Augustana's innovative three-week courses: an inside look (continued)

An inside look at a few of the innovative block courses that took place at Augustana over the 2017/18 year (continued).

Tia Lalani - 27 April 2018

Block Week Courses

Students had the chance to spend three weeks at the Miquelon Lake Research Station eating, sleeping and of course, learning!

Field Course in Environmental Science and Ecology

Run for the second year, this field studies course was a great fit for the block, which had students working, studying and living at Augustana's Miquelon Lake Research Station for the full three weeks. "The block is perfect for courses like this," noted Professor Glynnis Hood, who co-taught the course with Professor Glen Hvenegaard. Hood and Hvenegaard created a course where students got the chance to design and conduct their own scientific research projects. They came away with new skills in terms of data collection, analysis and preparing reports and presentations, as well learning how to cook, clean and camp as a group. "It's a more holistic form of teaching," noted Professor Hvenegaard. "It's not a lecture followed by a lab followed by homework, but everything blended into one so that students got the opportunity to work together."

Study time and social time blended together out for the students living and working at Miquelon Lake.

The students themselves had nothing but positive comments when describing the course. From their projects on investigating relationships between invasive and non-invasive species to factors that lead to habitat selection, participants came away with fieldwork experience and a knowledge of an area in which they might work after graduation. Of the learning experience itself, the class found it immensely rewarding.

"This is the best course I've ever taken," said Kjell, a fourth-year environmental science major. "I got the chance to study exactly what I wanted and learned more in these three weeks than I have in a full fifteen-week course. It was condensed but not overwhelming, and I loved it."

Along with all of the hard work, the class often had campfire sing-a-longs to end their day, with students able to bond with both peers and professors. "It was completely different than classroom learning," said Chelsea, a fourth-year biology major. "It was an amazing experience."

Research Techniques in Analytical Chemistry

Nnenna, a third year chemistry major, learns the ins and outs of a graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometer.

While the Miquelon Lake field course seemed a clear fit for the block, there were a number of other less intuitively obvious courses that were offered in the three-week terms with positive results. One such course was Professor James Kariuki's senior-level chemistry course, where students operated instrumentation that they had only read about in theory in other classes. These skills will be particularly important if they pursue careers in chemistry.

"The students are using instrumentation found in the chemical industry today," said professor Kariuki, "and having knowledge on how to operate these tools will give them a boost once they're in the job market."

Keith, a fourth-year Chemistry student, felt "way more comfortable on the machines" after taking this course and noted that he would add his experience to his resume. Ben acted as a student mentor in the class, earning credit himself and cementing his desire to become a professor after graduate school. Ben got the chance to create interesting experiments with Professor Kariuki over the summer that had real-world applications, including testing food samples and a crime scene simulation in which the students came to the lab to discover gunpowder and had to determine where it was from.

"In other courses, students would push a button on these machines, whereas in this course, they get to actually run them," said David King, a chemistry lab technician who also helped with the class. "It's very well suited to the rhythms of the new calendar."

Topics in Global History: Genocide in the Modern World

Students presented their research on different modern genocides around the world with posters, explaining whether or not the crimes were listed as genocides by the United Nations based on different determining factors.

While genocide is not the most uplifting of subjects, Professor Geoffrey Dipple created a first-year January block course on this theme. He described it as "one of the best courses I have ever taught". Dipple was impressed by the level of engagement from his students, as well as by their final presentations, which included an oral and poster component on an example of modern genocide, the history behind it and a framework for understanding it.

Students also participated in a mock genocide exercise that simulated the ease with which genocide propaganda can spread. A group of students was given triangles and another group stars, while the rest of class acted as the general population. The stars were sent to take the triangle cards from those who held them by midnight and what followed was a somewhat disturbing spread of procedures, from students betraying their own friends and roommates to get them captured, to the creation of "find the triangles" propaganda. The exercise gave students a first-hand representation of how quickly and easily genocide can spread within a society. They spent hours discussing the procedure the next day, which helped make the experience particularly real for everyone. "It was a very successful experience," Dipple said, "and you could only organize an exercise like this in an intensive course."