Last Weeks of the Semester: Challenges and Opportunities

1 0 353

My college freshman daughter bemoaned returning to campus after Thanksgiving break to wrap up her last week of classes and prepare for exams.   She is no doubt alone.   Instructors also find that they must find the momentum to finish strong as they use these last weeks to keep students engaged and consider if they’ve met the goals and expectations as laid out earlier in the semester.  Stress levels increase for faculty and students as time diminishes for teaching and learning content and for completing and grading assignments.

Across the 45 plus semesters that I taught introductory nutrition, I liked using the last week of classes to review and recognize how much they have learned (hopefully!) about nutrition fundamentals as well as reinforce the complex and evolving nature of the science of nutrition.  

1.  Revisit responses to polling questions from first week of classes:   We revisit some of the polling questions from the first classes that asked some basic nutrition questions (including common misconceptions) in a true-false format.   It was interesting to be able to show the class how responses changed. 

2.  Allow students the opportunity to consider the scope of what they've learned:   The first assignment of the course was to submit one diet or nutrition related question they’d like addressed over the course of the semester.   At the end of the course, I share all their questions (without names) and ask them to address one of the questions as their final assignment (not graded as "right" or "wrong", but credit for completion).   My hope is that as they scroll through all the questions, they realize that they have a greater appreciation of how answers aren't always so straight forward and that they also recognize what they’ve learned – and how some of the questions themselves are fundamentally flawed (like “why is a gluten free diet healthier?”).  

3.   Obtain feedback on how course goals were met :  At the conclusion of each semester, I created and posted an anonymous survey in our LMS to assess how well students believed the overall course goals from the syllabus were met.   The university generated evaluations provide valuable feedback but input specific to a course and its success beyond student performance has proven to be valuable.   I’ve modified the survey over several semesters from a narrative answer to a scale to a combination of both.  And maybe more importantly, reviewing the course goals at the conclusion of the semester allows students the opportunity to reflect upon and consider what they’ve learned – and hopefully feel good about that!  A link to the survey is shared via email with a message encouraging completion and how their anonymous feedback will assist in improving the course and its components for future students.  Reading student feedback provides another opportunity for instructors to evaluate the course design and components in alignment with course goals. 

As an FYI, here are the course goals from the introductory nutrition course that align with use of and learning objectives from my textbook Nutrition for a Changing World:

At the end of the course, the student will be able to:

Appreciate the scope and complexity of the evolving science of nutrition.

Discuss the role of each of the six classes of nutrients in the maintenance of health.

Describe how dietary recommendations for Americans are established, evaluated, implemented, and applied to meet individual dietary needs, promote health, and prevent chronic disease – and how they compare to food-based guidelines from around the globe.

Describe the fundamental role of nutrition and food choice in prevention and treatment of select diet-related chronic diseases.

Discuss factors that affect nutrition and health status of individuals across the lifespan with corresponding intervention strategies.

Analyze controversies or claims surrounding one or more contemporary nutrition issues based on scientific evidence and nutrition theory.

Identify ways individuals can assess, evaluate, and implement strategies that promote a healthy and safe diet.

Discuss how all foods can fit within an overall healthful diet.  A goal of this course is to lessen and lighten food related "rules" and dogmatic thinking surrounding dietary practices and approaches through a better understanding of nutrition principles and application. 

About the Author
Jamie Pope, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, has worked in the areas of obesity research, health promotion, heart disease prevention, and since 2000 teaching introductory nutrition. Beyond the classroom, she adapted portions of her nutrition courses to produce a Massive Open Online Course attracting more than 175,000 participants from around the world. This experience earned Jamie an Innovation in Teaching award from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. She is the co-author of the textbook entitled Nutrition for a Changing World. Now in its second edition, the text is in use in over 140 universities across the U.S. and the recipient of a 2020 Textbook Excellence Award. Most recently she developed and produced an audio course for (Nutrition 101: Understanding the Science and Practice of Eating Well) that is also featured on platforms like Apple Books and Audible. Jamie holds a Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition and post graduate work in Health Psychology. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Jamie is an active member and serves on the board of the Textbook and Academic Authors Association. She has authored or contributed to numerous scientific and popular press publications. Jamie also held several corporate positions, serving as nutrition consultant and media representative.