Deepening Student Understanding with Community Learning

Shona Ellis, Professor of Teaching in the Faculty of Science

Shona Ellis, Professor of Teaching in the Faculty of Science, Department of Botany & Zoology, uses Collaborative Annotation Learning System (CLAS) for her BIOL/APBI 201 Online Lab.

How did you use CLAS in your course(s) and what learning outcoming were you aiming to meet?

BIOL/APBI 210 is a lecture/lab course about vascular plants. Going online with the lab component was particularly challenging; in face-to-face there is lots of hands-on and microscopic exploration of living specimens as well as collaborative learning. My objectives in using CLAS were twofold; I wanted the students to get a community feeling by working in small groups in a similar way they would in the lab where they work in pairs to examine microscope slides and plant preparations. Secondly, I wanted them apply what they were learning in other components of the course, and discuss these activities with their partner.

For the online version, each lab consists of independent online activities (video/slides and lab manual). During scheduled lab time each group of 2-3 students goes into a Collaborate Ultra breakout room and works on CLAS with a selection of images. They label and annotate pictures of plant preparations as well as answer questions. Members of the teaching team pop into the groups and help students with these activities. The final part of the lab is a quiz which consists of 5 multiple choice questions, answers to one of the CLAS questions, and a page from their lab manual.

What has been the result?

Student response has been very favourable; they enjoy working together and really like using CLAS. They caught on very quickly and find it easy to use. Being able to catch student misconceptions and answer questions makes this a very powerful teaching tool. The main challenge as an instructor has been having to upload images to each group one image at a time. It may have been the sensitivity of my trackpad, but I find this difficult as there are 30 groups and sometimes files end up in the wrong group as I am scrolling.

What is your advice for new users of CLAS?

My advice for new users is to take a tutorial. I struggled a little with the interface initially as I tried to work through the online tutorials. Our unit offered in-person tutorials that was excellent in orienting the user. It was easy to learn and once I got the hang of it, it is really simple.

CLAS coupled with Collaborate Ultra provided an excellent platform for promoting collaborative work and deepening student understanding and engagement.