Electronic Templates Expand Learning
Instructors realize that fostering deep student understanding requires much work. But, Bill Saylor, Associate Professor, Animal and Food Sciences, saved time and stayed effective by using elegant technology tools.
With an ITUE/PRESENT grant awarded in Spring 2003, Saylor wanted to help students have a real grasp of the principles in ANSC251—Animal Nutrition and Feeding. Consulting with Erin Sicuranza, Instructional Designer, of PRESENT, Saylor not only met his goal but dramatically reduced his course paperwork and administrative load.
As the course title implies, students learn how to formulate effective animal diets. “I want them to have the basic science of nutrition,” says Saylor, “but also a practical appreciation for what it takes to feed and provide for an animal. The best way to do that is to work with animals.”
After exposure to animal nutrition principles, students work in teams to select the poultry species they will feed over the next four weeks. Each team formulates a diet for their species, receives feedback from Saylor, and shares their work with the class. Several birds of the species are assigned to the team and then fed the diets the students formulated. Each week the students go to the pens, weigh and observe their birds, and record the results. After four weeks, students write journal-type research papers and news releases about their experiment.
Saylor has run this required fall course 26 times over the past 25 years. Students attend a lecture twice a week and a two-hour lab on another day. With class sizes of 80 to 90 students, the paperwork and logistics of the feeding experiment were daunting. Each week, each group filled out by hand two bird diet forms. In addition, each group submitted a Body Weight/Feed Intake data sheet with hand-recorded data and calculated values every week.
Slowly and carefully, Saylor and a teaching assistant deciphered handwriting and evaluated the diets from the many data cells on each group’s forms. During lab, Saylor presented the class with a summary report of bird weight and feed consumption data from all teams and provided copies of each group’s ration forms.
“It was an incredible amount of work,” says Saylor—until now.
The experiment remains largely unchanged, but form distribution, data capture, manipulation, and reporting are now electronic. No paper. Fewer headaches. Today, students use MyCourses to download templates of each form. The Body Weight/Feed Intake data sheet is now a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that automatically calculates key values such as average weight gain and feed efficiency. The diet forms are Microsoft Word documents. After completing their forms, students upload them to their group’s folder in the MyCourses Student Presentations area to share with other groups. Since no group has the same species, students learn about the growth characteristics of several species from each other.
“The obvious advantage for me is that we don’t have to enter all of the data. That’s a tremendous timesaver,” says Saylor. “So now, I can actually spend more time looking at the data and see what’s going on with their birds, so we can hypothesize in class.”
The real magic is the automation devised by Sicuranza to save Saylor even more time. Each group’s weekly Body Weight/Feed Intake data sheet automatically pours information into a master data sheet that lists and summarizes data for every group, every week, for every bird species. Saylor simply downloads and places the Excel sheets from each group into the same file folder as the master class spreadsheet and pushes a button: The hundreds of cells from the group data sheets are imported and analyzed. Formulas are run. Data are presented. Lastly, Saylor simply uploads the master sheet to MyCourses for student access so they can improve their bird diet formulations and check up on the competition from other groups.
The benefits to the students are substantial, stresses Saylor. “The students are much more engaged,” he says. “I see my role as helping students become problem-solvers. Too often we make students feel they must master every tidbit of information we give them.” With the aid of the automated templates, students can better focus on the animal and its response to their diets, says Saylor.
Saylor says these experiments enable students to see the results immediately and become more engaged with the animal-diet relationship. Since most of his students seek careers in veterinary medicine, Saylor stresses the value of these higher level skills. “It’s not just about learning how amino acids are utilized, as much as it is working with problems that involve amino acids. That’s what their careers will be all about – figuring things out.”
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“I see my role as helping students become problem-solvers. Too often we make students feel they must master every tidbit of information we give them.”
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