Teaching through a screen (Part 2)

In the previous post, I discussed how the pandemic taught me to teach, to mentor and do research through my computer screen. This week, I decided to do a little further, and to make a short video of one of the trick I use with my science a lot, and which could be easily taught to students from around the globe…

Under different treatments, different lab or natural conditions, or because of genetic differences, individuals of a same population show differences in size! Butterflies are no different!

Research, including some of my own, has shown that individual variation in wing size/ wing length is measurable in butterflies. Check here for some examples:

Figure: Sticking butterfly wings to transparent sheets for measurement (here: mostly Melitaea cinxia’s wings, and few specimens of M. athalia and M. diamina – from the dorsal side)

Measuring each individual is quite time consuming, and the wings can get damage is storage with time. So researchers tend to take pictures of the wings as soon as possible after the capture or the rearing of those insects. Pictures will last forever.

To do so there are different methods, mine consist of sticking the wings of the specimens between a piece of tape and a transparent plastic sheet (Figure above). Once the specimens are fixed, and the IDs have been written down, I will scan that sheet of wings (highest resolution scan), and then measure the samples as desired. I find this way to be the most convenient for me, as the scans will be stored forever on my computer, and the wings are neatly stored in some folders in my office.

To do so you need:

  • see-through tape
  • see-through plastic sheet (for old-fashion projectors)
  • tweezers
  • scissors
  • pen for smooth surfaces
  • butterfly wings from your different experiments/treatments

If you are interested, I made a short video to teach you how to do the same with your butterfly wings. Please check it out here: https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/554263569

Happy to learn about your own protocol for the same results!

So this is one new way of teaching for me today – Looking forward to your comments and suggestion for doing a better job next time!

Teaching through a screen

The Covid-19 pandemic has not been easy on us all. We had to protect ourselves and out loved-ones, we have lost some of them or have been separated for way too long! I feel extremely privileged. I am living in a country that has, in general, responded quickly and well to the pandemic. My direct family and I have been healthy and safe, my students too. As the vaccine is given to more and more people, I wish for better days ahead of us.

Like many of us, I have had to re-think the way I do research, the way I mentor my students, and the way I teach. Softwares such as Zoom and Skype have been great allies. Their flexibility and user-friendly interfaces have allowed me to interact as often as possible with my students and co-workers, reducing the feeling of isolation and nonproductive-days.

It had its challenges. I am used to give presentations and to share a message during my conference talks, no problem. But interacting with my group members, reading their emotions, understanding their troubles, all of these seemed at first much easier during a proper face to face in person meeting. I, like many of us out there, had to learn something new. I had to learn interactions through a screen.

  • The video off option is terrifying 🙂 But it is possible to ask students to turn it on at least once in a while
  • The video off and the sound off is from an horror movie really 😀 ‘Please show me your face(s), so I can read your expression when I am not clear to you!’
  • ‘My sound is off? my headphones and microphone are not working? Oh Dear! where was that option again?…’

It took a little practice, and at times it required a good sense of humor! But in the end, the learning occurred and most of us are now pretty relaxed when turning on the next Zoom meeting. We are aware of the video options (blurred background or customized background), the sound options (sound off but clicking the space bar on the keyboard can bring it back on quickly), the shared screen (make sure you share the proper screen for your presentation), the emotion emojis (clapping, smiley, raised hand, …), all those tricks and treats have no more secret for us, right? And if they do, well check this out:


Multilingual co-teaching is time consuming but might be worth the time…

I continue my learning experience on ‘Internationalization‘ and ‘Language policies‘ through the pedagogical course ‘YA2 International and Collaborative Environment‘ provided to the personnel of the University of Helsinki.

Our group-assignment this week was to write a blog on a topic of our choice, but related to language diversity. At the University of Helsinki, the official languages of teaching are Finnish and Swedish, the two official languages of Finland. English and all other languages are of course welcome in the curriculum, but by law are not mandatory at the University. Nonetheless, English is the current language of international research, and many courses are provided in English, giving the opportunity to national and international students to interact and exchange in a learning environment.

After discussing different potential topics, we decided to write a blog on the cons and pros of organizing co-teaching in several languages.

You can find the blog here: https://blogs.helsinki.fi/ya2internationalcollaborative/2020/10/12/multilingual-co-teaching-is-time-consuming-but-well-worth-the-time/ . Written in collaboration with my three colleagues J. Eskelinen, R. Keto-Timonen, & H. Koivula.

In brief, we review some of the preconceptions of organizing and teaching in a multilingual settings – meaning teaching with a colleague (or several colleagues) using a different language. We described conceptions from the students, the institutions and the teachers point of view and support our claims with recent research on the topics.

Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts on this text, and let me know if you have any interesting experience with co-teaching!

Teaching how to identify biases

As teachers we have the duties to provide our students with a learning environment that is a place of trust and excitement, curiosity and peace, where learning can be optimize, and where growth of knowledge can occur. Different aspects of our lives might affect our ability to learn. Pedagogical courses offered to University lecturers and any other teachers are trying to highlight those different factors, in order to give teachers the ability to identify any barrier to a successful teaching and learning experience.

At very first teachers are often told to be aware of how much ‘pressure’ they may put on their own students. For example, a too difficult task will not support learning, but rather frustration, this because the task can never be completed; in contrast, a too easy task will seem boring, which also does not support learning, as the student will not feel excitement and will not try to learn further…

Many studies show that feelings in the classroom, in the research group, or in any kind of social group are critical to the learning and productivity outcomes. But these feelings are not only including feelings towards how one deals with a study or a job itself, but also feelings about one’s environment: feeling integrated, feeling treated equal, feeling of having equal chances are important and similarly support the learning experience.

For this we need to teach teachers to first identify diversity in their classroom, and then to be inclusive and aware of any kind of bias, including unconscious biases, that might take place in the classroom, and in society.

Internationalization of the curriculum

This fall I am joining a pedagogical course on International and Collaborative Environment at the University of Helsinki (https://blogs.helsinki.fi/ya2internationalcollaborative/).

The goal of the course is to give us a better understanding of the challenges of internationalization, and diversity in our institutions and our classrooms. We are gonna discuss diverse topics related to this theme through both course meetings (N>30 plus teachers), and group meetings (N=4), through general lectures, discussions, personal reading and group exercises (blogs, …).

I am rather excited about this opportunity. The last few years I have been faced with a lot more diversity in my research and my classrooms, having now my own research group to manage and having taught in several different institutions (eg. Finland, Sweden, Cameroon, and online). I think having tools to better integrate the international character of my classrooms will allow me to grow as a teacher, and will allow me to improve the learning experience of my students.

Why the internationalization of the curriculum?

Universities are now international or at least they aim to be. For many, international students are an important source of income for the institutions, as the international members of the student pool often pay large fees for getting their degrees. I must know! I got my PhD from the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia. Without the support of my parents, and of my supervisor, who paid paying a couple of semesters fee, or helped me get a scholarship, respectively, I would have never been able to get my diploma there! It was expensive! But the facilities were amazing.

Whether a curriculum is free or costly depends on a prior decision from the country, the institution, or the course coordinators. In each case though, the decision makers will have the responsibility to make sure the students will actually get what they expect for their money: the top knowledge on their topic of choice! This knowledge is targeted because it will be showcased as a top skill to progress along a career ladder, and access top positions in the desired field, which in turn will allow to pay back the potential loan(s) accumulated through the studies. The international student pool is however extremely diverse for each welcoming country (i.e. England Universities get students from France, Spain, Finland, China, etc…), and the national language(s) is unlikely to accommodate the learning experience of all international students. Often, Universities rely on teaching in English, the ‘international language’, but here again, the ability of all students to speak English vary grandly between individuals. Furthermore, it is not only that the students might not be fully fluent in the language of teaching, but also that the students might not be aware of national ways of teaching, pedagogy, studying, or evaluation of the learning outcomes. In these conditions, international students might feel isolated; while the integration of the diverse cultural backgrounds in the teaching could easily support a wider pool of students (international and national) to access knowledge.

How far am I required to go or should I go in the internationalization of my teaching, and my research?

I have a course on insect symbiosis which I always start with a couple of slides showing my background and my history in Academia, from my Master studies in France, a research assistant position in the Pacific islands, a PhD in Australia, postdoc positions in Finland and Sweden, and finally starting my own group in Finland. I always thought of these slides as a way of showing my students there is no given international/national path to a career in Academia, and they should follow their interests and opportunities. When I taught in Yaounde, Cameroon, I was speaking through my lecture in English, but I made clear to my students that they were welcome to ask questions in French too, and they did, and I answered in French or/and English. When I received feedback from this course, some students were really grateful I offered both languages, as they acknowledged they gained more knowledge from using both languages!

Figure1: The triangle of abilities acquired by international experience (boarder crossing) as in the Erasmus impact study (https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/sites/erasmusplus2/files/erasmus-impact_en.pdf).

But in Finland: I am not fluent in Finnish, I can understand some, and I manage in everyday life with my basic skills, but I would never be able to offer my Finnish or Swedish students to reply or understand their questions in their mother tongues. Taking language classes to improve my Finnish would take a large chunk of the time I could instead put into my own research, or into my own family or hobby time. Does my university requires some level of internationalization? Well, apparently despite the recent implementation of fees on international students at the University of Helsinki, there is no separate activity or strategy policy that demands internationalization of the curriculum. The University has implemented courses taught only in Finnish, Swedish or English, with some topics overlap sometimes, but not always. Meaning that international students are not able to study all subjects in English at the University of Helsinki. For some subject, teaching in the national language might anyway remain a priority (e.g. veterinary and medical science).

I hope this pedagogical course will allow me to truly improve internationalization in my institution, for a best integration of the beautiful diversity within my student pool and my research team in Finland (and any country where I can not speak the local language).

The (delightfully) macabre stories of host behavior manipulations by parasites

Are you truly the master of your own behaviors? This lecture presents some examples that may make you think twice!

I presented this lecture to acquire the title of Docent in Biology from the Lund University, Sweden. The aim was for my peers to judge my teaching competences, and for me to convey a message to my students on a topic that is not directly related to my own research.

I used mentimeter to interact in an anonymous way with my students during the lecture, those quiz might not be available anymore by the time you look at the slides.

Results of the quiz before the lecture

Results of the quiz after the lecture:

The figures show that the students have learned about ‘the extended phenotype’ and can now name ‘5 or more host behavior manipulations by parasites’.

Feel free to reuse some of the material, do not forget to include the copy-rights, hopefully I have not forgotten any!

And please share your comments if you have any!

Teaching Symbiosis in Yaoundé, Cameroon

I went to Cameroon to develop international relationships with potential local collaborators. I visited the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Congo Basin Institute (CBI, affiliated to UCLA in USA), which are two well-implanted Institutes in the Yaoundé region. And I visited the University of Yaounde 1, department of animal biology, to give a workshop on insect symbiosis to a group of 25 master and PhD students.

This experience in a country I had never visited before was rich and somehow a little shocking too! Rich – because the human exchanges were amazing, fun and welcoming, the research ideas were innovative, and the will to learn was strong. Shocking – because the access to what I consider ‘basic facilities‘ in my home country are very restricted in Cameroon. But overall I keep an really good memory of this visit in Yaoundé.

Pictures: (Left): the IITA campus; (Right): the Zoology lab at the University of Yaounde 1.

As I took the open networked learning course last semester, I discuss open learning and the possibility to put my course online for everyone to see, comments, criticize (hopefully constructively), and freely re-use (with simple mention of my name). So here it is:

I gave two lectures that are about 1:30h to 2h long with discussion and integrated questions, each lecture was followed by journal club discussion on different articles

First, two of my own articles, because they cover quite a lot of easy vocabulary from insect symbiosis studies, and because I know the study system rather well by now 🙂 We discussed those as a one large group (I did most of the talking really)

  1. https://jeb.biologists.org/content/219/19/2984.
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4526672/?report=reader

Second, the students were divided in small groups and each group presented one of the article below (this worked really well and they actually enjoyed the exercise, according to the feedback I received):

1) Anbutsu et al. (2017) Small genome symbiont underlies cuticle hardness in beetles. PNAS E8382-91.

2) Katenpoth et al. (2005) Symbiotic bacteria protect wasp larvae from fungal infestation. Current Biology 15:475-479.

3) Lorenzo et al. (2019) Widespread Wolbachia infection in an insular radiation of damselflies. Scientific Reports 9:11933.

4) Bryant & Newton (In Press) The intracellular symbiont Wolbachia enhances recombination in a dose-dependent manner. bioRxiv.

5) Tan et al. (2019) Symbiotic polydnavirus of a parasite manipulates caterpillar and plant immunity. PNAS 115(20):5199-5204.

Pictures from left to right: After the first lecture on ‘Introduction to insect symbiosis‘, during the journal club on the second day of the workshop, and at lunch with the students and their teachers.

If you ever use the same material for your course, just let me know how it goes for you! Thank you!



That is it! The ONL191 came to an end, and although I did miss the last week of the course due to busy field work in another country, I still think I did take as much as I could from the course. I registered to the course in the Fall 2018 with the idea in mind that I will make sure to squeeze all knowledge out of my fellow team member and teacher. I wanted to learn, and learn I did, but not through squeezing anyone…

Opened to the digital world

Yes I was digitally literate. I did know how to use the internet to find information. I did use several digital platforms for my personal life, my work and teaching. I use ‘Flinga‘ for allowing students to anonymously discuss with me or provide feedbacks, I use Skype every week to discuss with family and colleagues, I design mindmaps and support for presentations and teaching on ‘PowerPoint’. But I am so comfortable with those platforms that I never looked for others with potentially more options that could fit better my many needs. Before ONL, I never experienced ‘Tablet‘, I had use ‘Zoom‘ once for a chat organized by the other person, I had no idea something like ‘Coogle‘ was available, and I had never seen a ‘Prezi‘ presentation.

Yes I was digitally literate, and yes I have grown my digital literacy. I a pleased with this new set of skills I have acquired and I can’t wait to put them into practice. However, I have to keep in mind that I still have much more to learn, and as everyday new platforms with new options are becoming available, I will always have something new to learn. Hopefully I will have other opportunities similar to ONL191 to take the time to look for those new platforms, and to test whether they would be useful for me, my life, my teaching.

Learned from my peers

My ONL experience was very much dependent on a 7person team, and occasionally on a >100 people community. The group works were never too challenging, we all benefited I think from each others experience in various countries, field of study, degree of literacy or Academic background. I truly enjoyed all the conversations with the team members and group coordinator, and despite the frustration of not having the input of each of them each time. I have always known that I learn best when someone else is sharing her/his own experience with me, and this totally happened during the online meetings. Now I am sure I could have learned more by also reading more, especially reading a lot more about the materiel provided to us by the course coordinators. But life is busy and I admit that I skipped some of those documents, preferring to them the organized online seminars. I guess those documents are still available and I could very much get back to them in more quiet times.

The ONL191 course and the different group-tasks we had to complete have now provided me with a set of tools that I can refer to when I will need. These included tools such as different digital platforms with different purposes, but also a schematic idea of hos I should frame an online course, including 7 principles of blended learning.

Improved my leadership skills

I would have never thought the course would provide some really insightful suggestions to the question: How do you best manage a team? . Managing a team is a challenge I will face soon enough in my next career step. It is a crucial skill in research and in teaching. The ONL191 course opened my eyes on the role of a leader in a group setting, of the importance of listening and giving opportunities to everyone. It reminded me I have some good pedagogical skills but I can also be really focused at time. I had for example so much in mind the completion of a task during the ONL191 course that I had forgotten that I was learning the important bits during the process of completing the task. Stop, Listen and Absorb should be a motto!

Often in group work we also forget the importance of the teacher presence, as well as of the social and personal aspects of the team work and, and again ONL191 reminded me of it. Surprisingly to me the ONL191 course only mentioned the importance of emotion in teaching and learning only during the last topic of the course. Emotions are keeping us on track or distracting us for our goals, including our learning goals. I felt a sens of duty not quitting the course, I had set myself a goal of learning not quitting when it got too busy to handled! I was worried I was too talkative at times during discussions and thus tried my best to questioned my team mates and the group coordinator, and to let them express all ideas. I tried not to be shy with my own personal experiences thinking that if I was open to the discussion, and sharing those personal bits, I would help others do the same. I think they can be really useful tools for teacher, or supervisors. I would have emphasized on them a bit more; many of them helped me go through the ONL191.

Focus on new targets

As I already mentioned in the previous sections of this blog, I have reached my targets for this course. I have grown with the team and the coordinators. I am very thankful, and I am also ready to set up some new (digital) targets for my own teaching.

We have for example learned that Europe is pushing towards the development of online courses, to make knowledge accessible to all. However, the challenge is not not yet well integrated by all Universities, and seems maybe to scare lecturers already really busy with their teaching loads. I am also worried that designing an online course would take too much of my time, which for now should be really focus on developing my research and growing my research curriculum. But I really like teaching, and I would like to better understand what is happening in my own institution as first, and second, to try to find a way to contribute to making my own institution (in a way) more digitally literate and open to online teaching. This will for sure take some time but hopefully it is a goal I can reach within a few years from now.

Online group-work (#2)

Reaching my goal: the final product or the path

Nothing wrong with being a group-leader and trying to get things done, right?

That is what I thought at first, and, although I still think I will keep the leader attitude in future similar group-work situations, our group discussions on the ONL group-work topic made me seriously reflect on my attitude towards completing tasks.

Three topics have been discussed in the last six weeks. Our ONL group has successfully completed each of the three tasks given, and produced interesting digital documents for the whole ONL community to further reflect on. But during the first four weeks I honestly went through some frustrations with our group dynamics.Furthermore, I had the feeling that I was not the only one… So when the learning in communities topic came out, it was time to actually ask everyone how was our own ONL group experience.

The group agreed on building a mentimeter questionaire with 5 statements that we could each grade from strongly disagree to strongly agree (Figure 1). It took less than 2 minutes for each of us to fill it in and the results were ready to be discussed in the next session. As I usually do, I volunteered to build up the mentimeter. I came up with teh different statements and opened up the mentimeter for each of us to vote. Rookie mistake! As I was writing down the five statements, it stroked me that even though I was using my noted from the meeting, I was alone to decide on those five points… Nobody complained about what I had built, but this should have been built as a group.

Figure 1: Final results of the group experience

Results turned out to be interesting, and even more was the following discussion. In general, we were all happy with the group-work, we all agreed that this is a great learning experience, and we all have room to discuss, offer input and contribute. However, many of us would like to suggest changes, and this probably to try and improve the dynamic of the group. I say ‘probably’ because there was no way with the mentimeter used to collect qualitative data from each of us. Rookie mistake #2: our ‘survey’ on the group experience remains incomplete, and there is no clear suggestion provided to improve our group-work experience. I think I would have suggested a more structured use of the online meetings. Maybe designing a clear plan, would help each of us know what has to be done before the following meeting and thus we would be more productive in between the meetings. For example: by meeting #2 we should know for sure what everyone think of the given topic, and everyone should have provided their personal experience related to it. My meeting #3 we should have gathered most of the information on the topic, and by meeting #4 we should be able to produce the final output to complete the task. I think for the first four weeks of the course we were spending too much time on reaching step2, and then we were running through step3 and 4. But this was my own suggestion, what would the other members have to offer?

As we were discussing those results, one of us mentioned that the experience was truly only positive to her. She had learned so much so far, from the group members, from the tools used, from the course coordinators, that she could not see one single thing she would like to change. Her experience was complete and above her original expectation. While she was talking, I realized that I, in contrast, had been very focused on completing the tasks, and although I knew I was learning a lot during the process, this process was not my main goal anymore. Could the leader role I was taking on during some of the discussions be affecting what I was getting out from the course? Was it affecting my expectations from the course?

Online group-learning

My attitude in a group situation

Group-work is always a challenge. The ONL course and the group-work it requires are no exception. But I like a good challenge, don’t you? I like the feeling of completing challenging tasks, this feeling of achievement after putting so much effort into the completion. But let’s get honest, I also am not so much a big fan of the frustration I sometimes face through the different steps of the way.

Once committed, I will do everything I can to do a good job. I want to be happy with my final work and have no regrets. I can not accept telling myself ‘you could have done more to make this work, why didn’t you?‘ I am a ‘doer’, I am always volunteering for getting things done, to move forward, towards the next task. When I am at the horse club, if we have to practice a certain set of figures one after the other, I am quickly volunteering to go first, because if we spend half the lesson figuring who goes first, we will have no time to practice all the figures during the one hour lesson… I am quickly going first, so I can make things move forward. This attitude tends to get me the role of leader in many situations. I know that much of myself.

But I am not an aggressive leader. The diagram from Garisson (2007) (Figure 1) shows that social presence supports learning experience. I could not agree more. I know I personally learn best when people teach me directly, rather than from only reading instructions out of a manual. Furthermore, as Margaret Finnegan nicely illustrates in her blog, some people can feel ignored when others are taking the lead of a group-work. Thus if I were to talk all the time, and lead the group always towards the topic I want to investigate, I believe I would miss out on the educated and interesting point of views of my group members, of this amazing resource that is the personal experiences of my peers. One of my mentors once told me: ‘You are good with people‘. I surely hope so, and I really aim to be. I try to listen to everyone, to take into account everyone’s opinion, to understand each side of any story. I give time for people to express themselves, and I ask question to get deeper understanding.

Figure by Garisson (2007) Online Community of Inquiry Review: Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Presence Issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, v11 n1 p61-72

Thus, I have gone through the first 5weeks of the ONL course with this same usual attitude: I am engaged in the conversations, I easily give my opinion, I feel the blanks in the conversation with questions, I try to make the discussion move forward, and I volunteer to complete some tasks. I want to reach the final goal of each topic, and I want to reach my goal of learning and using new IT tools, which I will later hopefully properly use in my own teaching.

Nothing wrong with trying to get things done, right? Right! Until you reach a point when you are actually tired or feeling like you are doing it all. Again, group-work is about doing things together and a leader should also maybe learn to delegate, to reach out for support and help, to avoid for example a burn out!