Celia Faiola is an Assistant Professor at University of California Irvine. She holds appointments in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Chemistry. She received her PhD from the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research at Washington State University in 2014, and conducted her postdoctoral research in the Aerosol Physics Research Group at the University of Eastern Finland. She is an affiliated member of the AirUCI research organization, which focuses on inter-disciplinary science studying air pollution, energy, and climate change. Her main research interests include plant-atmosphere interactions, plant volatile emissions, atmospheric chemistry, secondary organic aerosol, plant stress responses, and climate change. For more information, see https://faculty.sites.uci.edu/cfaiola/.
Teaching Ecology and Evolution with Specifications Grading
In Winter 2022, I implemented specifications grading into an upper-division undergraduate course at UC Irvine, E106: Processes in Ecology and Evolution. 100 students were enrolled in the course, primarily juniors and seniors majoring in the Biological Sciences. The course is conducted using a dynamic lecturing approach with short independent or groupwork activities integrated into the lecture every 4-6 slides. The course had a token system. Students earned tokens by submitting a learning plan at the beginning of the quarter and they earned up to 1 additional token per week by participating in their Discussion Section (a required co-enrollment for this course, 1 hour per week, led by a TA). They could spend tokens to request assessment extensions and revision/re-submission. Students could determine their grade using a grade tracker I developed for the course. Their letter grade was determined by 2 types of assessments: mastery quizzes on Canvas that were associated with the learning goals for each class and data analysis exercises. Other assessments were used to assign a + or – to their letter grade, if applicable. The other assessments included weekly reflections posted to Canvas discussion boards and in-class worksheets submitted after each lecture (as a metric for participation). The data analysis exercises required students to develop their own testable question that could be answered with the data-set provided. There were three data analysis exercises in the first 5 weeks of the course (quarter system). Students became very invested in their questions and the level of student engagement was elevated. My office hours were packed each week and students came to office hours with great questions about how to tackle their analysis and data visualization. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. On the mid-term evaluation, students highlighted that the token system allowing for re-submissions helped them focus more on learning the content rather than worrying about their grade. They said the lecture quizzes helped them stay caught up in the class and retain the material better (no cramming!). I have had multiple students contact me about taking another course of mine next quarter because they enjoyed the specifications grading design. I am definitely implementing this again with some improvements to my data analysis exercise rubrics.