Introductory natural-resource courses at Purdue University are often taken by undergraduates from a wide variety of backgrounds to satisfy general science requirements. These courses therefore have large enrollments (>400 students per semester) of individuals with little background in the natural resource field. It is difficult to teach large groups of students effectively, and lectures in large-enrollment classes are often poorly attended, leading to reduced retention of the subject matter by many students. While this is common to many large-enrollment classes, it is particularly unfortunate for natural-resource courses, where we deal with many controversial topics. Since 2004 I have used educational technology called a classroom response system (CRS) to make my introductory course more interactive. CRS allow teachers to ask questions and have individual students respond in class. Results are tabulated automatically and shown back to the students, giving instant feedback. With this system, I ask students to give their opinions on controversial topics, such as fire management, protection of endangered species, and climate change. Students see what opinions their peers are willing to express, and which solutions have general support. Students are graded on participation only. Use of a CRS encourages students to attend class regularly, learn from their peers, and (hopefully) gain a greater understanding of the course material.
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