Thomas Nelson's Dr. Ann Evans makes it a point to work current events and issues into her class discussions and assignments.
“Each semester, I usually have a theme that I play with,” said Evans, a biology professor who is in her 15th year with the College.
Topics in the past have included the relationship between science and art, as well as health issues related to the areas students study.
“At this point in my career, I can explain how everything that we study is related to something significant in their lives,” she said.
This semester, she thinks that’s more important than ever. So in her BIO 102 class, where they are studying viruses, one of her assignments was “to write a persuasive article in support of” the assumption that wearing masks and getting vaccinated are the best ways to combat COVID-19. Students had to use scientific facts to back this up, and come up with a slogan.
“There have been other times when students have really taken a shine to the assignment, but this one I think is particularly important because this is the greatest public health crisis in a century,” Evans said. “They’re living through it. This is a way to get them to think about the huge impact of these public health initiatives on the outcome.”
The assignment differed from past ones in that it wasn’t set up in as pro vs. con, which she often does. While that’s effective in helping students articulate their side of an argument, she wanted to do something different.
“I said to them … ‘For this discussion, I want you to assume that science is our best shot at reducing the death toll of COVID-19,’” Evans said.
She admitted she was somewhat concerned because there is disagreement on the best ways to battle the pandemic. But she wanted her students to concentrate on the science aspects of the issue.
“I’m always sure to let my students know I am not trying to tell them what to think,” she said. “I’m trying to get them to be able to articulate the science associated with the topic.”
As it turns out, there was no need for her to be concerned, as she was blown away by how the way the students reacted to the assignment.
“In terms of what they came up with, I was just impressed,” she said. “They all just dug in and used examples from news articles, data from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and crafted some very impressive writing, I think. … They really came through on the assignment.”
Student Liz Bowman, who is studying science, was excited when she saw the assignment on the course syllabus at the beginning of the semester.
“I was looking forward to it,” she said. “All the previous classes I’ve taken, it’s more research of things that you have heard of in the past or that might be going on in society but you’re not really paying big attention to.”
And as a hospital corpsman stationed in Norfolk, the assignment hit home.
“Of course the whole mask issue, that’s important to me because of my job,” she said. “I need to make sure that we wear masks, so it was pretty educational, and increased my knowledge in what’s going on right now, too.”
She also said the assignment provided her with a much better learning experience.
“I find it when the instructors put out the assignments that correlate with something we are able to deal with in the present time, it helps me retain the information more just based on research and doing a little more digging without just a textbook,” she said.
Another student, Molly Weston, agreed.
“I’m studying nursing so I have that kind of viewpoint, the health-care centered viewpoint, taking care of people, making sure everyone’s safe,” she said. “It’s a little bit easier to do so because it’s happening in real time.”
Evans said another benefit was how her students’ views, personalities and feelings came out in this assignment.
“Sometimes in science we tend not to create assignments that allow that to happen,” she said.
Part of the assignment included each student commenting, via messenger boards, on the work of four other students.
“It's a way for students to see that what they are learning is not just inherently interesting, but worth sharing with others,” Evans said.
Weston liked that aspect, too.
“I was really happy to see people were actually invested in the science and not just going off their own opinion,” she said.
Bowman said the assignment expanded her knowledge of the coronavirus, including learning symptoms and details that haven’t been discussed as much in the news.
“I was able to research that and read it myself,” she said.
That, too, was a goal Evans had for the project.
“This was an assignment to really get them to think about the social relevance of what they were learning about viruses,” she said.
To learn more about the project from Evans and her students, look for an upcoming podcast, which will be posted next month at www.tncc.edu.
Listed here are slogans Evans’ students came up with: Have some class, wear your mask! (Liz Bowman); Vaccinate to Eradicate; Wear a mask, it’s not a task (Lezliana Correa-Nickie); Vaccines may be a little mean, but it will keep your cells clean!! (Promise Oguibe); Be a Superhero: Protect the Vulnerable (Hunt Emerson); Mask acceptance = max freedom (Rosanna Wolf); Bask in the Mask! (Amanda Caldwell); Remember to get your shot, before you get your shots (Dane Weisbrod); No Mask, No Shirt, No Service (Jean Armstrong); Love your family? Wear the mask (Paige Beard); Think of it as a fashion statement (Brice Stolz); Don’t be mean, get the Vaccine (Haley Whitfield); Wear Your Masks So We Can Have Concerts Back (Alex Clifford); Vaccines are your family’s health (Samantha Joseph); Tribulation or Vaccination (Elena Summers); No mask, no mercy (Molly Weston); Don’t be crass with a mask or you’ll break your mother’s back (Luis Diaz); Better to be healthy than sick (Daniel Cota); If you don’t want your immune system to assassinate, please vaccinate (Jhane Robinson).