Blog 54

I’m aiming to break my class out of the cycle of “memorizing & forgetting”

Dawn Bazely – Faculty of Science

First published January 15, 2014

Lucas quote

I haven’t taught BIOL 4090.40, Plant Ecology for nearly 10 years. It’s been shifted from Fall to Winter term, meaning the entire lab. component needed changing because of the different season, and now we’re on Moodle, and we have #SoMe (social media), so it was time for a mega-overhaul. AND, it’s week 2 of the winter term, and 50% of the students enrolled in it, dropped out after the first lecture. ??!!$$$@@@***&&& is going on?

This blog’s for those of you in the course, and also for those of you who headed for the hills as soon as phrases like these cropped up:

  • “we will use social media to mobilize ecology and science”;
  • “there will be group work”;
  • “there will be a presentation, essay and research labs where you’ll design the experiment”;
  • “I expect you to show initiative”;
  • “you won’t get an A for showing up – at YorkU being competent gets you a C+”….
  • but “we’re a small upper year class, so we can justify a higher course average…”;
  • “you’ll get to do stuff here that people will PAY you to do… like create and edit Wikipedia pages”

editathon wikipedia 2

And that was after I announced that the theme song for the course is Sarah Bareilles’ inspirational Brave, and used quotes like:

“The World is Run by Those Who Show Up” Weingardt, R. 1999, http://dx.doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0742-597X(1997)13:4(61). Prepare to work hard, learn a lot and have fun with science!”

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself” ~ Albert Einstein

I mean, who else has an empowering theme song for an ecology course?

The great thing about being a professor, is that I know that Millennials and, before you, members of Gen X, aren’t any dumber than members of my generation. For the record, I am NOT a baby boomer: despite attempts by some demographers to expand the birth period of boomers beyond 1946-1956. Apparently, I’m part of Generation Jones: and, the boomers took my job from me. When I graduated university in 1981, there was a recession and NO jobs.

LPB091_Jun_82_en route from launchI have great faith in youth: when I was 19, I was running around the tundra with a shotgun, to protect me from polar bears, and I was hiring helicopters, while my U of T supervisor professor was back in Toronto. He didn’t think twice about trusting me to get the data and the job done! I know that Millennials are VERY smart, and also much taller than my cohort. In fact, the title of my blog is from @Biol4090LucasC, who just came out with a pithy and very tweetable line in class, when I asked him why he thought that the updated course assignments had rattled so many students!

All that privilege and being handed things on a plate has, some believe, had the effect of making your generation “brittle”. Lori Gottlieb’s excellent article about the teacup generation in The Atlantic, asks whether your parents have done “too much” for you. Many people, including me, hold the opinion, that at a certain point in our life, we learn more from failure than success. When you don’t have very much experience with failing and picking yourself off the ground, taking risks and working hard towards a goal can become a daunting task.

The best place to be adventurous, learn a lot and take risks, is where you are right now: in university, in courses like Plant Ecology.

The demographics of your generation mean that your prospects are very different from your parents in terms of how much money you’ll get to earn in your lifetime. Timing really is everything. The world is confronted by the wicked problems of poverty, climate change and emerging and returning infectious diseases, declining food productivity and loss of biodiversity. I’ll be long gone when you have to deal with the worst consequences of unsustainable economies, which is why I want to make sure that I do my part to prepare you and teach you what I know. And, there are many other profs. who feel the same way – here’s an awesome blog by Prof. Hope Jahren in Hawai’i

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