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Engaging Online Students in Current Events - Saving the Coral Reefs, Saving Biodiversity


I typically have 100 students in my online Introductory Biology course. While I enjoy teaching online, I tend to miss the interaction I observe in my traditional courses when discussing current science topics.


To help address this issue, I created the following assignment focused around the destruction and extinction of the coral reefs:



Give students a brief intro about the topic with a reference




Saving the Coral Reefs, Saving Biodiversity:

  • Background Info: appearing as solitary forms in the fossil record more than 400 million years ago, corals are extremely ancient animals that evolved into modern reef-building forms over the last 25 million years. Coral reefs are unique (e.g., the largest structures on earth of biological origin) and complex systems. Rivaling old growth forests in longevity of their ecological communities, well-developed reefs reflect thousands of years of history (Turgeon and Asch, in press).
  • Video or Podcast: Grab the student's attention by assigning a video or podcast about the topic:
  • Present questions that make students think deeply and critically about the topic:
    • Define your human impact issue.
    • What are you doing in your daily life that has either a positive or negative impact on coral reefs?
    • Explain the effect your human impact issue has on coral reefs
  • Have students comment on another student's post with a defined length of post. I make sure to comment on every student's discussion in order to further the conversation. While we know some students sign up for an online course "just to get it done", other students still crave the in class discussions found in a traditional course. The challenge we face as instructors is how to meet both sets of students' expectations.

Creating assignments like the one outlined above aids in meeting this challenge.