This post was updated Feb. 1 at 4 p.m.
Students are happy with the new life sciences course series that debuted in fall, although they offered suggestions for improvement.
The Life Sciences 7 series is intended to replicate and eventually replace classes in the existing LS core series, which ranges from Life Sciences 1: “Evolution, Ecology and Biodiversity” to Life Sciences 4: “Genetics.” The life sciences core curriculum is required for majors such as physiological science and psychobiology.
LS7 does not require mathematics or chemistry prerequisites, so the class is made up mostly of first-year students, said Debra Pires, academic administrator of the Department of Life Sciences Core Education. Pires is co-teaching Life Sciences 7B: “Genetics, Evolution and Ecology” this quarter with Frank Laski, chair of the LS core curriculum.
Pires said these students usually would have needed to complete math and chemistry classes to enter the LS series.
She said the department wanted students to be able to finish the series earlier and take their required upper divisions so they would not have to cram all their upper divisions into their later quarters.
There is one less class in LS7 than in the previous set of LS courses and it relies on the flipped-classroom format, a style of teaching that incorporates video lectures.
Pires said assigning video lectures outside of class allowed her to focus on group discussions and having students answer clicker questions in lecture.
“There is published data that highly structured, student-centered classrooms help typically underrepresented groups of students,” Pires said.
Neema Sheshebor, a third-year political science student, said the flipped-classroom format was helpful for absorbing information. He said he was taking the class to fulfill a biology requirement and to prepare for medical school.
Sheshebor said lectures built on what students had already learned from assigned study materials, such as readings and video lectures.
“(With this teaching style) learning is not a chore because we are constantly studying the material,” Sheshebor said.
Kelsey Jirikils, a third-year human biology and society student, said the similarity between outside study and lecture materials made the class feel a little repetitive at times, and the volume of outside work was higher than she had expected.
However, Laski said the classes in the LS7 series are five-credit courses, so students should expect to spend more time on studying.
Rachel Han, a first-year student who plans to declare a psychobiology major, said there was a heavy workload, but she liked the general class format of both Life Sciences 7A: “Cell and Molecular Biology” and LS7B.
Pires attributed the low rates of D grades, F grades and withdrawals from LS7A in fall quarter to the interactivity of class.
Liz Roth-Johnson, a postdoctoral student in education research who has taught Life Sciences 2: “Cells, Tissues and Organs,” helped incorporate the flipped-classroom aspect to the class. She said the department wanted to provide a cohesive set of courses with this series.
Students are not required to take the existing LS core series in a specific order, which reduces the ability of instructors to build on knowledge in other courses, she said.
The department and instructors plan to improve future classes in the LS7 series.
[Related: Life sciences curricula to be reformed]
“These are new courses so we’re modifying them to try to get them at the right level for incoming students,” Laski said.
Roth-Johnson will be one of the instructors for LS7A when it is offered in spring in a larger class. She said student feedback on LS7A was collected every week in fall quarter, and that information has helped her tweak her lesson plans for teaching LS7A in the spring.
“The students are happy to tell us what we can do and to help us shape the course,” Pires said. “They’ve been very helpful.”
The department plans to enroll more than 700 students in LS7A in fall 2017 and the existing LS series is intended to be phased out by fall 2018, said Laski.
Sheshebor said he was concerned that a larger lecture class size would reduce the opportunities students had to ask questions.
“We would love to have all of our courses have 80 students,” Laski said. “But there aren’t enough classrooms and lecturers for that.”
Pires said she does not think a larger group of students will reduce the quality of her interactions with her students, because she is able to walk around during the lecture hall and talk to students directly.
Roth-Johnson said her students in LS2 have expressed concern that as the LS7 series is rolled out, classes like LS1 will no longer be available and they will not be able to complete the series.
Laski said the department will make arrangements for any students that need to complete the LS core series. Depending on the demand, the department may put up an online course.
“We will take in the students,” Laski said. “They won’t be abandoned.”