New online edition of BIOL 240 aims to inspire future students

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Josh Neufeld is anything but an ordinary professor of biology at the University of Waterloo. His use of clickers, twitter, and art for student engagement are pioneering. His Halloween costumes are legendary. And he’s somehow discovered a connection between microbiology and The Lord of the Rings.

So when he was asked to update the Centre for Extended Learning’s (CEL) version of BIOL 240 Fundamentals of Microbiology – a course he regularly teaches to 800 and 900 students – he realised the classic approach of turning in a bunch of lectures wouldn’t be enough.

Josh Neufeld."I do so much for students in the classroom and it didn’t seem right,” says Neufeld. “Listening to a pre-recorded lecture is like listening to your favourite radio show taped live with another audience. It’s not for you - it’s not customized for the students actually taking the course.

Neufeld went back and with help from CEL converted the transcripts of his lectures into a multimedia version of BIOL 240 that’s now open for enrolment Spring term 2017.

"This course really takes advantage of the online learning environment with videos of lab and field experiments, animations of complicated processes, and self-check questions with immediate feedback– all with the flexibility to go back and review content at your own pace,” says Micheline Lang, Online Learning Consultant at the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL)."

Neufeld likens the final product to a Harry Potter newspaper with text and moving pictures.

"The big disadvantage to online education is you can’t read the room as you give the lecture,” says Neufeld. “On the other hand, tools like short videos are awkward in a classroom setting. I can bring online students into the field or the lab anytime. They’re always right with me."

As a dedicated teacher and an active researcher, Neufeld believes in the power of demonstrations, examples in the news, and discussions to illustrate his point. And he’s also not afraid to introduce undergraduates to the latest research discoveries.

He credits his teaching success with a philosophy centred around empathy, experience and clarity, while his attention-grabbing tools in the classroom help keep students focused and remembering the material better.

"This online course blends the best elements of demonstrations, lectures, textbooks, and clicker questions to diversify the learning experience,” says Neufeld “It’s about more showing and less telling, which is really the goal of in-class education as well."

Professor Neufeld is the recipient of the 2014 Excellence in Science Teaching Award (ESTA), the 2014 Federation of Students Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance Teaching Award, and the Jack Carlson Teaching Excellence Award.