Notice Board, Seminar Room and Coffee Shop
Course Quiz Board
Introduction to the Course Philosophy
Learning Principles Behind the Course
Personal Learning Journals Explained
An Overview of Problem Based Learning
Reading and Evaluating Scientific Papers
Self Assessment as an Individual
Self Assessment as a Group
How to Give and Receive Feedback
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As a student coming to this class you bring a lot of prior learning relating to the course. So do the people sitting next to you in labs and lectures. Your TA and your course instructor probably bring more and there is even more knowledge and information in libraries, botanical gardens, wild lands, parks, gardens and buildings containing plants and plant products. This all represents the resource base you have to work with during this course. Your challenge is to integrate the new information we will discuss during the course with your prior learning using the resources available.
The TA and course instructor cannot hope to be "experts" on all the information contained in these resources. In many instances, a student or TA will be as much of an "expert" in a specific field than an instructor and vice versa. What all these individuals possess is an ability to think about botanical issues and find answers to questions given the resources available. They have become or are becoming independent thinkers and learners about botanical issues and they can use those skills to solve plant-related issues throughout their lives whether at home or at work.
In this class you will be asked to develop some of those same skills that the "experts" possess so you can make informed decisions about why, for example, your house plants have yellowing young leaves or why leaves are falling off trees early in a wet summer, and also what to do about such situations. You will be invited to develop an understanding of the biological issues involved when discussions are held on how trees should be cut commercially and as to whether we should limit the burning of fossil fuels.
William Perry, a researcher in educational psychology at Harvard University, has written that students in post-secondary institutions tend to develop intellectually through four general stages. The earliest stage, 'dualism', finds students emphasizing either/or thinking. They believe knowledge is a set of truths with a single right answer and that the professor has the answers which he gives to the students in lectures e.g. the earth is round. If learning really was like that, why do "experts" disagree?
Realizing that experts disagree can lead to an assumption that no one individual has all the right answers. This 'multiplicity' stage sees everyone as having an opinion, professors and students alike, with all opinions being of equal validity. However, does an opinion that the earth is flat have equal weight to one that the earth is round?
If you have to answer a question on the shape of the earth what evidence would you use? In answering, you would make a choice between strong and weak evidence. At this 'relativism' stage what one "knows" is affected by one's values, assumptions and perspectives. Do you know what your values, assumptions and perspectives are? If you are unsure, how can you uncover them? Instructors and TAs are experienced resource people who teach specialized procedures for analytical reasoning to allow an exploration of alternative points of view and the drawing of comparisons to assist you in developing your understanding of yourself. When you reach this stage of development, would you still be committed to upholding a conclusion on the shape of the earth based on the analysis you had performed?
'Commitment' to an issue is the final stage in Perry's model. Having made a decision about the shape of the earth or a botanical issue, how does it integrate with the rest of your life experience and self reflection? How does it contribute to your wisdom and action?
The hand out to this course is extensive and is available in digital form. It outlines the major concepts that we will address and how we will address them. It lists the reading you need to do to keep up with the material. There will be weekly on line quizzes on matters arising from the reading material. This has the advantage of budgeting your study time by breaking the material down into manageable chunks
There are a series of on-line forums for interaction with me and with other members of the class. There is a Notice Board where I will post information of a house keeping nature for the class. There is a virtual Seminar Room where I will post questions for discussion. Initially, you will be allowed to post responses to the seminar questions anonymously to get used to the system (you may want to cut and paste responses from a word processor file rather than rely on stream of consciousness contributions). When you have become used to the system, seminar posting will be named. The final space is the virtual coffee shop, Esme's. In Esme's you and I can initiate threads of conversation on any topic from the impact of climate on plant growth to today's weather. You can tell me about the onset of winter in Edmonton and I will refrain from telling you about Coogee Beach over the hill from here.
Group work is an essential feature of this course. It is intended to give you experience in working with others on scientific issues. If you follow a career as a scientist, the group work will give you practice in some of the skills you will need. Your communication with others in your group and with other groups also gives you practice in important interpersonal skills. The ongoing research each week will give you experience in analyzing scientific problems through research and reflection, synthesizing the work of others and evaluating that work.
It is not necessary that each of you individually research and respond to quiz and discussion questions. You may also choose to work in pairs and it is better if you choose to change the person you work with through the term. The only stipulation is that group work be identified as such. You will, in any case, be asked to evaluate your, and your partners, contributions to group work of this nature.
Throughout the course you will assess your own work and progress and record your thoughts in a personal learning journal. You should plan on keeping that journal as a word processor file because that journal will be examined by me several times during the course. In addition, you will be asked to assess your own contribution to each week's problem solving exercise and to evaluate the work of your peers in your small group.
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