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Interview with Brie Elking

Interview with Brie Elking

In this episode of the Learning Conversations podcast, I sat down and chatted with Brie Elking. Brie teaches Biology at the Davie campus and some of the topics we talked about included alternative approaches to assessing students and using games such as Kahoot to promote student engagement. Enjoy!

Show Notes & Media

Video Transcript

Phil Tietjen:    00:00:06    Okay. Welcome everyone, to the next episode of the Learning Conversations podcast. In general on this podcast, we talk to people here at the college who are involved with various aspects of teaching and learning. And that’s really kind of our specific, specific focus is on the teaching and learning experience. And our guest for this episode is Brie Elking from over at the Davie Campus. And, so, welcome Brie.  

Brie Elking:    00:00:36    Glad to be here, Phil.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:00:38    And maybe to kind of get the ball started here, maybe we will go ahead and just kind of share a little bit with about, like, your time here at the college. When did you start? Roughly how long have you been teaching? What kinds of classes do you teach? That kind of thing. If you could share a little bit on that.  

Brie Elking:    00:00:52    I’ve been teaching for a total of nine years. This is only my fourth year at the college. However, I started the fall before covid, so that was a really interesting transition time. And I’ve really enjoyed it here. I teach general bio for both majors and non-majors. And then occasionally I will also teach basic principles of anatomy physiology, which is BIO 163.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:01:20    Hmm. Okay. And for those who are not familiar with Bio 163, what’s that about?  

Brie Elking:    00:01:25    It’s really a broad overview for those who are not going into nursing, but still need to kind of know the general anatomy. So for those who might be going into occupational therapy or things of that sort.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:01:36    Okay. Okay. And, let’s see here. Do you have a class that you really enjoy teaching more so than others? I mean, do you have a favorite class or is that just too hard of a choice to make?  

Brie Elking:    00:01:49    <laugh> Probably (BIO) 110, which is for non-majors or (BIO) 112, which is the taxonomy, classification side for majors.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:01:59    Okay. Okay. Cool. Cool. Great. So, as I mentioned in the intro, a big part of what we talk about here in the podcast is teaching and learning. And so, I thought that another thing that would be kind of cool if you could, is to maybe share an approach or a teaching strategy that you found to be particularly effective in your own teaching.  

Brie Elking:    00:02:22   One of the things I’ve recently started doing, and by recently, I mean, this semester is my first one 

Phil Tietjen: mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Brie Elking: but the research kind of backs it up too, is looking at doing alternative assessments and moving away from the standard basic test or quiz, and really looking at giving students choice in their assessments and I’ve started developing kind of what I call mini-projects and replacement of quizzes. 

Phil Tietjen: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Brie Elking: So I’ll give them an assignment that hits the main SLO points, but what it does is it allows them to choose how they want to present it. It hits an application piece where it’s then how do you apply this knowledge to your life, and kind of ties it all together. And so I’ve gotten some really good feedback from students on those kinds of projects that I’ve been doing recently. So I’m looking at kind of spreading it into my other courses now.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:03:14    Fantastic. Were they kind of initially surprised, or dare I say, even shocked that you weren’t going with the regular approach of like an exam or a test?  

Brie Elking:    00:03:27    Funny you should mention that actually. So for about the first half of the course, there were no quizzes or tests and because it was just a trial run for me, I didn’t have, I had about half of the quizzes or the mini projects done, and then I was going into kind of the quizzes to just to finish it out, cause I didn’t have time to make them. And I also thought it would be a good way to kind of test, and see how things went. And all the students are like, wait, is this our midterm? What’s going on? Like, they were bewildered that all of a sudden there was a quiz. And some of them were like, okay, so this is a quiz. Wait, it’s a normal quiz. Like, it totally blew their minds when all of a sudden we went from projects to quizzes. But then they’re like, no, we definitely prefer the projects after the quizzes, after they took their first quiz. They’re like, no, we, the projects are more interesting and more fun. 

Phil Tietjen:    00:04:20    Well, that’s really good to hear because sometimes, students, even though it sounds kind of odd sometimes to say they actually prefer exams or quizzes because they’re so accustomed to that form, that form of assessment. So that’s really good to hear that they kind of embrace that change. Can you maybe share the details of one project in particular that you used?  

Brie Elking:    00:04:44    Yeah. So one of the ones that I have them do is kind of what I call a mini cell project. So again, I’m a biology teacher, and so for our cell unit, what I actually have them do is look at a cell in the human body. Maybe it’s a red blood cell, maybe it’s a white blood cell, but they get to choose which cell they want to examine. And heck, I even let them choose if they want to look at our gut bacteria to kind of research and narrow down in on. So once they’ve chosen their cell, then they have to kind of tell me, what type of cell is it, what organelles are in that cell that help this cell to function in whatever its job is. So for example, in the red blood cell, they might tell me how it doesn’t have a nucleus, but it does have a cell membrane to allow the oxygen to pass in and out

Brie Elking:    00:05:37    and to kind of pull that all together. And then also in this unit we talk about macromolecules. So carbs, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. And so then to pull in that piece, I ask what role do those have in this cell to help it cause its function. So I kind of put it all together and then, then it’s applicable to them because it’s a cell in their body. Then, they’re learning more about, they got to choose what cell that they wanted to examine. And so I think they really have some fun with it.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:06:09    Wow. Very cool. Very cool. Yeah. I wonder, as they’re using this kind of project-based approach to learn more about how cells function in their own body. Do they, do you think that maybe they’re more interested in not only because it relates to kind of they can relate it to themselves individually, but maybe even perhaps, potential connections to diet, fitness, exercise, any, are there any kind of connections that may be happening there and that kind of like further sparks or interest because of that?  

Brie Elking:    00:06:43    I, for this project, I don’t actually go into that, but we certainly talk about that in class regarding kind of the dietary aspect and what do the foods that you’re eating actually give you as far as nutrition wise, not so much nutrition wise, but like energy versus building muscles, and minerals and things of that sort. We actually talk about that during the class. But yeah, I think definitely seeing, oh, hey, these carbs, that we got from pasta are actually serving this function in our cell. So that’s actually, I might actually put that in there. What food group or what food would give you that carb to give you that energy. Ooh, I might add another piece to this project now.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:07:27    All right. I love how these podcast conversations can spark ideas, <laugh>. That’s awesome. That’s great. Let’s see, another question I had that was, you were mentioning that one of the classes or maybe more, you have students who are non-majors, students who don’t plan to go into biology or medicine particularly. Can you share a little bit maybe like, how, let’s see here, how can I put this? How students like, what have they like expressed to you? Maybe any kind of like fears or anxieties about why or how they might be reluctant or feel that they’re not very, they struggle with biology and science and that kind of thing. 

Brie Elking:    00:08:12    I mean, for the most part, students just will tell me, science isn’t my thing, and I always just tell ’em, sure, it’s not everybody’s thing, but we can get you through this. You just gotta ask questions and get the work done because we’ll get through it. And actually that’s part of the reason I chose these mini projects and I started with my non-major course, was to kind of keep them, get that little bit of interest going so that it’s not just boring tests because these are kids who generally are not interested in science. So I was kind of trying to do these mini projects to maybe hook ’em a little bit more as well. 

Phil Tietjen:    00:08:47    <affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And when you’re teaching the content, do you start off with a short lecture or do you start off with them like discussing your reading or what are some of your different approaches to conveying the content in terms of like, the stuff that they really need to kind of learn?  

Brie Elking:    00:09:08   I typically start off by activating their prior knowledge. Typically I’ll have three or four questions on the board, what do you remember about this? What kind of cells are this? Or flip or, spiraling back to something that we’ve already recently discussed that then we’re going to be talking more about. And so I’ll start off with what I call whiteboard questions, which essentially are questions that then they’re answering on a whiteboard and they’re answering this as a group so they can talk to each other and it’s not just purely on them. Which I think helps to reduce some of the stress or anxiety of that, because then it’s not my answer, it’s our answer and I don’t have to come up with all of it. And so we’ll do that.  

Brie Elking:    00:09:51    I don’t often deal with readings. If I do any readings, it’s based on articles that then I ask ’em to summarize and kind of ask ’em to, go find evolution in the news in the past six months and, how is this going? Those are the kinds of readings I have them do. I’m not a huge fan of assigning book reading. That’s never been, I’ll be honest, as a student, I hated it. <laugh>. So as a teacher, I avoid it. In all honesty. So generally, it’s activating their prior knowledge and then we’ll do a short lecture and in that lecture we might do a Kahoot or definitely some more whiteboard questions or, what do you think about this? Things of that sort.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:10:39    Cool. Yeah. Now, I’m glad you mentioned Kahoot because I know we’ve had some conversations over the last couple years or so about using games and learning. I’d love to hear more about your experience with Kahoot. How long have you been using it? What do you like about it?  

Brie Elking:    00:10:55    I’ve been using Kahoot for probably eight and a half, maybe nine years.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:11:01    Wow. Because it goes back to when you were teaching in at the high school level, right? 

Brie Elking:    00:11:04   Yes.  I used it as a high school teacher and I just was like, there’s no reason not to use it at the college level. I will say recently some of the Kahoot updates, if you’re not paying for it, make it harder to assess individualized learning. Because one of the big updates that they did now is you can only have 10 players playing at a time which, if you’ve got a small class, 10 people, not a problem. If you’ve got a class of 24, then you need to put in pairs or trios to try and get down to that 10 to let them play Kahoot.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:11:42    Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>,  

Brie Elking:    00:11:44   which in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s harder to get individual learning, but at the same point in time, then you’re getting in your sparking discussion between them, which is not a bad thing because then you get peer-to-peer learning mm-hmm.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:11:56   Right.  

Brie Elking:    00:11:59   So I started out less of a fan of it, and as I used it more in kind of this new format, I’m like, okay, yeah, it’s not so bad now I can kinda see this and you’re like, oh, now there’s talking and going on there. I like that  

Phil Tietjen:    00:12:11   Have you had any of your students here at the college come up to you after class and say, “Hey, I really enjoyed using Kahoot as a way to kind of learn the material”?  

Brie Elking:    00:12:22    No, not explicitly. I mean, I feel like yes, I love Kahoot when we started up, but nothing regarding anything that’s explicit regarding the material. Just, ooh, I love Kahoot or hey, can we do a Kahoot on this? But yeah. In most of the comments.

Phil Tietjen:    00:12:42    Did you get, or have you gotten the sense that like the students who play Kahoot use Kahoot in your class, that they’ve used it before in other classes?  

Brie Elking:    00:12:51    I would say it’s not uncommon. Yes, most of them have seen it before. Occasionally you get a few that haven’t,, but by and large my students have seen it before and know what’s up. As soon as I say we’re gonna play some Kahoot  

Phil Tietjen:    00:13:06    Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. All right. All right. Great. So, anything else you’d like to share in terms of the experiences you’ve had teaching maybe something that other instructors might find worthwhile to hear about teaching strategy use or anything along those lines?  

Brie Elking:    00:13:26    Sure. One thing I will say is don’t be afraid to come up with an idea in the middle of class and run with it. One thing I did this semester that actually, oh my gosh, it worked so well, I was so happy I did it, is we’re watching a 20-minute video and it used to be boring and we just watched the video. Now I’m pausing the video because part of the video approaches the bioethics aspect, whereas, what are the implications or ethical considerations regarding modifying humans genetically. And so, I’ve started kind of pausing it and letting them talk in their groups in small group discussion regarding what are your opinions? What are your thoughts on this? Should we allow it, what should the age be? Things of that sort regarding genetic modification.

Brie Elking:    00:14:17    And I’ve been doing that for a little bit. And I used to try and then have them go from their small groups to a large classroom discussion and it just tanks and it’s total silence. But this semester they were talking so well in their individual groups, I was like, you know what, we’re gonna try something different. And literally on the fly, I was like, okay guys, I want you to write down on your whiteboards some of the key ideas of the discussion you’re having, and once they had those written down,  the big whiteboard up front, I said, okay, you guys are going to, to go around to all of the groups and look at their whiteboards and everybody has your own individual marker, and you’re going to either put a check if you talked about this and agree with it, and “X” if you disagree with this statement that they wrote down, or a smiley face if you hadn’t thought of this idea and you think it’s a good idea.  

Brie Elking:    00:15:09   And so then each individual person went around to every table and on every comment or point that they wrote for their other group’s discussions made a comment on it, just with those three things, what was real quick. And then it was actually really cool to see them go back to their own boards and be like, oh, this, everybody agreed with this, or, Hey, we all talked about this, or Hey, they all disagreed with this. So it was really a good kind of way of doing it, of getting a large group discussion without actually having a large group discussion. They all got to see each other’s or hear each other’s ideas. So it worked amazing. I was so happy on the fly, I just decided to do it and I will be doing it in the future going forwards.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:15:56    Wow. Yeah. That’s, yeah, that does make a lot of sense that, you can have richer discussions when you do kind of small group arrangements rather than the large group. I think that there’s something that’s going on there that people feel more comfortable or willing to share. Not only willing to share, but I’m thinking like, willing to be more open to experimenting with different takes or perspectives on a thing, being bolder in terms of their willingness to kind of push the envelope as it were on exploring different ideas and or takes. 

Brie Elking:    00:16:29    It’s, it’s less intimidating. It feels more informal, less formal and structured. So it’s more than like a conversation between friends. So the small group idea works wonderfully was then how do I get that? So everybody can hear these wonderful ideas that they’re all saying. So that’s kind of where I came up with this discussion gallery walk, for lack of a better phrase.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:16:49    Yeah. I like the way you described that. Yeah. Discussion gallery walk. Yeah. That’s cool. Yeah. Speaking of, I’ve heard you mention a couple times about the whiteboards. So are these mobile whiteboards that you have? I mean, are you, are you in an active learning classroom? Is that where this is happening?  

Brie Elking:    00:17:06    I am in an active learning classroom, but these are not mobile whiteboards. These are old school whiteboards. These are “I was a high school teacher who was on a budget” and I went to Lowe’s and I bought like 12×12 shower board and had them cut it for me into like six squares or 12 boards. So now I have like two feet by three feet whiteboards that the entire group can ride on simultaneously that I use.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:17:32    Oh, okay!

Brie Elking:    00:17:32    Have some smaller individual ones too, but the big ones are the ones I typically use for the group.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:17:38    So do you position them near the tables or, or how does that happen?  

Brie Elking:    00:17:42    They’re flat, so I just literally set them red on the table. 

Phil Tietjen: Oh, okay.

Brie Elking: And then they’ve got two or three whiteboard markers and a paper towel for any eraser, and then they can just literally write on them. In the active learning classroom, I didn’t have to use these ginormous ones because they had the mobile ones, which worked just as well.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:17:58    Yeah. Yeah.  

Brie Elking:    00:17:59    But I’m currently in a high tech room, so, doesn’t really have much of anything at this point, but that’s coming in the spring.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:18:08    Yeah. Because that’s part of that remodeling, we were talking about that’s happening out at Davie. Okay. Excellent. Well, some nice creativity and kind of on the spot. That’s good. That’s nice. I like it. I like it. Well, hey, I want to respect your time and keep this, relatively kind of on point. So any other closing thoughts you want to share before we wrap up here?  

Brie Elking:    00:18:35    I mean, not really. Just don’t be afraid to try new things. That’s generally what I’m doing is I’m just spitballing trying stuff and seeing what works and what sticks and listening to the research to come up with ideas and utilizing you guys our instructional design team to ask do you guys think this looks okay? Is this aligned properly? Things of that sort, so it’s been very helpful. Thank you very much for all of your feedback, Phil.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:19:02    Oh, sure. Glad to help. That’s what I’m here for <laugh>. And, yeah, and I, I like your point about the research-based practices and approaches. That’s definitely something we advocate for, to be sure. But also I think by the same token, I liked your point about sometimes, some of the best thoughts that come to you are just kind of in the moment. I know that’s certainly been part of my experience as an instructor. I’ll be sensing that this particular activity that I have planned is just not kind of resonating with students. And I’ll feel like, you know what, I need to kind of do some kind of on-the-spot modifications and based on past experience or my time with that particular cohort, I can sense like, Hey, I’m gonna give this a go.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:19:46    And sometimes that’s really worked out quite well. I mean, I kind of almost sometimes when I’m talking with friends or colleagues, I’ll say it’s kind of analogous almost to being sometimes a stand-up comic, where you gotta be able to read the room and not be so kind of  firmly rigid, kind of and attached to your lesson plan. I mean, if you, if you sense that something’s really not working, I think it’s also smart to think about how you can kind of modify those on the spot, especially if you’ve had some time with that class and you can sense like, Hey, this might be a better way to go. Such as, when you’re talking about the small group activity, rather than just kind of like doing a traditional kind of large classroom discussion where it’s just kind of open the floor up to everybody.  

Phil Tietjen:    00:20:29    It’s like, Hey, maybe we can do some variations on small group discussions that might cultivate and kind of give students a better learning experience. All right. So, just a quick wrap up note to our listeners. We’re gonna try something new here and we’re gonna try and, and build a little bit more interactivity. And as soon as we wrap this episode, I wanted to close by sending out invitation to those who are listening. And, specifically I’m interested to hear if any of you out there have any kind of teaching experience that you’d like to share on the podcast, because that’s what this is all about, is to kind of share ideas and promote innovation and all that kind of good stuff. And if you want to come on the podcast and share your ideas, I’ve got a link to an interview request form on our show notes and just go ahead and click on that. Or you can kind of email me directly and say, Hey, I’d like to talk about this. But by all means reach out and let me know. And I’d love to hear about your experiences. So, again, Brie, thanks a bunch for coming on the podcast. It’s been great hearing about your experience. I really appreciate it.

Brie Elking:    00:21:41    Yeah, thank you for having me.

Phil Tietjen:    00:21:44    Take care.