Donna Louie

Libby  Residential Academic Program (RAP)

Course context

In Spring 2012, I taught four sections of IPHY 2420, Nutrition for Health and Performance, at Baker, Libby, and Sewall RAPs.  In general, a Residential Academic Program is a community learning program whereby students can take up to two main campus courses in the dormitory hall and freely join the co-curricular activities that focus on the particular RAP mission.  Different RAPs have different emphasis, for example, Baker - Natural Science, Libby - Arts, and Sewall - History.  The curriculum is similar to the main campus but the class size is small, 18-22 students.  Hence, there are many opportunities for student-teacher interactions during and outside of class.

Targets of improvement/evidence

1. To gain a better understanding of my students’ preconceptions of nutrition, science background, and study habits so that I can tailor my assignments and lectures accordingly.

2. To assess their understanding of the threshold concepts.

3. To help students apply what they had learned in class to their everyday life.

Target 1: Pre-survey to evaluate my students prior knowledge of nutrition, interest, science level, and study habits.

What did I do?

I implemented the pre-survey as shown in my project plans to assess students' levels of science interest and reasons for enrolling into the RAP and my class.  The survey also included their study habits, preconceptions of nutrition, and expectations from the class.  After tabulating the data, I found that most students were non science majors and generally interested in nutrition.  In terms of study habits, they most preferred not to study until couple of days before the exam and rather not read the textbook if the reading was not required and the lecture was clear.  Most of the students had a general idea of what nutrition is but did not know the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietician.  Furthermore, students had a preconception of a good method of dieting by eating less carbohydrate and fat.  Carbohydrate to them is “bad” because it causes weight gain.  Finally, they did not know much about how to gain muscle, when to drink sports drinks, or about supplements. When they took a quiz inquiring about their diet as posted on cspinet, most students failed.  In terms of what questions related to nutrition that they were most interested in, students in general wanted to know how to eat nutritiously and perform well.

The original plan was to do a post-survey to see if the students had improved their diet, but I forgot about it because I was rushing through my lectures toward the end of the semester.


From the pre-survey, I decided to focus on the pre/misconceptions and provide the facts and understanding of the various concepts.  The lectures were maintained at a slow pace to ensure that students really understand the concepts because of their nonscience background.   For this reason, I was unable to keep up with my schedule and had to speed up during the latter part of the semester.  This frustrated the students.   I still struggle with how much material to cut back and be able to teach enough information to satisfy student's need.  Again, due to lack of time, I did not implement my post-survey, which would have been interesting to see if the students actually did better on the diet quiz at the end of the course.

Did it work and what did I learn from this experience?

The pre-survey worked very well, and I learn that I need to reduce the amount of material taught so that I can pace steadily throughout the semester and be able to use the post-survey.  I learn that by addressing the pre and misconceptions in more details and spending the time to assess them, students were more interested in the topics and able to absorb the material better.   Most importantly, I found it rewarding to see the “wow” moments on their faces.

What's next?

I will definitely do the pre-survey in the future to assess my students and adjust my lectures accordingly and do the post-survey to see if the students have a good understanding of nutrition.

Target 2: 1 minute papers and review of threshold concepts after each unit

What did I do?

I only did two one-minute papers within the first two months of the semester.  The questions were "What was the muddiest point that you have today?"  and “What questions do you have in mind that you want to answer?”    I also reviewed the threshold concepts in between units to recap what we have covered since the beginning of the semester.

Did it work and what did I learn?

The one-minute assessment was very helpful, for it allowed me to know what the students did not comprehend and how I can improve their understanding.  Students participated in the first minute paper but were not too enthusiastic about the second one. I don't know if they were not motivated to partake in the activity or actually had no questions.  The threshold concepts worked wonderfully because they kept me on track, and the students seemed to appreciate the review of their collated knowledge and of how the major ideas were related to each other and to the overall objective of the course. These concepts were definitely reflected in the exam essays.

What's next?

Next year, I will assess in the beginning, middle, and end of semester with a course assessment worksheet so that students will take these evaluations more seriously than the one-minute papers.   I will also assess daily with Clicker questions of students’ understanding of the concepts.  Finally, I will continue incorporating threshold concepts throughout the semester.  From an idea brought up in the institute, I want to try to emphasize the learning goals of each chapter in my lecture and assignments and incorporate them into the exam questions.  Hopefully, students will focus on these learning goals when they study for the exams.

Target 3: Model to solve problems by discussing some case studies and have students practice some in pairs as assignments.

What did I do?

I gave two case studies in the beginning of the semester as an independent assignment to gauge student’s perception of the material.

Did it work and what did I learn?

Students did not do well in these case studies and were disgruntled about them because they were not straight forward and took a great deal of time to finish .  So, I stopped giving these homework.   I learn that I need to reduce to only one short case study per assignment and spend time to model a case study.

What’s next?

From the institute, I learn that I should do these studies in a group activity instead of an independent assignment.  Thus, it will require extensive class time which I may not have.  Thus, I’ll try one short case study per assignment to reduce the work time and then determine whether it’s worthwhile or not, otherwise I may have to eliminate the case-study projects.  I will also do an example in the lecture to illustrate my expectation.  Finally, as a class, I will go over the assignment and have each group share their thoughts.

Sharing with Colleagues

I have begun telling my colleagues about threshold concepts.  They seem to like the idea.  The RAPs do have a collaborative workshop for each semester, so I am planning to share what I have learned from the institute with the other RAP faculty members at the workshop.   I will also encourage my colleagues to attend the FTEP Assessment Institute, for it had revolutionized my pedagogy!  Thank you SO much!



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