University Teaching

 Local Wildlife-Habitat Connections

This is a course I designed and taught for one term. It has a focus on making observations, both indoors and out, taking field notes, asking good questions and researching issues related to the course topic and writing about it in a scholarly way. I am happy to share some of the strategies, class activities and ways of assessing student learning. Contact me.

Biology 345 – Human Ecology

I taught this course at UBC from 1995-2008 and then again in 2012.

I designed and use flexible assignments in this course – see drop-down menu.




Publications related to the course:  

These articles make specific reference to assignments in the Biology 345 (Human Ecology) course:

Cassidy, Alice. 2011. Building Critical Reflection into CSL Group Assignments:  Show what you learned in school today. Pages 198-202. Chapter 10.5. Example Syllabi and Assignments. Global Praxis: Exploring the ethics of engagement abroad.

Cassidy, A. 2010. Learning Portfolios: Creative Connections between Formal and Informal Learning. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching (CELT), Volume 3. Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE).

Cassidy, Alice. 2008. Teaching and learning approaches. Pages 60-61. Road to Global Citizenship. An Educator’s Toolbook (Yael Harlap, Editor). Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth. University of British Columbia. Vancouver, Canada.  Direct to the pdf:

Conference sessions (co-presented with students from Biology 345 and other collaborators):

Invited: Sustainability Across the Curricula: Examples, Ideas and Future Possibilities. Alice Cassidy, Associate Director, and Yona Sipos, Graduate Student Assistant, Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth, University of British Columbia. Sustainability and Stewardship Day, Douglas College, New Westminster, BC, February 13, 2008.

Students as Co-Researchers and Co-Presenters. Alice Cassidy, Associate Director and Yona Sipos, Graduate Student Assistant, Centre for Teaching and Academic, University of British Columbia. 2007 Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. University of Alberta.

Flexible assignments for  student choice, motivation, and learning. Tegan Adams, Alice Cassidy, Sarah Jackson, Laura Ludtke and Nadine Stunzi, Students and Instructor, Biology 345 (Human Ecology). 2006 UBC Learning Conference. University of British Columbia.

Motivating Students through Assignments that Make a Difference:  Community Service Learning at UBC Farm Centre for Sustainable Food Systems. Alice Cassidy, Zoology Department and Georgia Stanley, 3rd year Land and Food Systems student. 2006 UBC Farm Symposium. University of British Columbia.

Reading Week Projects: Engaged Student Learning. Shayne Tryon, UBC Learning Exchange; Alice Cassidy, Zoology Dept. and TAG; Alina Horga, Christina Mercier, Ben Mulhall, Elsa Sardinha and Jonny Starling, Biology 345 Students. April 1, 2005. UBC Farm Research and Education Symposium. University of British Columbia.

Bringing  Real Life into the Curriculum: Reflections on helping students learn. Alice  Cassidy, Zoology/Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth; Rose Higgins, Terri-Lyn Kerr and Kathy MacDonald, Biology 345 Students. 2004 UBC Learning Conference. University of British Columbia.

Beyond Surfing:  Prepare your students for effective research using the web. Alice Cassidy, Lecturer, Zoology Department; Sally Taylor, Biology Reference Librarian, Woodward Library and Sarah Tsang, 3rd year Honours History with International Relations + minor in Commerce, student in Biol. 345. 2002 UBC Learning Conference. University of British Columbia.

Real-life projects that promote inquiry-based learning and meet expressed needs in the community. University of British Columbia. Alice Cassidy, Lecturer, Zoology Department; Marie O’Connor, Biology 345 student; Brenda Sawada, UBC SEEDS Coordinator, Land and Building Services; and Sarah Seymour, Biology 345 student. 2001 UBC Learning Conference.

These articles refer to techniques and activities I have used to actively engage learners in credit courses, professional development seminars and in other settings:

Cassidy, A. 2011. Sustainability Education:  Leading by Example. Pages 15-16, Bridges, January 2011. Volume 9, No. 2. University of Saskatchewan.

Cassidy, Alice. 2011. Communities of Practice:  A checklist for success. Transformative Dialogues: teaching and learning eJournal. Volume 4, Issue 3, March 2011. Learning Communities: Online and Face to Face.

Cassidy, A. 2009. Follow the trail from learning to teaching with real world connections. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal. March 2009

Cassidy, A. 2009. 50 ways to lure your learner. Volume II, Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching (CELT). Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE);

Cassidy, Alice, Maryam Nabavii and Yona Sipos. 2008. Learning Goals and Objectives. Pages 35-43. In Road to Global Citizenship: An Educators’ Toolbook.  (Harlap, Y., Editor). Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth, in collaboration with UNICEF, University of British Columbia.  Direct to the pdf:

Cassidy, A. 2007. Learning:  The Times, the Ways, and the Places. The Teaching Professor. January, 2007. Volume 21 (1): 4.

Cassidy, A., T. Griffiths and J. Nakonechny. 2001. Concept Mapping: Mirroring processes of thinking and learning. Tapestry. Number 4. September, 2001. Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth (TAG). University of British Columbia.

Background information about the course

I taught this course for 15 years, from 1995-2008 and in 2012. Students major in a wide variety of disciplines, and have little or no science background. I want to show them that science is very broad and really does connect to their lives. Aassignments were spread throughout the term and the group project was divided into parts so that students could get feedback early on, well before they completed parts that were worth a large part of their grade.) Here are some excerpts from the course outline/syllabus over the years:

Course Aims: Through this course, I hope to give you an opportunity to learn more about, and gain a greater appreciation of, our natural world and the many ways that humans play a part in it. The course is framed around basic concepts of ecology, such as ecosystems, biodiversity and cycles in nature. We also focus on basic science skills, such as field observations and inquiry-based learning, that are also useful in other disciplines! We’ll study current events and issues, both local and global. A group project will include community service, whereby your actions and knowledge can make a real difference. Much of the course content will come out of what you are interested in. You are invited to consider how ecology ties in to your daily life, and to make connections between ecology and other disciplines.

I feel that the course will be a success if, upon its completion, you leave with perspectives and tools that you will want to apply in the future. A few details about the format of this course:  There are no textbooks or exams. In-class time is very active and participatory. To do well requires a high degree of effort and self-directed learning, including personal reflection, in-class contributions, group work and oral, written and visual presentation of material.

My ‘philosophy statement’ for this course:   Starting with our own Observations   Interest   Awareness of the natural world,  combined with our ability to Show    Teach    Motivate  others (achieved by providing multiple perspectives; clear explanations supported by citing the work of others; balance of small and large details; interesting presentation and relevant content), we can inspire:      Knowledge     Appreciation    Involvement     Action     Protection of the natural worldleading to increased  Observations  Interest  Awareness of the natural world

Core Course Objectives: Upon completion of this course, it is expected that you will be able to:

  1. Explain details of ecological concepts, such as ecosystems, biodiversity, nutrient and element cycles and other concepts. Support your explanations by critically evaluating, synthesizing and citing material from three kinds of sources:  a)  scholarly literature (especially primary research in refereed journals); b) other reference works (such as books, reports and encyclopedias); and c) popular media (newspapers, non-refereed magazines and most information found on the Web.)
  2. Respond to a real need in the community to get involved! Work cooperatively in a group project that makes a difference.  Study an aspect of  human ecology in a very hands-on way. Increase awareness and knowledge about the natural world and how humans interconnect with it.  Earn course credit for your contributions to the community. Bring together your skills in scholarly research, field work, networking, communications and creativity.
  3. Through field activities, readings and class discussion and presentations, enhance your ability to observe the natural world around you, and gain a greater appreciation for its components and interconnections. Describe the human ecology relevance of current events and issues, both local and global and to your field observations and field work. Connect material from this course to other courses, interests and activities in your life.
  4. Build skills that you can apply in the future, such as working effectively in teams, asking good questions, presenting in concise and interesting ways, and applying your knowledge in a variety of contexts.
  5. Communicate your perspectives, experiences and knowledge through a variety of activities, styles, formats and media.

Flexible assignments

I designed and used these and other choices as part of evaluation process in a 3rd year ecology course for non-science majors. Marks per choice ranged from 2-6% depending on the complexity. Students could earn up to 13% of their course grade by doing these. Feel free to use or modify in your course. Many of the choices related to asking students to make connections of the course topic to their own lives, to be pro-active in the community, to ‘go outside and play’ and to communicate in a variety of formats. I ask for attribution:  Alice Cassidy

Flexible assignment choices:

 1a:  Inquire: Choose one item that you consumed yesterday as part of a meal (e.g. banana, tofu, salmon, orange juice, bread, canned beans, wine). Pose two or three questions that you have about it, as it relates to our use of the natural world.

1b: Answer an Inquiry: Choosing from a 1a assignment contributed by someone else, answer one of the questions posed. Your answer may be based on prior knowledge or brief research you conduct (please cite at least one reference to support your answer.)

1c:  Calculate:  Your Ecological Footprint, using the tool at

or another tool of your choosing. After calculating, suggest a few things you might consider doing that might lower your impact on the planet (you do not need to disclose your footprint calculation, but if you use another tool, please provide the URL.)

1d:  Culture: Using about 4 minutes during class, describe the human ecology significance of a notable day in the calendar or related aspect of a culture or country.

1e:  Share your story: Using about 4 minutes during class, share a personal experience or story, or a quote or reading from poetry, literature or another source that you cite. Explain how it relates to the course and the topic for that particular date.

1f:  Describe a memento, image (photo or drawing), artifact (clothing, jewelry or other bought, made or found objects) from your personal travels or experience, or a tip, webpage or other resource you know about or found. If you use an image or item, include a digital photo of it if you can, or ‘paint a picture of it in words’.

 1g:  Human Ecology Connections:  Using both text and images, tell us about an ecological principle (e.g. biodiversity, cycles in nature, ecosystems) from the perspective of a conference or other event you attended, other knowledge or work experience, something you read or heard in the media or other brief research you have conducted.

1h: Play the role of a current political figure, from municipal, provincial or federal levels of government (local or global). Explain your platform (that relates to an aspect of human ecology such as climate change; development of natural land, fresh or salt water; use of natural resources; conservation; species protection or another topic) in a heartfelt performance that also makes clear to everyone that figure’s stance and reasoning.

1i:  Research your daily life, choosing one of these topics/questions, conduct research to explore more, citing at least two references: i) Is there an food, liquid or medicine you or someone you know is allergic to? Explain it ecologically including reference to biodiversity or ecosystems (e.g. why are some people allergic to nuts also not able to consume peaches?)  ii) Summarize local recycling for particular numbers shown on the containers (1 through 8) of plastic and tetra-paks; who takes these and what is done with them?; iii) explain four kinds of batteries that can or cannot be recycled locally (and why); iv) after identifying three natural ingredients in products you use or consume regularly (think of shampoo, tea, clothing, jewelry, ???), tell or show us where these are found naturally and how their properties benefit us

1j:  Review a book:  Read a book (or make use of one you have read recently) and create your ‘personal interpretation’ of it by way of a 1-page creative summary, that could include some form of interview of someone else, photos, web links, prose or ??? Be sure to give the full citation of the book so that others can find and read it too.

1k: Be a reporter: Interview at least three people around you, or conduct a survey by email, about a topic related to our use and/or abuse of the natural world. Write a brief piece, introducing the topic and summarizing the responses. Examples might include human ecology connections to:  favourite places to travel, where in the world you have lived, top ten list of sustainably friendly businesses in your town, questions for future students in a course about humans and the natural world.

1l:  Be a photographer: Head outside (and/or inside) with your digital camera, and/or look through a collection of photos you already have (that you took yourself, or the person who did so gives permission for you to use). Using a minimum of 5 pictures, create a PowerPoint or Word document that also has captions or some way to explain how your photos connect to humans and the natural world.

1n:  Do you have another idea for one of these assignments? Let me know.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s