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Frequently Asked Questions

Study Methods:

1. How should I study for this course?
This is a question every student needs to figure out for her or himself. Unfortunately, there is no "right" answer. Part of the learning process is to better understand the methods and tools that work for you and support your thinking. Throughout the semester, we will take time in class to think about how you're learning, as well as what you're learning. We'll refer to this as "going meta" (for "metacognition, or thinking about how you think). As you better understand your own process of learning, you will become more efficient in learning new material and integrating it into what you already know. There is tremendous satisfaction in a style of learning that produces a well-structured and highly connected picture of a process, as opposed to learning lists of facts that seem to have little relation to one another.

In addition to learning more about how you learn, there are a number of pro-active strategies that you can practice to help you stay on track:

a. Early and often. Cramming for an exam the night before is a well-exercised strategy of many college students. Sometimes it can work - especially if the task at hand is largely memorization. It is unlikely that this will work for you in this course - or in most of your courses for that matter.

b. Be there. Without adoubt, your presence is one of the most important things that will promote your success in the class. note: present means in mind as well as body. You're probably not all that engaged in what's happening if you're texting friends and checking out Facebook profiles during class.

c. Talk. Research about learning shows that the act of talking through an idea improves understanding. Engaging your brain to find and link the words required to construct an explanation activates and strengthens neural networks. So, try it! In this class, WE will regularly ask you to "talk with your group" or "explain and defend" your thinking to your classmates. Part of the function of this activity is to provide you an opportunity to put words to your ideas and questions. In addition, the dialogue that emerges serves both a learning and teaching function. Sometimes, a difficult concept only becomes clear when it is phrased in words of another student - and not the prof!

d. Test yourself. Take time after every class session to ask yourself:

  • What was the "big question" for this class meeting? (what were the objectives? what was the "problem" we were trying to solve?)
  • What do I need to know in order to understand the question and answer it? (identify the parts of the question/problem)
  • What parts can I explain in a way that makes sense? (what do you know?)
  • What parts are unclear or don't yet make sense (what don't you know?)
  • What does this new information have to do with what we've already learned in this course (how is it connected?)

e. Use resources. To help you learn:

  • Class Notes. Class meeting notes are posted in Angel after class. Do not regard these as a substitute for your own notes, but as a supplement to use in conjunction with your own. You are strongly encouraged to take notes during class! Later, as you study, compare and merge your notes with the Angel notes.You will maximize the benefit if you do this soon after each class. This way, you will be able to clarify what you need help with while the material is still fresh in your mind.
  • Text. Use any of the recommended introductory biology textbooks to survey the material for a subject area before class - pay attention to headers, subheaders, and summaries. Read captions and try to understand what is represented in images, graphs, and models. Revisit the text again after class to reinforce understanding and clarify topics that are still unclear (see tips below for using the textbook to help you learn).
  • Your group. Ask questions of your group members. Different members of your group have different skill levels, perspectives, and abilities on different subjects. At times you will act as a learner in your group, other times you will act as teacher. Explaining a concept to a peer can create a powerful learning experience and novel perspectives that allow you to see something in a completely different way.
  • Your instructors. We are here to help you, but we need you to take the initiative if you need extra help. Visit us during office hours or after class.

2. Should I study from the textbook? A textbook is a source of information. Use it as a reference. If you choose to google your questions - be certain you use a reliable link.
See info at Textbook link (below).



1. Is group participation required for this course?
Yes. You will regularly work with your classmates to discuss you ideas, practice your thinking, and complete homework and in-class assignmnets throughout this course.. Your group, as well as groups around you, will provide feedback and discussion during clicker questions and in-class problems.

2. Why do we do so much in groups for this class?

  • Science is a collaborative process, very little contemporary science is conducted by individuals working alone. We believe that our teaching of science should reflect how we practice science to the greatest extent possible.
  • You have a lot to do! You will gain productivity by having a team to help you accomplish the tasks at hand.
  • Very few jobs exist these days (especially in science, medicine, etc.) that you can perform solo - we all have to learn how to work effectively with diverse groups of people.
  • Research shows that people learn more when working in groups compared to learning individually.
  • Many pre-professional programs (medical schools, vet schools, graduate programs, etc.) are using "group skills" as a criterion for evaluating applicants prior to admission. Code for: these items are showing up on the reference letters that I am asked to write!



1. Will you "test from" a textbook?
A textbook is a reference tool, as is Google and Webster's Dictionary. Think about your text in the same way you do these other references - it is a resource for gaining a broad overview of a topic as well as finding detailed information about specific concepts. We do not use a textbook as a test bank. Our exam questions are derived primarily from the activities, discussions, and concepts we work with during class time.

2. How should I use my textbook to help me learn?
As stated above in "Study methods", figuring out what works best for your personal preference for learning is a part of the learning process itself. Each student has a unique method - your challenge is to find the one that works best for YOU, not for the "average" student, or your roommate, or your study partner.

The following is my recommendation for how "I" would use a textbook - please note: that doesn't mean this is what you should do. Consider it a suggestion that you may try to see if it works for you.

Before class. Use your textbook to preview the subject and materials we will be working with in class. READ the overview. READ headers and subheaders. LOOK at the pictures, diagrams, and figures - read captions.

After class. Use your textbook to reinforce your understanding of concepts we discussed in class. Focus on the sections of the text, including diagrams, etc., that were emphasized in class. Use additional sections and materials in the text IF it helps you to understand the rest of the material better.

Remember. Biology textbooks are references that can offer a valuable resource for providing comprehensive and detailed information about a broad diversity of biological concepts. They are so comprehensive in fact, that it is impractical to think that we can "cover" everything in a textbook in a year of introductory biology. Remember that the level of detail and the quantity of information in the text will be more than what you get during class time. Another value of the textbook is in offering another instructor's perspective about the same concept - it's always better to consult two sources rather than one.

Don't do what doesn't work:

  • Reading the chapter from beginning to end without processing the information as you go.
  • Attacking your text with a highlighter. Just because your page is bleeding yellow does not mean you've read for understanding!



1. How do I register my i-clicker?
We will register clickers the clickers IN CLASS during the first week of classes. DO NOT register your clicker on-line as is described on the package. Your in-class registration will link your clicker's serial number to your MSU Net ID in my software. This will allow me to view your responses and award credit for your participation in clicker questions.

2. Will other clickers work for this class?
Other brands of clicker will not work for this class because the software is not inter-compatible among brands. "i-Clicker" is one of 2 clickers that MSU has agreed to support and endorse for its courses.

3. Will my i-Clicker work for other classes?
If you have other courses that also require an i-Clicker, you may use the SAME i-Clicker in multiple courses - you do not need to purchase additional i-Clickers! Each instructor using the i-Clicker system will let you know how he/she wants you to register your clicker.

4. I have a clicker, but it is not yet registered. Should I still answer questions in class?
Yes! If you added late or were unable to complete the in-class registration for any reason, please go ahead and use your clicker for the in-class questions. We can add your registration information even after you've submitted responses during the class.

5. Is it true that I can share a clicker with a friend in another class?
Yes, you may make arrangements with a friend or roommate to share an i-Clicker. However, you are responsible for working out the logistics to ensure that you will both have access to it as you need it. Clickers are required in our class every day. Please note: it is clearly not possible to share an i-Clicker with a friend in the same section of our course.

6. What happens if: I forget my clicker? my battery is dead? my mom ran over it with her minivan? I left it on the CATA bus? my dog borrowed it for his calculus class and didn't return it? etc., etc.
Stuff happens. If for any reason you do not have your clicker with you in class, you may submit your responses on paper TWICE during the semester. After the second paper submission, points will be forfeited for not having your clicker.

Paper submissions MUST include: your name, date, the header "missing clicker", and the clicker question numbers with your responses. Turn your paper into the designated folder.


Miss a class:

1. Will I lose points if I miss class?
Part of your evaluation in this class will come from work completed during class time. Missing class will mean forfeiting the points for in-class work for that day. However, we understand that occassionally, things happen that are out of our control. As a result, we will drop two assignments for in-class work for the semester. If you need to miss because you feel ill, your alarm failed, you missed the bus, or you just plain didn't want to leave the comfort of your bed, etc. - consider these as included under the "2 Pass Clause". Beyond the 2 passes, additional absences will result in points forfeited for in-class work for the day and may contribute to your group's evaluation of your participation. Absences that are excused with proper documentation are eligible for make-up points (see below).

2. If I miss class, should I e-mail the instructor?
Because you have 2 passes for missed classes, it is not necessary for you to e-mail us about these. If you will have or have had an excused absence, you will need to contact us in order to provide the documentation for your absence so that you can make up missed work (see below).

3. If I miss class, can I make up the in-class work?
You may make up in-class work missed due to an excused absence. An excused absence may be granted only if appropriate documentation is provided, such as a doctor's note, letter from advisor/supervisor/coach regarding attendance at professional meeting/conference/university-sanctioned sporting event, obituary, subpoena or notice of jury duty, etc. See Christina to issue documentation for excused absences. If there are personal or other issues you would prefer to discuss with Dr. Brudvig, please e-mail for an appointment.

4. If I know in advance that I will miss class, can I make up the in-class work?
If the absence can be documented as an excused absence then you may make up in-class work that you missed.



1. How can I know what my grade is?
Scores for all assessments will be posted regularly on ANGEL in an Excel Spreadsheet. The gradesheet will include the last 5 digits of your PID as an identifier. Point totals will vary among assessments. Point values for each category of assessment will be converted to a percentage and weighted according to their contribution to the final grade. See the Evaluation page for additional details and an example for how to estimate your grade.

2. What if my records (or, what if I) don't agree with one of my scores posted on the gradesheet?
First: Check rubrics for homeworks and exams in order to see how an item was graded.

Then: If you think there was an error in the recording or scoring of an assessment item, you may submit a Grade Discrepancy Form to Christina or Carrie within 10 days of your grades being posted to the gradesheet.



1. How should I contact the instructors and/or TAs?
E-mail is the preferred method of communication for everyone working in this course (instructor and TAs). Here are a few suggestions to ensure successful communication:

  • Only e-mail from your MSU Net ID e-mail. If you e-mail from g-mail, hotmail, yahoo, etc., there is a chance your mail will be detected as spam and not receive our inbox.
  • Use an informative description in the Subject line of your e-mail. Subjects help us to organize and coordinate large numbers of e-mails from groups. It's hard to know what the e-mail will be about if "hello" is the only item in the Subject line - unless you really are e-mailing to say, "Hello!".

2. Who should I contact about ___?

Contact Dr. Brudvig regarding:

  • Grade discrepancies
  • Group issues
  • Help with course materials

Contact Christina or Carrie regarding:

  • Angel
  • Grade discrepancies
  • Missed classes
  • Clickers
  • Folder issues
  • Website issues
  • Help with course materials