North to the future: A new asynchronous delivery of the classic “flora class” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks
Alaska is relatively isolated from the rest of the United States, due to its distance, size and widespread population. Online course delivery is a valuable alternative to on-campus enrollment for many of the rural students in our state. Introduction to the Flora of Alaska and Systematic Botany are now being offered as fully online courses with a lab component. These courses taught both online, and in the classroom (COVID-19 depending), are versions of the first author’s own experiences taking these same classes taught by Don Pinkava at Arizona State University. His legacy as an intrepid botanist and inspiring educator influenced how I (Steffi Ickert-Bond) approached developing my own teaching style. The course design presented reflects some of Don Pinkava’s rigorous detailed and challenging course content and innovative labs. The devoted teacher he was, Dr. Pinkava left for us a comprehensive statement outlining his teaching principles he had acquired over many years (Appendix 1). As a student of Don’s, I have applied those teaching principles to my own courses. To create a lab experience like Don's classes, I have carefully chosen technology that will allow students from all over the state (and even outside Alaska) to have a hands-on learning experience. Using cutting-edge virtual herbaria they collect data, and perform plant dissections within the flora’s native environment. Instead of traditional course materials like textbooks, students use an inexpensive wide-angle macro lens to take high-resolution, detailed photos of flora on the go. The technology not only lets students mimic lab spaces in their own areas but also expands their digital networks through the submission of images to iNaturalist, enabling them to share and collaborate with enthusiasts around the world. Students must get outside, touch with their hands and share what they discover. In combining traditional methods with modern technologies such as virtual, streaming dissections students develop skills and confidence with the microscope and dissection techniques just as much as I did in Don’s in person Flora of Arizona class in 1993. Today the Introduction to the Flora of Alaska (BIOL190), and Systematic Botany (BIOL331) are both exciting intersections highlighting a curiosity for wild plants, an exploration of Alaska’s plant communities as well as a great introduction to the science of botany. Don’s Flora of Arizona took us students to those same crossroads. Together with my colleague Dr. Ute Kaden who teaches STEM methodology at the School of Education, UAF we describe effective course design elements for online delivery of a biology course and the challenges that come with it. Some student feedback after the first semester running will be presented here as well.
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