Skip to main content

Ecology (BIOL 312) Course Format

All biology majors must complete ecology (BIOL 312) to complete their Bachelor of Science in the program.  It includes both lecture and laboratory components in a single course.  There are currently two lecture sections (A and B) and twenty lab sections scheduled for Fall 2019.  The following information is to help students select which lecture section they wish to register for.  

Lecture Section A

Section A typically has enrollment of 260-300 students and requires students to be individually responsible for all their activities and grades.

For the lecture, students must study on-line material and take a quiz on it before coming to class, all on Canvas. The lectures include an initial, self-paced core sequence followed by more detailed, specialized topics scheduled over the remainder of the semester. In class, there are a variety of discussion questions, problem sets, etc. typically done in small groups but with students individually posting answers and receiving individual grades (via TopHat). An on-line system (Packback) is also used for posing questions and comments on specialized topics.

The quizzes for lecture are taken on the student's own (not at the testing centers). Quizzes are open-book, but there is a very short time limit for taking a quiz, so students must know the material before attempting a quiz. Note that there are numerous small assessments for all the various components of the course, but there are no large exams. Thus, to achieve a good grade in the course, it is essential that the student complete the assessments. Most students do well on any one of them; it is missing assignments that tend to drag down student grades.

The instructor for section A, available in Summer and Fall 2019, will be Tom Jurik.  In the Fall, Tim Stewart or Boris Jovanoic from the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management will also be assisting.  

Lecture Section B

Section B typically has enrollment of 40-80 (capped at 80) students and is set up in a Team-Based Learning format, which resembles a Learning Community. Students participate actively in challenging and fun group work in class, tackling real-world ecological problems. They are not expected to do group projects outside of class, but they are expected to attend class every day. To prepare for the activities, students are expected to study materials in their text or on Canvas before coming to class. They take low-stakes quizzes on the material individually in class, and then re-take it immediately as a Team, while the material is still fresh in their minds. Students help their teammates fill in potential gaps in their understanding as they discuss their team-based answers.

The Instructor assists each Team in every project to keep the group focused on the task and to prevent the groups from going down a potential wrong track. Most problems will have more than one ‘correct’ answer, and this helps catalyze class discussion. Students learn how to communicate their ideas as their Team justifies its answer during the class discussion. The course is divided into six Modules. Each Module culminates in a class-long team project and a Module Exam, taken both individually and as a Team. Section B is most appropriate for students who would benefit from a Learning Community setting and/or are eager to learn ecological principles and apply them to realistic situations.

The instructor for section B, available in Fall 2019, will be Ann Russel (Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management). 


Laboratory sections have a maximum of 16 students and emphasize field exercises, to the extent permitted by the weather. The laboratory exercises use an inquiry-based approach, in which students propose hypotheses about a supplied observation and then develop and execute experiments to test their hypotheses. For the laboratory, students must study on-line material, take a quiz, and submit a hypothesis before coming to a lab session. Lab reports are written in the form of mini-scientific journal papers.