face to face, but a bulletin board allows students to discuss and analyze their lab projects.
Course requirements: Students must complete one laboratory activity and readings for one unit of study every week. Readings appear in the courses textbook, online, and in a CD-ROM for the course.) Each unit culminates in an online quiz; midterm and final examinations are supervised by proctors. Posts to online bulletin boards are required -- and graded.
When offered: The course has been offered every spring and fall semester since 1998. In 2000, Ms. Johnson started to train adjunct professors to teach the course; four faculty members now do so.
Enrollment: Each of the course's four sections is capped at 20 participants. Because of demand, there is often a waiting list.
Cost: Tuition for students of the college is $164. There is a laboratory fee of $25; a required laboratory kit costs $30, but $25 is refunded if the kit is returned at the end of the course.
Unusual features: In devising the course, Ms. Johnson had to design experiments that were relatively simple and inexpensive. Her solution: Send students to the supermarket. On the campus, she teaches osmosis and diffusion with dialysis tubing and sensitive scales; online, she developed an experiment using purple cabbage, Knox gelatin, and common liquids (orange juice, ammonia, and milk) of varying acidity. A course book describes in detail how the unpretentious exercises should be conducted; the laboratory kit includes some necessary tools.
A CD-ROM used in the course is about to get a unique upgrade in the form of an interview with Gregor Mendel, the long-dead geneticist. Mendel will be played by Ken Costello, an information-technology specialist at the college. I'm sewing a monk's robe, Ms. Johnson says. Mendel died thinking himself a failure. Students will see that great contributions often come from people who do not fit the stereotypical image of a genius.
Instructor comment: Ms. Johnson says she drew particular inspiration from a student who enrolled in the course from Pennsylvania, and then lost his job during the semester. He packed his wife, dog, and belongings in the car and moved to Houston, Tex. -- all while completing the class via laptop. He never missed a beat. Such students, she said, inspire faculty to invest the creativity, time, and energy needed to develop a quality online course.
Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education