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Student feedback on the Biol 2002 (Foundations of Biology) course:
Sept 21, 2015
I hope that your semester is off to a good start. My name is Georgie, and I am a former student from your spring semester 2015 Foundations of Biology I class, now a sophomore. I’m sure that your hard work as a professor doesn’t get as much praise as it should, but I am here to sing its praises. My group, Team 13, and I performed the GMO project of establishing resistance to chytrid fungus in frogs.
This summer I was introduced to two of my friend’s parent’s friends, who both just happened to be amphibian biologists. After explaining my project, they told me I looked young for my age. Turns out, they assumed that I was a graduate student. They told me that my extensive knowledge and ability to describe the project had them convinced. They said they had never heard an undergrad, let alone a freshman, speak so fluent in the language of biology. I explained the program, and the biologists offered me a position working in the field with them next summer.
I have never been prouder of myself and I am so thankful for everything you have done. I can only imagine all of the other students that have had similar experiences. I know now why CBS has the reputation it does.
Sincerest thanks,

Student feedback on the Genome course:

1. I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your class and having you as a professor this semester. I honestly had never even considered going into genetics at all, but your passion for the class was pretty contagious. When I’m a doctor I’m sure personal genomes will be integrated into care giving and I hope to be at the front of introducing patients into the benefits of sharing genome information with doctors. I thought this class would be a lot of technical information; transcription, translation, amino acids, proteins, etc. The best part about this class is that you took the raw information above and beyond just facts and showed us how our genomes can influence everything in our lives from hair color to political opinion. My grandma and grandpa have already read my entire Autogenomography and the Genome questions that I added to the end of it and they were both amazed by how much information can be found within us. My parents are in the process of reading it right now; I’m hoping it persuades them to purchase 23andme so I can learn more about myself. I sincerely hope that you choose to teach Foundations II (I’ll be taking it Spring 2015!) so that I can have you as a professor again. I’m working with my advisor to fit in the other classes you teach as well. If 23andme works things out with the FDA and you teach another Genome class, I hope you’ll consider me for a TA as I’d love to help out with the class. Thank you so much for everything this semester, I really appreciated everything you did for us!

2. I just wanted to thank you for a great semester. I have thoroughly enjoyed having you as a professor and I appreciate how much passion you have and how you challenge your students so that they want to work harder and push themselves because I know I certainly did and I learned more because of it. It was really nice having you for two of my courses this semester also, and I definitely want to take another one of your courses in the future; I plan on taking cell biology within the next couple years, so as long as you’re still teaching it, I will be taking another one of your courses, or if you end up teaching one of those other focus courses, I would definitely try to fit one of them into my schedule. Genome has been my favorite course I have taken thus far in my two and a half years at the U, and it definitely strengthened my passion for genetics (and biology in general) and gave me that affirmation that I am on the right path for me since I was uncertain as to whether or not I was “cut out” for it. I hope that we are able to stay in contact and that I will be taking another one of your courses in the near future. Once again, thank you for a truly great semester.

3. Alright, so first I will discuss the good in no particular order (and in numbered form because it appeals to my eye). 1. Freedom: this course offered a great deal of flexibility, making the assignments feel somewhat casual while giving them a lower stress level than an assignment of equal size from a different course. Being able to decide to take more time and really polish something up before turning it in (even if a little late) is a plus in my book. 2.Creative and ever-changing locations: I liked that I had to try and find the new location every week, even if it meant showing up a tad bit late. The locations themselves were interesting, and I honestly might not have had the reason to explore them if not for this course. It not only sparked an interest in campus history, is also got me wondering about the functions of all the buildings contained by this sprawled university. 3. Food: There is not much to say here except that you are an excellent dessert-forger. ADDITIONALLY it was awesome to get treated to new and interesting treats/beverages (even the ones that weren’t crafted by yourself). It really gave an extra thing to look forward to every week, and added a personal touch to the course that made it so unique. 4.The lack of tests/exams: I am actually going to have to list this one as a semi-good factor (not seriously, but you’ll get what I mean). I loved that there was no pressure of a quiz at any point, again setting this course apart from the usual grinds every week in courses like chemistry or calculus– study for the quiz, do the homework, take the test, rinse and repeat. BUT (here is the semi-serious contrary) I would have liked more ‘test’ like opportunities to test my knowledge on what we were learning in class, it would have allowed me to memorize more of the hard details such as what chromosome hox genes were located on (I can not even say with 100 percent certainty that the genes relating to bodily development locations are called ‘hox genes’ or if ‘hox’ was just something close but wrong, having these regions of my memory stimulated by the standard quiz or test would have better entrenched information into my mind. But as it is, I will likely want to read Genome again just for good measure.) What I would like to have seen were mini tests similar to the genetics concept inventory, but all semester long. Grant hard genetics/genomics questions that would really get people thinking; the added pressure of a “quiz” also seems to help accelerate this thinking process in ways that might not occur when just asked the question in a reflection. 5. The homework/reflections: I liked that you went out of your way to gather all of these interesting pieces of information/videos/etc. every week. And the reflective nature of the assignments every week was both refreshing and enlightening. 6. Your style in general: I have not had any other course of yours unfortunately, but based on my exposure as a student I can confidently say that the attention you placed in your students, your work, and into the construction of this course adds to your definition of a fantastic professor. You were approachable (almost unsettlingly so I might add, as a freshman I found myself wondering how to address you at first because you seemed so mortal/casual; at one point I was thinking “this is probably the most professional, and educated person I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with; he has done research for years, has a prestigious academic background, and all I have is a high school diploma.”) You had an outstandingly contagious attitude of excitement toward the course material, and the knowledge and abstract ability to teach and spark interesting thoughts within those hoping to learn. ALSO (I could start several more sentences of praise-like text with this word, but I will make this the finale as to save time), it really added something to the course to know of your background as a person, not only your research or career interests but things like your family, your past, your interest in cooking, dungeons and dragons (this one takes the cake), and more (I found it hard to follow dungeons and dragons with anything specific). 7. 23andme: I am glad to have been exposed to 23andme, and to my personal genome specifically. It provides a depth to this course that is unmatched by any other course I have taken in the past. If you change anything about your course, do not change this. In fact, maybe you could get students to attempt to get their parents to utilize 23andme, for a bigger picture. What I disliked about the course (some of these are pretty much the same as the positives): 1. The assignments: I find it hard to complain about the assignments, because in all reality they do not ask much. But what I disliked about them some of the time, was when they were ‘due’ and when they were posted. Some weeks they would be posted later than I would have liked, which aligned the time I would have to do them with more pressing assignments/evaluations. For example, there were readings and reflections due on Monday, and the questions (along with the Autogenomography) due on Tuesday. I cannot really complain because I honestly should have adapted better to my work load, but because I had Calc 2 quizzes every Tuesday, Monday and Sunday were designated Calculus days, and having to crank out reflections and etc. at that time was less than enjoyable. However, I do think this is not really a problem of the course, and more that the work was sometimes inconvenient for me based on my schedule. A legitimate change I would suggest, would be a definite/ reliable assignment posting time so that a student would know the exact amount of time they would have access to an assignment, and better plan for it. 2. The length of the discussions: the one class meeting we had per week would sometimes feel a little drawn out. I would at first be excited to discuss the material that week, but by the halfway mark I would often feel myself losing interest or having a harder time paying attention. This might just be due to the time of day, or week, but I would say it was the length of the discussion. I would not exactly suggest a change to this, but I do think shorter but more numerous discussions would be more enjoyable. Side notes: 1. The Autogenomography is a fantastic idea; rather than just a number or a lettered grade on a test, I am glad to have a final product as proof of enrollment in this course. 2. Thank you, and it has been a pleasure!

4. To say course material and the concepts were interesting would be an understatement. However, there was a lot more work than would be expected for 2 credit class. I enjoyed the discussions but there was often too high of expectations on what we would get through. Maybe lowering the amount of material attempted would result in a better understanding of the material we actually did end up getting through.

5. I had more work in this class than I did in my 3/4 credit classes. I learned a lot and think a lot of the work helped with that, but making it more credits would help because then I would have known what kind of work load to expect. Also, I felt that on top of my other courses, I was crunched on time to complete all the assignments since it was posted sunday and then things were due mon and tues. Some more time to complete it would have been nice as well.

6. Sometimes I felt a little overwhelmed with the amount of homework that we had to complete-I spent more time on genome in the beginning of the year than I did on some of my harder classes.

7. I would have liked it if you had posted the assignments a little earlier because I found that Sundays would always be mostly devoted to this class. I also thought that the weekly assignments were a little long, especially given the number of credits this class is worth. However, after seeing that you really let the individual decide how much or how little he or she must do for each assignment, I found the weekly assignments to be much more manageable.

8. I absolutely loved this course. I learned so much and I was able to critically think about and reflect upon new topics without many constraints, and I didn’t feel the pressure of getting a “good grade” in the class. I guess I would say that it is a bit more work than 2 credits, but that is a minor detail in my mind. I personally thought it was nice to stray a little from the norm of structured class with lecture, and not letting people talk about topics or opinions about the materials that are on their mind. I felt I was really able to write thoughtful reflections since they were so open ended and I could talk about whatever I wanted in relation to the week’s materials.

9. The class was definitely a lot of work but that is what made it challenging and fun. I really knew I had learned a lot about myself and about the genome by the end. I really appreciated your openness and bringing us snacks each week. The discussion were absolutely wonderful and I got to get to know the others very well. Ultimately, this was my favorite class and I wouldn’t have changed anything about it.

10. I had a wonderful semester and I would recommend both you as a professor and this class to anyone, in CBS or not. This course did require a lot of personal motivation and commitment. I thought that everything that we did really did help with the learning process, it was a lot of work for only being able to meet once a week. At times, it also felt like it was more work than a two credit course should be. I also had trouble with meeting the online deadlines, especially when I didn’t get back until later in the evening. That being said, I thought that the videos and the readings were really beneficial to the information found in the book. They doubled as another learning source as well as a kind of current events assignment, making us more aware of the world around us. The questions from the book were a bit difficult at times, but they also forced us to go back to the book and look at what is really important–there was often a lot of information to sift through. At times, there were topics that I had trouble with that came up in the conversations that I wish you had covered, especially when it was in the book (the powerpoints and worksheets that you had in the beginning). I also really like the different classrooms each week in accordance to the topic–I thought that was really creative! While it was frustrating at times, trying to find the classroom, I was quite a lot of fun. That’s all I have, but thank you so much for a wonderful first semester here at the U of M! I had a blast and learned so much. I hope to have you for another class in the future!

11. For a freshman seminar, I spent more time on this course this semester than I did on any of my other classes on a weekly basis. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the new topics and the readings every week. My only issue was that there was a lot due in just 3 days (Sunday receive the assignment, everything due Monday and Tuesday night). It would have helped a lot to get the assignments Thursday or Friday the week before they were due. Also, when the final Autogenomography was due, there were a lot of sections that we hadn’t formally written anything on, so it was confusing to write stuff up about those sections. It would be nice to also get guidelines for those sections earlier in the semester so we don’t have 4 or 5 sections to complete along with pulling the whole project together at the end. Overall I loved this class, but just those small changes would make it better.

12. I actually enjoyed reading Matt Ridley’s book very much. I learned a lot and thought that he did a good job of keeping it educational and interesting. However, I believe that I did much more work than a 2 credit class should require. I spent several hours a week working on my reflections, reading and answering questions on the book, and writing my autogenomography. Especially in comparison to the amount of work that my friends had to complete for their seminars, I think that we had too extensive of a workload. In the end, however, I am very proud of my autogenomography and am excited to show my family over break.

13. I liked the autogenomography part but now as finals are here I’m spending my time on that, rather than studying and it is really stressing me out. I didn’t mind doing it every week, but now that I’m revising all of them and making it more like a project it is a LOT of work and I don’t feel like I’m learning more just making a better formatted and more precise version of the one I did back in the beginning of the semester.

Professor, Teaching