Posts tagged #Discussion


Rice University students sitting in the grass discussing papers.

Title of the Course –  Introductory Biology

Instructor –  Michael Gustin

Department – BioSciences

Course Number - BIOC 201

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduates

Course Description: Develop critical insight into basic biological mechanisms of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and development of animals and plants through exploration of initial observations, definition of problems and questions, construction and testing of hypotheses, and analysis of the results of experiments.

Professor Gustin teaches biology in a way that knocks you out of your comfort zone.
— BIOC 201 student


How can we create opportunities for learning through small group discussion and peer instruction in a large lecture class?

Gustin's BIOC 201 is a popular introductory course enrolling around 200 students each semester it is offered. The course is a requirement for BioSciences majors, a prerequisite for upper level courses in the BioSciences and other disciplines, and it also fulfills the University's distribution credit for science courses. Therefore, students enter the course with varying levels of preparation in the biological sciences and different motivations for mastering the material.  Gustin says that in order to facilitate more meaningful learning experiences he knew he had to get students talking to each other and working together during class. However due to the survey nature of the course, the lectures cover a large amount of material and are fast paced leaving little time for students to work together in groups during lecture. In addition, the large course enrollment creates logistical challenges for managing group work and discussion during lectures.


To create structured opportunities for small group work Gustin decided to make it an integrated part of the course design. At the beginning of the semester each student is assigned to a team of 10-12 students that they will work with over the semester in breakout discussion sections.  Eight class meetings over the semester (about 15% of classes) are dedicated to these breakout discussion sessions. Prior to each breakout session, Gustin assigns a few questions or provides a topic that one or two team members on each team must address. For example, for one session students are asked to create an analogy for one of the topics discussed in the previous lectures. These students prepare a response ahead of the discussion section, then give a presentation to their teammates and guide discussion during the breakout session.  An undergraduate teaching assistant is there (with a rubric) to observe and make sure all students are participating. At the end of the discussion session another student on the team writes up a summary of the discussion and identifies any unanswered questions. Before the next lecture Gustin scans these write-ups for the ‘unanswered questions' and these become potential topics for extra credit on the next exam. He says that this motivates all students in the class to read and try to answer these 'unanswered questions,' which are posted on the course webpage. In addition, when appropriate, he brings the work completed in these small groups back into the large group lecture. For example, the lecture following the analogy assignment he presents all of the analogies to the whole class and they vote on what they believe are the best two analogies. In this way, Gustin encourages students to see the small group work and peer instruction as an integrated part of their overall learning in the class, as opposed to 'supplemental' or 'additional' coursework.

I appreciated the discussion groups as it was a chance to discuss the material in a smaller forum and an opportunity to become more engaged with the subject and share knowledge with classmates.
— BIOC 201 student


Gustin says that there have been a few challenges with implementing these small group breakout sessions that he has not yet found solutions for. To begin with, due to the large number of students enrolled in this course integrating small group work at this level requires a lot of administration on the part of the instructor. Using undergraduate teaching assistants helps with some of the administrative tasks, but Gustin says he continues to look for ways to streamline the administration of the group discussion sessions. Gustin has also found that student absences from the small group discussion sections are difficult to account for since the these class meetings are more heavily factored into students grades than lecture meetings. This is particularly challenging when it comes to student athletes who may miss classes when their sport is in season.

Dr. Mike Gustin


Mike Gustin is a Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.  He has earned multiple teaching awards over his 25 years at Rice University. In 2016 he received the George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit, thereby officially being retired from the competition for the Rice University Brown Teaching Awards. Professor Gustin's research is in the area of molecular genetics and biochemistry of signal transduction.

Posted on August 8, 2016 and filed under Natural Sciences.


Students working on an activity in COLL 104.

Title of the Course – Understanding Asian America Through Food

Instructor – Bo Kim

Department - Student Taught Course

Course Number - COLL 104

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduates with an interest in Asian-American history

Course Description: This 1-unit course will use food as a framework for understanding both the history of and contemporary issues facing the Asian-American community. The popular understanding of “Asian food” in the U.S. encompasses long-held stereotypes of Asians eating dogs, the recent interest in upscale fusion restaurants that raise questions of cultural ‘authenticity’ and hybridity, and the rapid, nationwide rise of Korean-Mexican food trucks that challenge traditional notions of fusion food and cross-cultural interactions. This course will study how food and conceptualizations of food reflect larger historical and cultural issues that continue to impact the Asian-American community. Furthermore, this course will discuss the complex legal, political, and economic history of Asian Americans in the food industry through case studies of particular foods and historical events from both a production and consumption standpoint. Students will learn how to adopt an interdisciplinary, critical framework for understanding food and related issues of culture, ethnicity, diaspora, and identity. Learning and assessment will center on participation in class discussions, brief readings, in-class presentations, and weekend trips to Houston-area restaurants.


  1. Identify contemporary issues facing Asian-American communities (e.g. legacies of immigration, the model minority myth, economic disparities)
  2. Describe the history of Asian-American immi­gration and its ties to food and food practices
  3. Explain how food represents and reflects larg­er sociopolitical issues, ideologies, and histories
  4. Compare and contrast historical and contem­porary conceptualizations of Asian-Americans and, by extension, Asian food


Using food as a pedagogical tool encourages students to think more deeply about an already-familiar topic that they will continue to encounter in their lives. The course focuses on linking larger economic, cultural, and political issues to food-related topics in order to introduce these topics in a more accessible way. The course is organized to develop the capabilities by which students can understand their consumption of food, the restaurants that serve food, and how food reflects complex histories.


Student-taught courses (STC) are a unique opportunity at Rice University for students to teach and to take classes in non-traditional subjects that are not a standard part of the Rice curriculum. These courses are labeled COLL (college courses) and are offered for 1 credit hour on a satisfactory/non-satisfactory basis.

Students sitting on the floor discussing an activity in COLL 104.

During Kim's time as an undergraduate at Rice he had hoped to take at least one course on Asian-American history or contemporary issues in the Asian-American community. Since such a course does not exist at Rice, Kim decided to develop and teach his own student-taught course on the topic . Student-taught courses are a unique opportunity at Rice University for students to teach and to take classes in non-traditional subjects, and to thereby supplement the Rice curriculum. These courses are labeled COLL (college courses) and are offered for 1 credit hour on a satisfactory/non-satisfactory basis.


Kim uses a combination of readings-based discussions and mini-lectures during class meetings. To prepare students for fruitful in class discussion he assigns readings that are relatively short and accessible to encourage students to engage with the readings. These readings generally expand further on a historical event in order to provide a more detailed context for class discussions and lectures. Kim assigns readingsthat are argumentative in the sense that, in addition to expounding on historical details, they convey one or two main points about the topic in question. In class he encourages students to identify and challenge the arguments made in the assigned readings.

During the mini-lectures, he encourages students to interject with questions, and comments. As such he times these lectures so that he is able to move at a comfortable pace with sufficient time for unprompted discussion. Kim finds that turning a lecture into more of a two-way, guided conversation between himself and the students is a much better way to engage them with the topics at hand. He says he has always found that the questions and issues raised by students in the middle of lectures to be unique, insightful, and worthwhile ways of approaching different topics.

I love taking student taught courses at Rice because I enjoy learning from my peers about topics they’re passionate about, and Bo’s course was the epitome of this. My favorite part of Bo’s course was how it opened my eyes to the struggles different groups of Asians faced when coming to America and how those struggles shaped their unique cultures and food.
— Psychology Major, Class of 2017


Students are encouraged to engage with the course material in ways that deepen their understanding of the Asian-American community as well as themselves. For example, in a "Timeline" activity designed to accompany a short lecture on post-1965 Asian-American immigration students were asked to reflect on their or their parents migration to the US. The date of 1965 is significant because of immigration legislation that opened immigration to countries previously excluded or discriminated against in the immigration process. Notably, the vast majority of Asian-American immigrants migrated after this legislation, which also led to significant changes in the ethnic composition of the Asian-American community.

Students looking at a timeline on the whiteboard.

During this class session students are given three post-it notes and asked to write on them: (1) Date of their or their parents’ immigration to the United States; (2) date and description of one key event in their or their family’s history; and, (3) date of one future goal they would like to achieve. Next students are given a series of pre-printed stickers with landmark events and dates in Asian-American history. In groups they are asked to place the stickers on a timeline with the years 1800 to 2050 marked in 25-year increments. next students are asked to individually add their own post-it notes to the timeline. Finally students are asked to reflect on and discuss as a group the following questions:

  1. What trends do you seen in the timeline and what surprised you about the timeline?
  2. How does your generation fit into the larger history of Asian Americans?
  3. In terms of the development of Asian food and the Asian food industry, how do you see these events tying into specific histories described in class? Focus on comparing specific ethnic cuisines (e.g. longer history of Chinese immigration v. Vietnamese).

This activity is designed to help students contextualize their understandings of previous class discussions within a larger history of Asian-American immigration, discrimination, and success. Through this framework, students can understand the histories and differences between “Americanized” and “authentic” ethnic cuisines as influenced by the immigration histories of their respective communities. This activity asks students to place their personal and family histories within this larger history, challenging them to identify ways in with their own lives intersect with immigration legislation and larger trends in Asian-American history.

Almost every day now I will come across something that reminds of what I learned from class - that’s how much this course had an impact on my identity.
— Chemistry Major, Class of 2017


Teaching a STC is the first time that student instructors have had the opportunity to teach a college level course. Student instructors put their course together with help from a faculty sponsor, their college Master, and the instructors of the course COLL 300: Pedagogy for Student Instructors, which they are required to take as a prerequisite. Kim says that the process of identifying learning goals, putting together a syllabus, and getting feedback throughout COLL 300 was invaluable in helping him structure his course at the macro level. However, he said he learned that while there’s no real way to plan for everything, prior preparation of lectures, discussion questions, and activities go a long way in ensuring a smooth, effective use of class time. Kim taught the course two semesters in a row and after teaching the class the first semester he learned to plan beforehand for in-class flexibility. With adequate preparation he was better prepared to field questions and to guide discussions towards directions that he might not have explicitly anticipated.

If Kim was to teach the class again, he says that would try to vary the structure of classes a little more. There were days when the usual discussion-lecture format didn’t seem to work as well as previous class meetings. He would spend more time carefully choosing readings and discussion questions that could foster longer, more fruitful discussions. While the discussions were usually great, he believes that having more material to discuss would have been helpful in having students gain more from discussion.



Bo Kim

Bo Kim
Class of 2016, McMurtry College

Kim graduated magna cum laude from Rice University in 2016 with a degree in economics and art history. At Rice, he conducted asylum and energy policy research and co-founded the Asian Pacific American Student Alliance. His student-taught course, Understanding Asian America Through Food, received the inaugural Rice Student Taught Course Teaching Award. Bo is currently a health policy consultant for Acumen, LLC in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Posted on August 1, 2016 and filed under Student Taught Courses.