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Eli Scriver '22 with at home growth kit


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Pipettes used in biology classes and research labs.

Biology Class Students Nurture Plants While Developing Research Skills

Eli Scriver '22 with at home growth kit

As the Knox community continues adapting to the off-campus learning environment, faculty member Stuart Allison is teaching Biology 210: Introduction to Research online. He offered plant growth kits to students to help them participate as fully as possible in their development of skills required to do scientific research.

The kits are seed starter trays, packets of seeds, and instructions on how to start the seeds growing. “We are asking students to conduct experiments testing various things that affect plant growth while they are at home,” said Allison, Watson Bartlett Professor of Biology and Conservation. “The first round of experiments is up and running now—we'll soon find out how well that approach has worked.”

“I'm focusing on the essentials because I think the online environment places limits on what I can do,” Allison said, explaining that teaching this term has been extremely different from the usual experience. Along with typical homework assignments, he does most teaching asynchronously by putting together videos and presentations for his students, who watch the videos when it fits their schedule. “By focusing on the basics I think we can get students to better connect with what we really want them to learn and that they will be more energized by what we are doing.”

Students reported that getting to work at their own pace has been beneficial this term, but they are looking forward to returning to campus. Kaylyn Spencer '22 said, “This take on online classes has been very different but has shown me how to work efficiently on my work and reach out to professors more often.”

When asked about his experience learning remotely through Allison’s class, Eli Scriver '22 explained that the content of his classes is actually even more personal now than before. “This experience is a beautiful example of the adaptability of education,” he said.

“This course is really about the process of doing science, so I'm very focused on process,” said Allison. “The main thing we have done to ensure continuity with the on-campus course is to have the students do their own experiments. Bio 210 is our research methods course. The whole point of the course is to develop the ability to design and carry out experiments, [so] I want them deeply engaged with the process and to come away with an understanding of how it works and why it is a powerful method.”

It’s important to maintain the Knox experience for students, he added. “I think the thing that makes Knox Knox, the thing students come here for, is personal attention and interactions with the faculty and each other. I can't do much about interactions among students—the video chats are a bit awkward for that—but I can do as much as possible to be present for the students and to make sure they can interact as much as they want [and] need to in a way that works for them.” Allison hosts office hour-type check-ins for students four times a week to accommodate everyone’s schedules.

Scriver also commented that the campus feels like a strange, virtual reality version of itself. “Other than that, it's the same beautiful, thriving springtime campus we all know, and it misses its students so much.”

Photo at top of page: Eli Scriver '22 with his at-home growth kit

Gallery photos: Seedlings grown by Kiki Kelley '22 (photo provided by Stuart Allison), seedlings photographed by Eli Scriver '22, Kaylyn Spencer '22 with her plants

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#“This experience is a beautiful example of the adaptability of education.”—Eli Scriver '22

Knox College

Printed on Wednesday, May 27, 2020