For the Biology Department at FIU



By Thomas Pitzer

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Throughout this publication the terms Teaching Assistants or "TAs" are used to refer to Graduate Assistants, Graduate Teaching Assistants, and Graduate Teaching Associates.  You should refer to the chapter on graduate policies and procedures in the Department of Biological Sciences for the definitions of these titles.  Additionally, that section deals with some specific legalities of being a TA that I will not repeat here.  You may want to take a few minutes to review that section before continuing with this material.  Below, I will review some material that may be of use to you in preparing for a teaching job in this department.


Most TAs are expected to teach two laboratories OR one laboratories with an additional preparatory element (this varies).  Be aware however, that this is not the extent of your responsibilities.  You are responsible for 20 hours worth of work a week.  Other required duties on your part include: 


1. Preparing for each lab.  This may include regular meetings with the course lecturer or some other coordinator.  I coordinate the majority of lower-level undergraduate laboratory sections so that will probably be Thomas Pitzer.


2. Examinations.  This job varies among courses; however, you may be required to make, administer, and grade tests, quizzes, and practicals as the lecturer or lab coordinator deems appropriate.  NOTE:  Due to austerity measures, we are no longer allowed to duplicate quizzes using the department copier.  You must either put your quizzes on overhead,  put them on the board letting the students use their own paper to answer questions, or send them to duplicating.


3. Keeping at least two hours of official office time a week.  This should be clearly stated on your syllabus and strictly adhered to.


4. Setting up laboratories.  Depending on the lab, you may or may not be responsible for preparation; however, you are responsible for any preliminary setup, if required.  You should check to your lab section at least 30 minutes before it is scheduled to begin, to ensure that material and equipment are present and prepared for your lab.  You must be present in your lab at least 10 minutes before it begins to answer questions and review materials for the experiments.


5. Various duties relating to assisting the lecturer in the administration of his/her class.   This may include grading tests and proctoring exams.  Some professors may request that you attend their lectures.  This is a reasonable request.  You need to be familiar with the material as it is presented in class for many reasons.  If you are acquainted with the classroom material, you will have a much better background for your own instruction.  As a result, you will know what ideas are stressed by the instructor and, thereby, have a guideline for how to emphasize material.  Also, you will know how much information the students have, eliminating wasted time explaining reviewed material (Janes and Hauer, 1992).


5.     Produce a syllabus: Making a syllabus is a university requirement.  It is a legally binding document and should be treated as such.  The syllabus is there to let the students know what you expect from them.  It should show them the path to follow, what tasks will get them to the end point, and requirements for completing the course.  It is important that you include the following information when developing a syllabus:


·       Your name

·       Your office number and its location

·       Your office hours

·       The official course title and number along with section etc.

·       Semester

·       Drop date

·       What prerequisites are required

·       Major purpose and goals of the lab.

·       Any specific objectives if appropriate.

·       Lab schedule with pages, dates, chapter number and title etc.

·       All requirements (lab reports, notebooks, participation etc.)

·       Grading style (scale, percentage breakdowns for each task etc.)

·       Any special projects

·       Required texts and materials the students must provide


·       Dates for major examinations

·       Makeup and attendance policy

·       Cheating policy (refer to the policy and procedures manual and the Student Guide for specifics)

·       Your email address and URL of the course or section

·       Cooperative learning

·       What is it

·       What they are responsible for

·       How they will be assessed

·       Extra percentages for everyone making above a certain grade in a group

·       Drop/Incompletes/Withdraws

·       Syllabus Subject to Change”


7.  Grading students.  You are responsible for grading students based on their performance in class.  The manner in which grades are determined is ultimately up to the instructor of the course.  However, you may be given varying degrees of latitude in deciding grading. 


8.  Summarizing grades.  You may be required to summarize your grades at times during the semester and report those grade summaries to the TA coordinator or to the person responsible for the course.  This is important and allows the coordinator to maintain a certain level of uniformity in grading.  You will also be asked to hand over a record of your grades to the coordinator for permanent records.


9.  Posting grades.  Posting grades, in any manner, is now considered against policy and illegal by the University and court system.  Therefore it should not be done.  The possible negative legal, operational, and pedagogical implications outweigh any short-term convenience afforded to your students.


10. Being evaluated.  You will administer evaluations (given to you by the office staff sometime around mid-semester) giving instructions on how to fill them out.  You are not allowed to be present in the room with the students when they are performing the evaluation. Assign a student to supervise and return the evaluations to the office.  These evaluations are seen by the supervising professor and the administration and placed in your permanent files.  You are also evaluated by the instructor and/or laboratory coordinator.


11. Reporting Grades.  You are responsible for reporting the official grade of each student at the end of the semester.  This is done on a form given to you by the office staff.  Make sure to turn these in by the deadline.  Important:  if you are a Graduate Assistant (less than 18 credit hours) you cannot report final averages to the University yourself.  This must be done by the faculty member associated with the course or the laboratory coordinator.


12.  Attending TA training and development.  You are required to attend certain classes and workshops designed to train you in various aspects of TA responsibilities.  They include, but are not limited to, classes and workshops in first aid, pedagogy, and policies and procedures.



Please fill-out the following information before the end of Orientation week and return to Thomas Pitzer:


Name:                                                                         Social:

Email:                                     Phone (home):                                    (office):

Office #/hours:



      Three-ring binder

      Have you returned your personal information to Thomas Pitzer?

      Class rolls

      Keys to office/lab/teaching room--start with Helen in OE 167

      Grade books

      Drop date, semester schedule.

      Initial Assessment followed by interview

      Contacted mentor?

      Prepared for prelab meeting?

      Know when/where it is?

      Made syllabus?

      Made Initial Assessment?

      Made quiz?

      Read lab and answered all questions in lab book?

      Have lab coat and goggles for yourself?

      Know when/what/where you are teaching?

      Have all materials you need?

      Email account

      Keep labs clean for next TA.

      Be responsible with videos and other ancillary teaching materials.

      Know when/where you are supposed to proctor exams?

      Know about quiz bank?

      Working toward your teaching certificate?

      Keeping your portfolio up-to-date?







1.    List the qualities of a good instructor.

2.    Explain practically what Active Learning is.

3.    Demonstrate the importance of preparation and how to best get prepared.

4.    Outline your protocol for administering lab the first day.

5.    Describe what an initial assessment is, how it is used, and why it's important.  Create one.

6.    Outline your protocol for administering lab every day.  How will you use RSQC2 in the process?

7.    Explain the important elements of a good lecture.  Describe its inherent limitation.



The goal of this program is to provide an environment that leads to the most productive learning for undergraduate biology students.   We must never lose sight of the fact that we strive to graduate students who have an excellent foundation in basic biology.  To this end, excellence in laboratory instruction is an important objective.  Our image among students, the community, and the world is molded in part by the practical laboratory experience.  For these reasons, I believe that it is important to discuss some ideas which relate directly to the teaching experience.




I offer the ideas of Gamson and Chickering (1987) to help put these ideas into practice.  You will find their "seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education" dispersed throughout the upcoming section.


Not all of the following ideas will apply or work for you.  The utilization of these aspects is up to you.  What follows are some ideas which may help you to increase your actual teaching effectiveness. This will not substitute for the direct communication of TA and instructor nor does this information supplant any classes or seminars which may be required of new teaching personnel.


A "Teacher's Dozen" Fourteen General, Research-based Guidelines to Inform College Teaching and Assessment and Improve Higher Learning


1.    Active learning is more effective than passive learning.


Simply put, the greater the student's involvement or engagement in academic work or in the academic experience of college, the greater his or her level of knowledge acquisition and general cognitive development.  Ernest T. Pascarella & Patrick T. Terenzini


2.    Learning is more effective and efficient when learners have explicit, reasonable, positive goals, and when their goals fit well with teachers' goals.

3.       Learning requires focused attention and awareness of the importance of what is to be learned.



4.       To be remembered, new information must be meaningfully connected to prior knowledge, and it must first be remembered in order to be learned.


Thinking means connecting things, and stops if they cannot be connected.  G. K. Chesterton


5.       Unlearning what is already known is often more difficult than learning

new information.


It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.  Claude Bernard


6.       Information that is organized in personally meaningful ways is more likely to be remembered, learned, and used.


Much goes on in the mind of the learner.  Students interpret.  They over interpret.  They actively struggle to impose meaning and structure upon new material being presented.  Donald A. Nonnan


7.       Mastering a complex skill or body of knowledge takes great amounts of

time and effort.



8.    Learning to transfer, to apply previous knowledge and skills to new contexts,

requires a great deal of directed practice.


9.       High expectations encourage high achievement.



Expectations are themselves predictions, ranging from the elaborate scientific forecast of the large business enterprise to primitive guesses and dark hunches.  E. Grunberg & F. Modigliani


10.     To be most effective, teachers need to balance levels of intellectual challenge

and instructional support.


Any subject can be effectively taught in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.  Jerome Bruner



11.     Motivation to learn is alterable; it can be positively or negatively

affected by the task, the environment, the teacher and the learner.



Just as we learn new skills, so also we learn new motives.  Gordon W. Allport


12.     Interaction between teachers and learners is one of the most powerful factors

in promoting learning; interaction among learners is another.


A large part of the impact of college is determined by the extent and content of one's interactions with major agents of socialization on campus, namely, faculty members and student peers. The most influential interactions appear to be those that focus on ideas or intellectual matters, thereby extending and reinforcing the intellectual goals of the academic program.

E.    Pascarella & P. Terenzini


13.     The ways in which learners are assessed and evaluated powerfully affect the ways they study and learn.



It is a great folly to reward one thing while hoping for another.  Anonymous


14.     Learners need feedback on their learning, early and often, to learn well; to become independent learners, they need to become self-assessing and self-correcting.



Final Notes



Compiled by Thomas A. Angelo, AAHE Assessment Forum; One Dupont Circle, Suite 360; Washington, DC 20036-1 1 10





Getting Ready To Teach with Active Learning in Mind


The idea that many new TAs have when beginning teaching is that they are simply presenters of material.  In other words, many TAs feel that they just impart some piece of required information, tell the students what to do, and send them on their way.  This is not an environment conducive to learning.  Instead, I hope you will use Active and Cooperative Learning elements in your labs to promote increased learning and retention.  You should strive to do your best to achieve this goal.  Preparation is the first way to meet this objective. 


·       CONQUERING NERVOUSNESS--One of the best ways to overcome this problem is to be well prepared.  Being prepared does not mean that you can answer every question the students may have.


·       MAKE AN OUTLINE--Part of good preparation is making an outline of the material covered in that lab, including the practical portion of the lab.  Use other sources for information beyond the text and/or lab book.


·       INCLUDE “ACTIVE LEARNING”-- Active learning is not learning via activities.  It is a general set of teaching constructs designed and tested to promote active participation in learning by the student. These activities lead the students to actively think about what they are doing.  I present active learning throughout this manual.  The next section will help you in deciding how and what to include in your review.


PREPARATION--Being prepared means you can plan for ways to hold students' attention (Janes and Hauer, 1991).  This is accomplished by first gaining their confidence.  Secondly, you can plan ways to keep their interest with examples, media, etc.  You cannot do these things very well if you do not think of the lab session robin

·        until a few hours beforehand.  Make sure you have prepared for your lab and have made the quiz BEFORE you attend you pre-lab meeting.






·       GET YOUR LAB READY--About an hour before your class, check that everything you need is there: all equipment is on, there are plenty of teaching supplies, and the environment is clean and comfortable.  You want to leave some time so that you can make any changes or get supplies that are missing.


·       Be thoroughly familiar with the subject matter, use information that is up-to-date and accurate, and use the latest research.


·       CONNECTING--Are you connecting with previous material?  Are you presenting smooth and connected transitions between concepts?  Are you introducing and connecting with upcoming material?


·       LIST OBJECTIVES—List and seek to meet objectives.  Assess based on these objectives.


·       GROUP CHECK—Make sure to incorporate group functioning skills into your instruction.



Teaching and Learning Actively


Perhaps the biggest challenge to a new TA is the presentation of material before the practical laboratory begins.  This is due to nervousness and inexperience.  What follows is an amalgamation of information drawn from personal experience, the experience of fellow faculty members at FIU, and the other sources (Janes and Hauer, 1991; Pica et al., 1990; and Magnun, 1990).  The following are general ideas.  Those of you incorporating Cooperative Learning should follow the guidelines in the following section specifically.



The First Day


Your first day as a lab instructor will pose some unique opportunities to establish a positive, productive relationship between you and your students.  First impressions are important, so you want to set the tone that will continue for the entire semester.  You will be nervous, but that is to be expected.  Many TAs feel that if their nervousness shows, they will look foolish and lose respect.  This is much less of a problem than such things as under-preparation and an arrogant attitude.  Do not try to mask your unease with a bad attitude.  Here are a few ideas which can make your first day more comfortable:


1.     Introduce Yourself.


2.     Give A Warm Up.  When you begin your class, you may want to do something to make the situation more comfortable between you and the students.  A good way is to have them fill out cards with some general information about themselves.   They could then have a 3-4 minute chat session to get to know the other members in their group, and then they can introduce each other to the class.   This will not only ease tension for you and your students, but it will encourage cooperation among the group members which will be beneficial in the laboratory setting.  This is another of Gamson and Chickering's (1987) principles for good practice.


3.     Give an Initial Assessment.  You are going to want to have a good idea of the educational background, reading and writing skills, cognitive reasoning ability, math background, and science proficiency possessed by your students.  So in the first period, give an initial assessment to facilitate this.  This can be as simple as a quiz which asks some basic questions with one ore two of the questions requiring some writing to be done.  What follows is an example of a possible initial assessment (note, I stole much of this from Maureen Sullivan):





Name: _________________________      Email: __________________________

Student ID: _________________________


NOTE: This is not a quiz.  You will not be graded on this so don't stress out.  You may write on the back of this page.  PLEASE WRITE IN COMPLETE SENTENCES AND PARAGRAPHS.



1.      In your own words, what do think this course is all about?  What will be some of the important topics?  What will you have to learn and what will you have to do to do well in this class?





2.      What are some of the parts of a living cell?  What are their functions? 




3.      In the following problem, solve for "x": 5x+15=25.  X=___

4.      6.7 liters are how many milliliters? _____

5.      The scientific method uses observation, questioning, hypothesis development, and experimentation to test the hypothesis in order to determine the strength of the hypothesis.  I notice that my orchids grow better the closer I put them to the window.  This leads me to question the role of light.  What might my hypothesis be? I experiment placing a number of orchids at various distances from the window and measure growth.  The following graph represents the variation in growth with distance from the light source.  In general, what does this graph demonstrate about sunlight and orchid growth?  Does this data seem to support or refute the hypothesis?  Explain.  What data would you need to see to prove or disprove the hypothesis? 









6.      Match the following

a.      Proton____

b.      Mitochondria_____

c.      Mendel_____

d.      DNA_____

e.      Kingdom_____

f.       Plants_____

g.      Biological balance____

1.      Animalia

2.      chlorophyll

3.      genetic material

4.      ATP

5.      negative

6.      genetic crosses

7.      positive

8.      homeostasis


Logic: write in the logical conclusion…

7.      If yellow iodine turns blue/black in the presence of starch and I mix iodine and potato extract, the solution should turn be what color ____________,


8.      Are you involved in any extra-curricular activities (like church, clubs, sports, etc.)?  If so, what positions or activities do you perform?  If you have a position, what is it and what are your responsibilities?



9.      Be honest on this one: How do you get ready for a lab or lecture (read, study, review notes, do nothing, etc.)?  How do you prepare for quizzes, exams, midterms, and finals?



10.   How well do you work in groups?  What is your experience with studying or working in groups?  How do you usually act in these groups?



Contact Phone Number: _________________________________________

Emergency Contact Phone Number: ________________________________

Name of Emergency Contact: _____________________________________


Major: ___________________________ GPA: ________________


Goals for this class: _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Career Goals: _________________________________________________


Science and Math background (High School and College) __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Extracurricular Activities/Community Involvement / Hobbies: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



Conditions TA should be aware of: _________________________________

Special medical considerations: ___________________________________


Other pertinent information you would like to share with your TA: _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



It is important that you follow-up this preliminary assessment with an evaluation and advice.  The best method for this is to have your students meet with you before the second lab so that you can show them where they are strong or week, and how they can improve so that they can do well in your class.


4.     Comparing Goals and Expectations--Go over your syllabus, giving a general overview of the lab and the students’ responsibilities (this includes grading, materials, etc.).  You can alleviate many future problems by taking time here to emphasize (even over-emphasize) your particular rules and policies.  If you require that students be on time for quizzes or else they get a zero, for example, then emphasize this point. Be consistent and unwavering in your decision-making, otherwise students will take advantage of a perceived weakness.


5.     Discuss lab rules: cleaning, handling of materials, safety, etc.  You will want to spend some time addressing your expectations for the students.  Studies have shown that students will rise to meet the expectations of the instructor if the expectations are clearly presented as a comparison with the goals of the students (Angelo and Cross, 1993).  Gamson and Chickering (1987) recommend that high expectations should be communicated from the beginning and held consistently throughout the course.  Angelo and Cross (1993) mention that some expectations should be presented which are uncoupled from grades.  These include things like MCATs, CLAST, and GREs.  I think this is great practice for increasing overall learning in undergraduate laboratories.  Motivation can be increased by seeing application to the future (Angelo and Cross, 1993).





First, it is a good idea to hang around your lab minutes before the lab actually starts.  Leave some time after you have prepared the lab to just hang around without anything to do.  You can show students that you are interested in them as people.


Once you begin the laboratory formally, it is important not to give the quiz or ask for questions first.  Angelo and Cross (1993) summarizes a good technique for overall laboratory presentation.  His system, called RSQC2, is composed of five qualities. 


1.     REVIEW or RECALL--(R)”--When you begin a lecture, relate each week’s material to some aspect of a previous lab.  You are trying to get the students to actively think about the previous material.  This is "Recall—R”. 

2.     Next,  "SUMMARIZE—(S)" the important concepts in the present laboratory. 

3.     Then ask for "QUESTIONS—(Q)".  You never want to start out by asking for questions; the students are a million miles away at first.  Bring them down to earth, then you have a much better chance of getting answers to some questions of substance.   Then you have them actively thinking about what is coming up.  The common paradigm regarding students' questions is changing in the light of studies and Cooperative Learning.  Questions are important and should be treated as such.  Because they are so important, you should realize what a great learning tool they are.  By directly answering questions without making the student expend any energy thinking, you are encouraging passive learning.  Questions should make the student think by :


·       Giving the student the direction to figure it out for himself/herself;

·       Allowing other members of the group to assist (Cooperative Learning);

·       Allowing other classmates to assist.


Often people are amazed when I suggest that a teacher should never directly answer a question.  Believe me, I struggled with this process until I realized that self- and group-examination is a far better tool for understanding.  Do not feel that you are abandoning your students—you are going to facilitate the answering of their questions and make sure the skills and information are there to allow for it to happen.


Now is a good time to give a quiz.  Let’s discuss that in more detail:


Quiz Making Tips


One of the most important means of assessing the learning and retention of your students is by quizzes and examinations.  However, many new lab instructors are ill equipped to produce proper tests.


You should realize that the purpose of a quiz in biology laboratories is diagnostic and motivational.  First you want to know what the students do not know well.  Second, the presence of a weekly quiz is an impetus for your students to review previous material and upcoming material.  For this reason, I always suggest that TAs break their quiz into a section covering previous material and one covering upcoming material.  Ask more data analysis and synthesis-type of questions on previous material and more definition-type questions on upcoming material.  Do not ask about procedures or color-changes or other trivial concerns.   Remember your objectives and test on them.  A quiz is a better motivational tool if it is given regularly and consistently, and when it is returned on time.  When preparing any test, try to produce questions which make your students consider, evaluate, organize, synthesize, and apply material (and data).  A good quiz grade should be a reward of careful and thorough attention, study, and understanding.   Be mindful of the following when preparing for a quiz.


·       Questions should relate to your mentioned goals.

·       Spitting out facts is least effective.

·       Use clear statements.

·       Be consistent

·       Be accurate

·       Try to make it interesting.

·       Use specific and comprehensive language.

·       Cut out ambiguity.

·       Be a self-assessor.



Examples of lower-level, knowledge, comprehension, and application questions:


1.      The human skeleton is divided into _______________ and _______________ components (skeletons).


2.      _________ (True/False) The human body has immovable joints.


3.      _________ Extending outward from each lacuna are ___________, by which the cell, when living, exchanges nutrients for wastes with the blood vessels in the Haversian canal.

a. lacunae,   b. osteocytes   c. medullary cavity   d. canaliculi   e. yes you may.


4.      _________ What type of contraction leads to no change in muscle size (in other words, no motion is caused)

a. isolinear   b. isotonic   c. mesometric   d. mesolinear  e. isometric


Examples of higher-level analysis, synthesis, and evaluation questions:


1.      If you were a pollution biologist, how would you include lichens in your analysis of whether there was a high level of air pollution.


2.      Defend one of these positions:  a.  The fern allies are closely related to ferns.  b.  The fern allies are not closely related to ferns



4.     Now perform any lab business.  Outline the lab's objectives and what you expect the student to do and understand.  Remember that you are responsible for guiding the direction, behavior, and the attitude of the class (Magnan, 1990). 

5.     Presentation of Material or “COMMENT (C)”--Most laboratories have some kind of presentation of review material (note that this is minimal or non-existent in Cooperative Learning).  Some of these initial talks are longer and more detailed, but most should be short and concise.  The primary purpose is to present the background material which enables the class to perform and understand the practical portion of the lab.  Although you may not really perform a formal "lecture", some labs come close enough that I will use that term here.  You will probably experience all manners of lecture types because most TAs at FIU teach a varied schedule of lab courses.  The following information will give you some ideas on effective ways to present material to a lab of undergraduate students.  For the most part, you just want to review and summarize learning objectives.  You are not an instructor as much as a facilitator.  In as much, you should strive to avoid the traditional paradigm of reiterating background material that is already explained in the lab book, textbook, and/or in the lecture. 

6.     When you have finished a lecture, try to tie all the components together.  Summarize.  Re-emphasize.  This is the last of Angelo and Cross’ (1993) RSQC2 technique--"CONNECT--C".  Get them ready for the next week’s material.  This is a good time to cover possible problems that the students may have in the upcoming lab. 

7.     The Practical Laboratory--There are different types of labs which may require a different approach when teaching.  Some labs are basically following a simple formula or "cookbook".  These A ----> B ----> C type experimental labs tend to be more straightforward.  However, students should know how to interpret experimental results, so always discuss the setup, implementation, and outcome of all experiments.  Some laboratories are oriented toward observation.  Make sure that students can connect what they see with the ideas presented in the prelab lecture.  Tie everything together and link it with the purpose of the lab.  A third type of lab is investigation.  Here students will occasionally be presented with a problem to solve.  This is the most difficult for new students because it is the most foreign.  Help them through this type of research but don't solve the problem for them.

During the practical portion of the lab, encourage group learning.  Doing this is no easy task.  Angelo and Cross (1993) mention that simply fostering student-student interaction can be the best way.  Answer a question like this--"That's a good question.  Can anyone at the table offer us some suggestions for solving this problem?"  You will learn many more ways to get groups to act synergistically to increase learning.  The section on Cooperative Learning can show you a proven way to promote active learning through group participation.


What role should you play in solving problems and answering questions for students during lab?  It may surprise you that almost all TAs lull their students into “passive learning”.  If students know that any question or problem will be instantly solved by the TA, they take a very small roll in the learning process.  Answer questions and problems by building up to the situation with reference to known material.  Sometimes a question is the best way to answer a question.


Try to keep a friendly but professional attitude with your students. No fraternization with students outside of lab during the semester is allowed.  This is not only a rule but a policy of the University. 


Major Considerations in Planning and Executing the Practical Portion of the Laboratory


·       Review the procedures thoroughly.  Practice ahead of time.

·       Check for proper sequence of steps.

·       Tell students they will receive an outline of steps so they will concentrate on listening to you.

·       Check physical arrangements:

·       Can students see?

·       Are you comfortable?

·       Are the students comfortable?

·       Lighting adequate?

·       Noise and other distractions?

·       Demonstrate the most commonly used or locally accepted procedure, not several variations in a single demonstration.

·       Keep demonstrations as short and concise as possible.

·       If doing a long, involved procedure, break it up into several parts and allow practice after each part.

·       Begin by pointing out and naming all items to be used.

·       Do not pass around equipment during a demonstration.  This distracts attention from what you are doing.

·       Demonstrate isolated steps slowly.

·       Explain any new terms.

·       Identify and emphasize special things to do, say, or remember or critical steps in the procedure. (designate also on lab procedure).

·       Use transparencies or other audiovisuals to show details difficult for each student to see.

·       Check frequently for students' understanding.

·       Use a completed product you have prepared ahead of time to show the results of a particularly time-consuming experiment (or step) or one which requires a great deal of waiting time.

·       Summarize.  Use student-instructor or student-student interaction to do this.  Use questioning strategy to help.  Remember, usually, do not directly answer non-trivial questions.


8.      Post Practical Review—The Wrap-up


Often, students can be found drifting out of laboratories long before others are finished.  It is questionable whether many of these students have sufficiently covered the material expected of them.  Additionally, many students leave the lab without a real picture of how what they just did related to the pre-lecture or the classroom material.  For these reasons, it is a good idea to end the practical laboratory with a short review of the data, discussion of questions, and summary session.  Remember to connect with other material.


9.     The One-Minute-Paper


You can increase the learning potential of students by making them better "self-assessors" (Angelo and Cross, 1993).  One way to do this is to have each student write a short note which states the muddiest and clearest points in that week's lab (see Cooperative Learning).  This will help you in the future, but more importantly, it forces the student to actively think about what he/she does and does not understand.  This is active learning in practice.


Be a Student Monitor


Because as a TA you will not be dealing with more than 25 students per lab (usually), you should try to become familiar with your students' progress.  Monitor their grades and follow up during the semester with a preliminary grade report so that your students will know where they stand.  Perhaps you could meet with students individually to go over any problems they might have which may keep them from performing to their optimum.  If you show the students that you care about their progress, they are more likely to be motivated themselves to improve their overall grades.  Additionally, try to give prompt feedback with regard to student grades.  Being prompt is one of the qualities of good practices in teaching (Gamson and Chickering, 1987).




Can You Increase Learning Outside of Lab?


Yes.  One of the best ways to foster increased learning is to encourage student-TA interaction.  And a great way to do that is to invite students to visit you during office hours.  Do this during lab as well as in the beginning of the course.  When students feel comfortable asking you questions and seeking help, it is easy to see that more can be learned and understood.  Also encourage group studying outside of lab.  Active learning can also occur outside of class with well-established, communicated, and utilized office hours.


International Teachers and Students


Because our University contains a cultural and racial diversity, there are special considerations one must address in addition to those above.   We teach here in English and, for many, this is not their first or strongest language.  You can see how this can lead to problems in the classroom.  All of you will be teaching students from other backgrounds, so this challenge applies to everyone.   The important thing here is to respect diverse talents and ways of learning (Gamson and Chickering, 1987).  Here are a few ideas which may help with this situation:


     Speak loudly, slowly and clearly.  Speak louder than you really think you need to.

     Do not use colloquialisms.  This may work in schools where the student body is mostly regional, but not at an international university like ours.  This may make you less "colorful"; however, everyone will understand you better, no matter what their background.

     If you are having problems with students understanding your pronunciation, explore textbooks for pronunciation like "Say It Clearly" by Susan L. English (1988) (Pica, Barnes, and Finger, 1990).


These are but a few techniques for teaching undergraduate laboratories in the Biology Department.  I recommend that you add to these ideas some of your own from your experience.  Also, there are many sources, some listed here, from which you can draw ideas and inspiration.  If you find yourself in a difficult situation, do not flounder there.  Find help!  The department is dedicated to assisting its graduate students at Florida International University.     




A Guide to Portraying Yourself as a Teacher

Teaching Portfolios


A "teaching portfolio" is a compilation of information about a faculty member's teaching, made by that faculty member, often for use in consideration for tenure or promotion. It is not, in itself, an instrument for teaching evaluation, but a vehicle for presenting information which may include results of evaluations and which may itself contribute to evaluation. It can therefore be selective, emphasizing the positive--to serve as a showcase for the faculty member's achievements in teaching, not necessarily a comprehensive or balanced picture of everything.

Purposes for the teaching portfolio include: provision of data for personnel decisions, including tenure and promotion; supplying data for aggregate information that might be communicated to, for example, legislative bodies; support of cases for internal or external awards; and, perhaps most importantly, provision to the faculty member of special and significant opportunities for reflection about his or her teaching. There are other possibilities.

The very fact that the teaching portfolio is now in place should serve to underscore the increasing emphasis on the value of teaching at FIU and in higher education nationally. At FIU, this emphasis will be expressed in other ways, circumstances permitting.

The format and uses of the portfolio will naturally vary from one part of the university or discipline to another. The outline that follows is meant to be an adaptable template, which can be modified for individual units or even individual faculty members.

Nevertheless, there should be a degree of uniformity. The original impetus for proposing the portfolio at FIU was the fact that personnel documents from different units described teaching activities in such varied ways that often it was difficult, if not impossible, to use them fairly or to obtain useful aggregate results. Some guidance seemed in order.

The problem is, and will surely continue to be, to strike a good balance between comparability and flexibility.

Instructors near the beginnings of their teaching careers should find it especially easy to assemble portfolios. Once started, the portfolio can be routinely updated. In no case should the development of a teaching portfolio be a burden that consumes an excessive amount of a faculty member's time; nor should reading one be a daunting task.

The successful Portfolio answers three basic questions:


  1. Who are you as a teacher?
  2. What have you done as a teacher?
  3. How do I (potential employer) know you will be a successful teacher?


Two analogies are helpful in thinking about how to approach your portfolio.


In the first analogy we think of a Portfolio as a Lab Report which contains two parts: observable data and some kind of rationale or argument for that data.  In a Portfolio, the data is the evidence of your teaching such as student evaluations, model syllabi and model assignments (see more complete list below).  In a Lab Report, the evidence means nothing without the argument that makes it meaningful.  So too, with a Portfolio, it is the argument that you make regarding the evidence you present that makes your teaching mean something to a reader.  In short, it is not enough just to present a bunch of "good stuff' in a Portfolio; you must make an argument for your teaching and the beginning of that argument is your teaching statement.  The teaching statement provides a guide, which tells the reader, "This is how to make sense of all this data about teaching."


In the second analogy, the Portfolio is likened to a Diary, which contains life events in a context of reflections that make the events meaningful.  As with a Diary, the events themselves are quite dull; it's the personal meaning (usually in the form of a narrative or story) that makes the events juicy and a good read." In this regard, you want to make your Portfolio a "Good read" by tying your accomplishments together in a narrative that highlights PURPOSE, CREATIVITY, REFLECTION, INDEPENDANCE and FLEXIBILITY.


The Teaching Statement is a one to two page essay, which addresses the values you pursue as a teacher.  The ideas in the teaching statement are carried forth into the Portfolio by a series of introductory statements in each section.  These statements bring the evidence you present to bear on the values you espouse in your teaching statement.  They are a running commentary that keeps the reader on course, making the same arguments for your teaching as you do.  Teaching statements link your unique skills and efforts to educational values.


What to Include?  Teaching statement, syllabi, evaluations, assignments, tests and quizzes, innovations, examples of your written feedback, projects you've designed, exemplary student work, kudos, accomplishments, papers on teaching, and anything else that demonstrates you as a successful teacher.


Two Helpful Hints:

·        Know Your Audience: if possible, relate your accomplishments to new teaching environments.

·        Show Development Over Time: the narrative can say how you've gotten better, what you've learned.




A. Teaching Statement or Philosophy 


A compact but thoughtful statement about the faculty member's intentions and aspirations in teaching, especially for the near future.

Examples: preferred principles for good teaching; plans for actions for improvement, curricular projects, publications, presentations, etc. Platitudes and vacuous generalities should be avoided.

This might be a good place to mention obstacles the faculty member has encountered, such as inadequate facilities, inadequate library resources, excessive class size, etc.


B. Responsibilities

(The topics listed below reflect a broad concept of teaching. Others might be added.)

1. Percentage of appointment devoted to teaching, if stipulated.

2. Courses recently and currently taught, with credit hours and enrollments

When instructional duties for a course are shared, those of the faculty member should be described or at least represented by a percentage. Attachment of typical syllabi as exhibits may be appropriate.

3. Work with individual students

Examples: Guidance of independent study or undergraduate or graduate research; direction of theses; supervision of postdocs.

4. Advising

Examples: Advising for the Student Advising and Learning Center (SALC), advising of majors, advising students competing for prestigious scholarships or for admission to graduate or professional programs (advising students in one's own classes specifically about those classes does not belong here). Approximate numbers of students advised, etc.

5. Instructional innovations

Innovation is not essential to good teaching, but credit should be taken for major efforts to improve teaching. Examples: Novel use of instructional technology; development of collaborative arrangements outside the unit and/or university; adoption of such methods as collaborative learning, use of case studies, etc.

6. Extraordinary efforts with special groups of students

Examples: Exceptionally able students; members of underrepresented groups or groups facing special challenges (women in mathematics, men in nursing, returning students, physically impaired students).

7. Use of disciplinary research in teaching

Examples: Modification of syllabi, laboratory experiments, reading lists, etc., in light of one's own research; involvement of students in one's own research; special activities for helping students to develop creative and critical thinking skills for use in their research; ways in which teaching helps research.

8. Out-of-class evaluation activities

Examples: Participation in assessment of educational outcomes, such as end-of-program assessment; participation in conducting examinations for advanced degrees; screening students for scholarships and other distinctions.

9. Service on FIU or other committees concerned mainly with instruction

Examples: Service on the Faculty Senate Academic Affairs Committee, and college and department committees of the same general kind.

10. Learning more about teaching

Examples: Programs of systematic reading in the literature on teaching; attending short courses and professional conferences concerned with teaching; leading or participating in faculty seminars concerned with teaching issues.

11. Projects and potential projects requiring non-state funding

Teaching-centered grants received and grant proposals under consideration. When other faculty members are involved, the role of the faculty member who is reporting should be made clear.


C. Evaluations

The "Evaluation" section in a portfolio should consist chiefly of summaries of data from whatever methods for evaluating teaching are used--not only evaluation by students. The data themselves may be attached in exhibits or offered as available on request. Some faculty members may wish to include explanations or rejoinders for evaluations which they believe to be potentially misleading.

1. Student evaluations

Examples: Results of student questionnaires; interviews of students; the one-minute essay and other forms of "classroom research."

2. Measures of student learning

Direct evidence of the extent and quality of learning by the faculty member's students, e.g. performance on appropriate standardized tests.

3. Peer evaluation

Reports from respected colleagues who have visited classes, examined instructional materials, talked with the faculty member, etc. Letters from colleagues may also be useful.

4. Letters from students, alumni, and employers of alumni

Solicited letters, e.g. from former students, are not likely to carry the credibility of unsolicited statements.

5. Teaching awards

Something should be said about the character of the awards if the names are not self-explanatory.

6. Other evaluations


D. Results

1. Student successes

Examples: Noteworthy achievements of students (in awards, admissions to graduate school, employment, other accomplishments), for which the faculty member claims a significant part of the credit.

2. Instructional materials

Examples: Textbooks, workbooks, manuals, visual aids, software, etc.

3. Contributions to the scholarship of teaching

"The scholarship of teaching" treats teaching itself (especially in one's discipline) as a subject of scholarly discourse. Results may include oral presentations, papers in appropriate journals, etc.

In items 2 and 3, data about publications should be presented in some standard style.

4. Other results

Appendix, or exhibits








What is necessary to realize a marked difference in overall learning and retention by biology laboratory students, is the incorporation of a completely different and well-researched paradigm which has the potential to affect a positive change.  Cooperative Learning (CL), an approach which has been used extensively in various settings in higher education has demonstrated its value in learning and retention (Astin, 1993; Cooper et al., 1990; Goodsell et al., 1992; Johnson et al., 1991; McKeachie, 1986).  I tested CL in Summer of 1996 in Human, General, and Botany laboratories with great success.  Most TAs felt that the students were more participatory, active, and had a greater chance of making better grades.  Most TAs commented that test questions were raised to the high-level of synthesis and analysis without the usual reduction in scores.  In general, the reaction from the students, TAs, and myself was positive and exceeded my initial expectations.  We have continued the incorporation of this teaching construct now for eight years with great success.



What is Cooperative Learning?


Cooperative learning is instruction that involves students working in teams to accomplish a common goal (Johnson et. al, 1991), under conditions that include the following 5 important elements (Felder and Brent, 1994):


1.     Positive interdependence.  Group members have to count on each other to accomplish their goals.  No one can do all the work due to division of labor.


2.     Individual accountability.  Each group member is held accountable for her/his work and for performing the duties ascribed to individual positions.


3.     Face-to-face promotive interaction.  A great deal of the information must be discussed interactively.  This includes feedback, questioning assumptions, and instructing each other as an integral part of the CL concept.


4.     Appropriate use of collaborative skills.  Strengthening important group skills such as trust-building, leadership, decision-making, communication, and conflict management skills.


5.     Group processing.  The groups must set goals and periodically assess them.  Modifications are encouraged if necessary.


Cooperative learning can occur both within and outside the classroom environment.  It functions well in the lecture and laboratory classroom.  For the purpose of this research, I will emphasize the consideration for the laboratory.  See Felder and Brent (1994) for application to other venues.  Additionally, all CL activities can be done in the laboratory during normal class time. 


For the purposes of this research, CL refers to the formal definition given above and must incorporate the five elements previously mentioned.  CL is not working in groups or group exercises unless these requirements are met.


Proven Benefits of Cooperative Learning


There are studies (Astin, 1993; Cooper et al., 1990; Goodsell et al., 1992; Johnson et al., 1991; and McKeachie, 1986) which have demonstrated the following results:


1.     Higher academic achievement

2.     Greater persistence through graduation

3.     Higher level reasoning and critical thinking skills

4.     Deeper understanding of learned material

5.     Better attention and less disruptive behavior in class

6.     Lower amounts of anxiety and stress

7.     More motivation to learn and achieve

8.     Positive attitudes to subject matter

9.     Higher self-esteem

10.  Decrease in the amount of material to grade.


These benefits are seen relative to the classical, lecture-then-exam paradigm of instruction.




Performing Cooperative Learning


Preliminary Setup


Luckily for the situation in biology labs at Florida International University (FIU), the problems of forming groups are greatly reduced.  The literature speaks a great deal to the initial group formation.  During the first lab, have students put information such as race, sex, personality type, goals, etc. on 3 X 5s.  Ideally, groups should be formed with race, sex, experience, talent, age, number, personality etc. in mind (Cooper, 1990; Felder and Brent, 1994).  They should be planned and assigned by the instructor (Cooper, 1990, for example).  During the first lab, which is usually an introductory format, the TA will get an idea of the student makeup.  Have your students fill out index cards with the information you need to establish groups which best fit the criteria below.  In the next lab, you can begin the lab with formal groups and make modifications to them as the semester progresses.  By necessity, the groups will be four in number.  This is the most often suggested number anyway (Felder and Brent, 1994, for example).  The TA must, of course, plan this group formation ahead of time using some of the following criteria:


1.     Groups should be as racially mixed as possible.  This holds the same for age.

2.     No groups should have just one female.

3.     Groups should be mixed with students of various levels of experience (course work or life) and learning capacity.

4.     Care must be taken when considering personality types.  Cooperation must be considered when developing groups.  Having four strong, aggressive, competitive members or weak, acquiescent, or timid members is counter-productive.


Another important initial matter: students should be told about the concept of CL and that they are integral parts of the process. 


Once again, the laboratory benefits because the activities of active and cooperative learning are very conducive to its particular, group-interaction atmosphere.  We can circumvent many of the concerns and considerations involved with the lecture format.  Additionally, no attention needs to be paid to group work outside of the laboratory, eliminating another potentially confounding issue in CL. 


It is important that you emphasize to your students that grading will NOT be cooperative.  Except if you utilize a small “group” portion of the grade, the manner in which assessment is performed should not change beyond that to which you are accustomed.  As a matter of fact, very little of your classroom methodology and ideology is circumvented to the new paradigm.





Note:  A great deal of the following material was summarized from Felder and Brent, 1994 and Johnson et al., 1991 and the experience of TAs and myself of having done this.

Step 1.  Group Cooperation Skills


Groups cannot function effectively if students do not have and use the needed leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict-management skills.  These skills have to be taught just as purposefully and precisely as academic skills.  At the beginning of each lab, instructors should pick one collaborative skill they feel is needed in the room, point out the need for it, define it carefully, ask students to give you examples of the behavior, summarize them, and point them out when you see them used in groups.   In my program, I instruct TAs in various cooperative skills which they, in turn, impart to their students.  There are a number of publications on CL which extensively cover cooperative skills (for example Johnson et. al., 1991).  At the end of each lab, students will write down any questions they still have about lab (active learning) and analyze how they felt the group functioned cooperatively (cooperative learning—group processing).  In the next lab, you can address both concerns in the pre-quiz summary and cooperation instruction.





q  Trust Building

-        being on time

-        establishing goals

-        setting "norms" (agreements) like "no put-downs"

-        using appropriate voice tone

-        encouraging participation

-        learning names

-        staying with group



q  Decision Making/Creative Problem Solving

q  summarizing during learning

q  looking for accuracy

q  asking for elaboration and explanation

q  asking for decisions

q  thinking of new ways to include everyone in the decision

q  being willing to try something even though you aren't sure it will "work" (risk taking)



q  Communication and Shared Leadership

q  purpose, time limit, procedures of assignment

q  asking for help

q  expressing support

q  clarifying or explaining own views

q  energizing and motivating

q  coordinating tasks

q  paraphrasing what others' views are



q  Conflict Management

q  criticizing ideas not people

q  differentiating different opinions

q  asking for more information in order to understand someone else's ideas

q  integrating conflicting ideas into final decision

q  probing with analysis

checking for accuracy by experimentation


Step 2.  Role Assignment


I am assuming that your groups are already formed and clear on CL expectations and assessment.  Each group member must be assigned a role.  These roles must be clearly laid out and followed.  These maintenance roles should be assigned by the instructor and should rotate periodically.  How do you know how to assign roles?  Watch the groups interact the first day.  Keep notes on the index cards you had your students fill-out with information which will allow you to make roles for the next lab period.  Use this information to assign roles.  Roles can always be changed if they do not work out.



·        Records data

·        Performs drawings, sketches, graphs, tables.

·        Writes the answers to questions.


Maintenance manager:

·       Ensures that the group is functioning cooperatively.

·       Ensures that the supplies, materials, equipment, media, (resources), etc. are in place to perform the prescribed tasks.

·       Makes sure the group is performing lab hygiene.


Protocol manager:

·       Follows the step-by-step procedures and ensures that others are also following (this includes the questions).

·       Ensures that the group can relate what it is learning to the questions in the book or those given by the TA.



·       Initiates each task.  Motivates to begin, continue, and finish the task.

·        Ensures that the group can relate procedures with principles. 

·        Makes sure the group can see the “big picture” which involves tying everything together.

·        Finishes up each task with a synopsis of the objectives and their relevance. 

·        Checks to make sure the group performs the task and its objectives completely and correctly.



These assignments promote the positive interdependence mentioned before.  This is crucial because without it you do not have CL, you have group work which does not accomplish the same objectives.  The roles should be integral, vital, and non-superfluous. 


Step 3.  Task Assignment


With both task and role assignment, structuring for positive interdependence should be of prime importance.  In preparing for the lab:


1.     Decide the academic and cooperative tasks you want the class to learn. 

2.     Insure that materials are present and set up to adequately perform the laboratory.

3.     Explain the tasks in such a way as to be as unambiguous as possible.


After the heterogeneous groups are set-up, they are given an instructional task.  Give only one copy of the task to one member of the group = information interdependence.  Also, make sure that the group only has one of everything needed to perform the experiment or perform the task = resource interdependence.  In experiments, give each member access to different resources whenever possible.  Everyone will depend on each other to get 100 percent of the task completed.  The teacher should emphasize that members should discuss the different objectives with one another in order to encourage the most productive learning and ensure that everyone will do well when assessed.  The tasks should be specific, clear, and understandable.  The group is not to get a copy of the next task until it has completed the present task and has been assessed by the instructor.


Step 4.  Performance Assessment


When assessing the students' performance, evaluation should be done on an individual basis.  This is another key element because the student will learn that the group is fundamental for his own ability to understand and learn the material.  It is up to the individual to sink or swim, and the group prepares him for that.  If a group grade is given, it should be a small percentage of the total grade, solely for the purpose of ensuring that students do perform CL activities as instructed.  The assessment of material learned and retained, however, is performed individually.  Therefore, students will not rely upon one or two individuals to pull them through the course.  Very important considerations here—make sure that your criteria for success are well spelled-out.  There should be no question as to how you will evaluate groups’ work.  



Cooperative Motivator

I have found this to be an excellent motivator:  if a group makes over a certain percentage (say 90%), reward them with extra percentage points (say 5%).   This means that everyone in that group must make over 90%.  Another idea: reward the group that does the best in the class with extra percentage points (say 5%).  These two ideas accomplish two things:  a reward for learning cooperatively, and a reward for inter-group competition which further fosters a perception of interdependence among group members.  These ideas should become part of your syllabus.


The role of the instructor during the lab—Active Learning


Here is another crucial point in active (and cooperative) learning—the instructor is a facilitator, not a question answerer.  In fact, there is almost no circumstance in which a TA should directly answer questions.  One way teachers can guide groups when frustrated at an impasse is by asking other members leading questions.  Almost every author I read on this concept is in agreement that directly answering questions is wrong.  Once students understand that they will have to use their own devices and the resources we provide—they soon conquer their frustrations.  Do not feel that you are not important however.  Your role in providing task assistance is vital.  The responsibilities include:

·       clarifying instruction;

·       reviewing important procedures and strategies for completing the assignment;

·       Teaching necessary task and cooperative skills.


Intervening during lab


Instructors should intervene as little as possible once cooperative learning starts.   When a group is some distance off a learning task, intervention should be in the form of questions which approach (a) What are you doing?, (b) Why are you doing it?, and ( c ) How will it help you?


At other times, an instructor may have to intervene to solve serious maintenance problems.  In these cases, suggest more effective procedures for working together and more effective behaviors for students to engage in.  With a little patience, groups can often work their way through their own task and maintenance problems.


Monitoring during the lab


During Cooperative Learning, you must maintain an active observation of your students. The idea is to learn what they do and do not understand.  Secondly, you must monitor how the groups are working cooperatively—not sitting at the desk, grading quizzes and lab reports.




No longer can individuals finish up before others, grab their books, and head-out the door.  Students will come to labs influenced by this paradigm from past biology labs as well as other science labs.  Explain to them that they will probably be in the room for the entire time and will never leave before their group does.  And the group will never leave until the laboratory is finished and a “wrap-up” is performed.


The end of lab, “wrap-up”, is very important.  Here, data is reviewed, questions are asked and answered (not directly by the TA but by other students), tasks and objectives are examined for completion and understanding, etc.  The instructor can use a variety of methods to bring closure to the lab.  I have reviewed many of them in this publication.  In our new way of performing labs, there are a few essential elements.


1.     Instructors must, in some fashion, evaluate the general performance of the groups in meeting their tasks.  This is best done by reviewing questions from the lab book and ones you make up yourself, randomly asking individuals to answer. 

2.     Another important very last step—each student should jot down; a) what point (idea, experiment, etc.) is still the most puzzling from that lab, and . b) what group actions were helpful, least helpful, and what could the group do to better perform cooperatively.  This is done every lab and is known as the “One-Minute Paper” (Angelo and Cross, 1993).  The instructor can use this information in the next meeting’s review of material and cooperation.


What outcomes can you expect grade-wise


Most authors see a positive response to CL.  The majority find that once bell-curved classes become skewed high.  However, the amount of failures (“Fs”) can stay the same.


Summary—the 1,2,3s


Before you get to lab

·       Decide on the tasks, their objectives, implementation, cooperation, roles, and assessment (many of these are decided once and may stay the same always.  For example, assessment will probably be quizzes, practicals, and lab reports.  Maintenance roles may never change.)


Introducing the lab

·       Briefly mention the concepts of the previous and present lab.  Answer questions from the previous week;

·       Give quiz;

·       Lab business;

·       Speak to one concept of group interaction per lab;

·       Review the “big-picture” objectives for the day;

·       Mention any supplemental material or information not covered in the book adequately;

·       Outline safety concerns.




·       Give one copy of your tasks and objectives to each table;

·       Explain tasks—clear, simple, unambiguous;

·       Define the roles;

·       Explain means of assessment;

·       Remind that the “encouragers” are to start by making groups decide their own goals and how they will go about performing the objectives before they begin;

·       Monitor activities and facilitate task and cooperation during the lab.


Wrap up

·       Review data, etc;

·       Ask questions;

·       “One minute paper.”




The One Minute Paper


Please answer each question in 1 or 2 sentences:


1)   What was the most important information learned today?






2)   What was the "Muddiest" point of today's lab?

(In other words, what was the least clear to you?)







3) What group actions were most helpful?







4) What group actions were least helpful?







5) What can we do to improve the groups?




What do we mean by at-risk or under-prepared students?


As many of you already know, many of our students come to your lab less than ready to perform to expectations.  The reasons are many: personal problems, lack of background preparation, poor respect for teaching and learning, and general lack of interest, among others things.  Reaching these students can be an instructor's biggest challenge and here are a few ideas that can help:



What are some ways that students come to you at-risk and under prepared?


1.     Assessment

·       Assessment should be done early and often.  This is not just grading quizzes, although that is very important.  It is also verbal feedback from you about students’ general overall performance, attitude, study skills, etc. 

·       You should give a general background assessments at the beginning of a course.  This should assess for all knowledge and skills you feel is important for one entering the class.  For Biology, this is often things like lab skills, basic background knowledge in math and science, and writing skills.  You should also initially assess their study (behavior) skills and address them based on their responses. 

·       When students are deficient in one or more areas you deem essential as background knowledge or skill, you should present them with information or ideas on how they can go about correcting those deficiencies.  Often it may be reviewing basic material in a high school biology text or sending them to the University’s Writing Center.

·       Quizzes should be reviewed the same day they are taken.


What are some of the ways you could use assessment in your own program to flag and help at-risk and under prepared students?


2.     Expectations

·       Your goals, objectives, and expectations should be clearly conveyed to the students.  This includes expectations for the course in general and each session.

·       Try to break down assignments into smaller, distinct units, which are completed and checked by you before continuing.

·       Focus on means as well as ends.  Impart the proper behaviors and activities which will lead to successful completion of assignments.


What are some of the ways you could use assessment in your own program to flag and help at-risk and under prepared students?




3.     Feedback

·       Feedback, like assessment, should be given early and often.

·       Feedback should be constructive with advice for improvement.

·       Some form of one-on-one, interactive feedback should occur between you and the students and among the students themselves in groups or pairs.


What are some of the ways you could use feedback in your own program to flag and help at risk and under-prepared students?


4.     Student-to-Student Contact

·       See the previous section on Cooperative Learning.



Laboratory Safety



Protection Against Possible Negligence Liability


The prime responsibilities of most biology lab teachers are instruction and supervision.  Emanating from these concepts is a more specific responsibility for the general health and safety of its students. 


Proper supervision entails maintaining control over students' behavior.  Liability to teachers can often take shape from accidents which arise from misbehavior.  Therefore, the prudent lab instructor should always emphasize the correct lab behavior both at the beginning of a lab course and before each lab meeting.  Administrators must ensure that teachers are following this policy.  Exemplary behavior should also be demonstrated by the instructor; the teacher should demonstrate rational actions by example.  The importance of a properly trained TA or lab instructor is demonstrated in this necessity.  Instructors should be careful to implement the same safety procedures as other comparable labs or they put themselves at great risk for liability.  Administrators should ensure that those responsible for lab supervision and instruction are trained in all manner of lab safety.  All good faith efforts to repair, maintain, and replace defective equipment should be undertaken.





Risk Assessment


Laboratory instructors must be constantly and consistently aware of the dangers involved in practical instruction and methods to avoid accidents due to negligence.  In general, no action on the part of the student should be permitted without the permission of the instructor. All those who have interests in laboratory education should realize some general truths.  First, lab instructors are responsible for the safety, health, and personal well-being of the students in the lab.  Second, teachers and administrators are expected to foresee the consequences of actions or non-actions. From a number of cases (see bibliography) and other sources (Alexander and Alexander, 1992; Connors, 1981; Nenadic and Berberich, 1979; and Smith et al., 1979), I summarize some important considerations in avoiding negligence for laboratory teachers and supervisors as well as administrators:



1.     Realize that many cases of negligence on the part of the teacher are the result of incompetent, improper, or nonexistent supervision.  Instructors and teaching assistants should be well qualified to teach the subject and handle the materials.  Supervision should be as well thought out, continuous, and consistent as possible.  Laboratory supervision should begin from the moment the first student is allowed into the lab until the last student leaves.  During this time there should be 100% supervision with contingencies for periods of non-presence (either in body or mind).


2.     The first meeting of any laboratory should emphasize basic laboratory and safety procedures with contingencies for accidents.  Students should sign a list of safety precautions.  Note, signing a waiver of responsibility on the part of the University or teacher is not likely to hold in a court of law.


3.     Although related to number 1, it is worth emphasizing that the laboratory itself should be well planned.  Part of the planning should entail safety considerations.


4.     Once safety considerations are foreseen, they should be expressed and emphasized to the students in a manner specific to every laboratory activity before the laboratory actually begins.


5.     Independent projects take on certain implications.  Teachers should give very detailed and clear instructions with regard to the undertaking of independent projects as well as the hazards involved and safety measures which should be employed.  Permission must be required for all elements of the project.


6.     Actions, demeanor, and expectations of the teacher as well as the environment of the laboratory set the stage for behavior which is conducive to smooth laboratory function.  Likewise, improper direction and surroundings can almost imply permission to act in non-safe ways.


7.     When there is a condition which leads a teacher to question possible negative results, the teacher should report the problem immediately even if it seems insignificant or trivial.


8.     The layout of the laboratory should be organized, well marked, setup in a manner considering safety, and with labels on any chemicals or dangerous equipment.


9.     Records should be kept of all operations of laboratory setup, instruction, practical procedures, accidents, chemicals and equipment used, and any foreseeable problems.  These records should be accessible to others who have interests in maintaining good records of laboratory operations.


10.  Teachers and all concerned should be trained in the laws of the land which apply to them and school policy which dictates practice.


11.  Teachers should be trained in safety concerns before teaching.  This may include life saving, CPR, using blood, using certain types of chemicals and equipment, and handling biohazardous material etc.


12. Know the use and location of:

·       Fire Extinguishers

·       Gas cut-off

·       First aid

·       Eye wash

·       Shower

·       Biohazard

·       Hood

·       Glass disposal

·       Emergency numbers

·       Emergency Spill Clean-Up Kits

·       Personal protection equipment—gloves, goggles, lab coats etc.

·       Hazards of all used chemicals, devices, machines, bodily fluids, etc.


To summarize, there are three main areas that everyone responsible for students should remember to:

1) Identify hazards;

2) Notify all affected; and

3) Learn how to react in various situations.






Note: lists are in descending order of priority or severity.


During Business Hours


Hazardous Conditions


1.     Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) x2621

2.     Thomas Pitzer x1224

3.     Edilia Camps x2578

4.     Public Safety x2626


Medical Emergencies


1.     Emergency x2626

2.     Kendal Medical Center  227-5544

3.     Health Clinic x2401

4.     EHS x2621

5.     Thomas Pitzer x1224


After Business Hours


Hazardous Conditions


1.     Public Safety x2626

2.     Inform the above people during regular business hours.

Medical Emergencies


1.     Emergency x2626

2.     Inform the above people during normal business hours.


In all labs in our department, we will wear lab coats, safety glasses, and adequate clothing as specified in the “Safety Rules”.  This goes for instructors as well as students.


Force of Law—29 CFR 1910.132:  “Protective equipment including personal protective equipment (PPE) for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, …and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition …[for anything] capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.”


Section 240.227(l), Florida Statutes, University Policy.


“The University will administer a uniform procedure that will provide the appropriate level of medical care to FIU students, employees and visitors who become ill or injured and require emergency medical care.


Any individual who experiences or witnesses someone on campus in need of emergency medical care shall be referred to the University Police for initial response.


The University Police Department will provide initial response and assessment to determine the most appropriate immediate source of medical attention based upon the nature of the injury or illness.


The Student Health Clinic is authorized to provide care to students in emergency situations.


In life threatening situations, an employee may be transported to the nearest hospital for emergency medical treatment.


The Office of Personnel Relations shall be immediately notified of all incidents involving employees to assure appropriate Division of Risk Management Report of Injury reporting and referral to the contracted Workers' Compensation medical provider.


The Office of Environmental Health and Safety shall be notified of all incidents requiring emergency medical assistance.”




Emergency Procedures


All accidents, hazardous materials spills or other dangerous incidents should be reported. A list of telephone numbers must be posted near entrances to each laboratory and storeroom and beside every telephone in the labs


Primary Emergency Procedures for Fires, Spills and Accidents:


1. In the event of a fire, pull the nearest fire alarm. If you are unable to control or extinguish a fire, follow the building evacuation procedures.


2. Attend to any person(s) who may have been contaminated and/or injured if it is safe to reach them. Use safety showers and eyewashes as appropriate. In the case of eye contact, promptly flush eyes with water for a minimum 15-minute period and seek medical attention immediately. For ingestion cases, contact the Poison Control Center at 1-800-POISON1. In case of skin contact, promptly flush the affected area with water and remove any contaminated clothing or jewelry. If symptoms persist after washing, seek medical attention.


3. Notify persons in the immediate area about the spill, evacuating all non-essential personnel from the spill area and adjoining areas that may be impacted by vapors or a potential fire.


4. If the spilled material is flammable, turn off all potential ignition sources. Avoid breathing vapors of the spilled materials. Be aware that some materials either have no odors or create olfactory fatigue, so that you stop smelling the odor very quickly.


5. Leave on or establish exhaust ventilation if it is safe to do so. Close doors to slow down the spread of odors.


6. Notify the EHS or Public Safety.






If there is an immediate threat to life or health:


Call Public Safety for assistance with injured, in case of fire, or for performing rescues. Give the nature and the extent of the emergency; be as specific and detailed as possible. An ambulance, fire truck, or police vehicle will respond upon your request.


Notify EHS and other responsible parties when possible.


If the spill is minor:


7. Use a spill control kit appropriate to control material spilled, if appropriately trained to respond.


8. If the spill is minor and of known limited danger, clean up immediately. Determine the appropriate cleaning method by referring to the MSDS. During cleanup, wear appropriate protective apparel. The protective clothing required will depend upon the material spilled, the amount, and the airborne concentration. At a minimum, chemical resistant gloves and goggles should be worn.


9. Cover liquid spills with compatible absorbent material such as spill pillows or a kitty litter/vermiculite mix. Be sure to check compatibility. Powdered materials should be covered with wet paper towels (if compatible) to avoid dispersal. If appropriate materials are available, corrosives should be neutralized prior to absorption. Clean spills from the outer areas first, cleaning towards the center.


10. Place the spilled material into an impervious container, seal, and contact EHS for disposal.


11. If appropriate, wash the affected surface with soap and water. Mop up the residues and containerize for disposal.


12. A solvent, e.g. xylene, may be necessary to clean surfaces contaminated with a non-water soluble chemical. Be sure to check the solubility of the spilled material and use the least toxic effective solvent available. Be sure to wear appropriate protective equipment.


Supplies and equipment must be assembled and kept on hand to deal with any potential spill. The extent to which spill equipment is available depends on the chemicals, the process, and the personnel working in the lab. Assistance in assembling chemical spill control kits is available from the OEHS, Hazardous Materials Division, at 1-3511.



Special Procedures For Biological Hazards


1. Do not take any action unless you have been trained to respond, except to summon assistance.


2. Attend to anyone who may have been contaminated and/or injured if it is safe to reach them. Use safety showers and eyewashes as appropriate. Call Public Safety for assistance with injured, in case of fire, or for performing rescues. Describe the nature and the extent of the emergency; be as specific and detailed as possible. An ambulance, fire truck, or police vehicle will respond upon your request.


3. Notify other responsible parties when possible


4. Notify persons in the immediate area about the spill. Evacuate non-essential personnel from the spill area.


5. Leave the laboratory and close all doors to prevent re-entry.


6. If your clothing is contaminated, remove it and place it in a properly labeled impervious container. Avoid close contact with other people to prevent additional exposures. Take a shower.


7. Put on protective clothing and equipment.


8. Wait at least 30 minutes for the aerosol to settle before entering the contaminated room.


9. Apply appropriate disinfectant to the spill with a gentle flooding action to avoid secondary aerosols. Allow sufficient contact times.


10. Cover excess liquids with absorbent material. Dry material should be covered with wet paper towels to avoid dispersal.


11. Place the spill clean-up material into a container and autoclave it or call OEHS for disposal.


12. Wash the affected surface with strong disinfectant.


13. For a spill in a biological safety cabinet: clean immediately, keep the cabinet running, and use a chemical disinfectant such as bleach or alcohol and paper towels.


14. For a minimally hazardous material without aerosol, and in small volume: clean with paper towel soaked in a disinfectant.


Fire Prevention

·         No smoking

·         Eliminate accumulated paper and rubbish

·         Good Housekeeping is important.

·         Make sure all traffic ways are unobstructed.

·         Reports all defective wiring.

·         Heaters near chemicals or walls.

·         Turn off all unattended electrical equipment.

·         Keep water away from equipment.

Task 1a.  Look around the lab.  How does this lab fare considering the fire prevention list above?


  • All ratings are shown on the extinguisher faceplate.
  • Some extinguishers are marked with multiple ratings such as AB, BC and ABC. These extinguishers are capable of putting out more than one class of fire.
  • Class A and B extinguishers carry a numerical rating that indicates how large a fire an experienced person can safely put out with that extinguisher.
  • Class C extinguishers have only a letter rating to indicate that the extinguishing agent will not conduct electrical current.
  • Class C extinguishers must also carry a Class A or B rating
  • Class D extinguishers carry only a letter rating indicating their effectiveness on certain amounts of specific metals.


Task 1.  Fire Extinguishers

·        Find the first extinguisher for your lab.

·        What type of extinguisher is it?

Remember the acronym, "P.A.S.S."
P ......Pull the Pin.
A ......Aim the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the flames.
S ......Squeeze trigger while holding the extinguisher upright.
S ......Sweep the extinguisher from side to side, covering the area of the fire with the extinguishing agent.


  • Should your path of escape be threatened
  • Should the extinguisher run out of agent
  • Should the extinguisher prove to be ineffective
  • Should you no longer be able to safely fight the fire


 Task 2.

·         What type of extinguisher is the one for your lab?  What is it useful for?

·         Have each member of your group practice PASS with the fire extinguisher.




University Building Evacuation Procedures

Florida International University has adopted a "no nonsense" approach to fire alarm response University-wide, and in doing so has instituted internal policies and procedures to support a Zero Tolerance Fire Alarm Response Program.

The continuous ringing of the fire alarm is the evacuation signal for all types of emergencies. All building occupants must respond to the sound of the alarm by immediately initiating evacuation procedures, as follows:

  1. Complete internal departmental or class evacuation procedures


Task 3.  Where is the evacuation procedure for your lab?  Find it and follow it.

  1. Follow EXIT signs to the nearest safe exit. Do not use the elevators! All types of footwear that may hamper descent, such as high heels and clogs, should be removed
  2. The Safety Warden must assure that everyone, including individuals with mobility impairments, have evacuated the area

Note: Evacuation plans for persons with disabilities must be made part of each department’s documented emergency evacuation procedures.

  1. Walk down stairs. Do Not Run!
  2. As you approach the landing of each floor allow evacuees from that level to enter the stairwell
  3. If evacuation becomes difficult because of smoke, flames or blockage, re-enter the building, but first, assure that the floor on which you re-enter is safe. Continue evacuation via the nearest safe stairwell
  4. Once you have exited the building proceed to your designated Evacuation Assembly Area
  5. Do not re-enter the building unless authorized by a Public Safety Officer, fire department personnel, or until a recognized University authority broadcasts the "All Clear" directive


In case of fire emergencies:

1.     Try to be as calm as possible as your reaction will translate over to the students.

2.     You and your students should: STAY LOW AND GO!

3.     If you or a student is on fire: STOP, DROP, AND ROLL.


 Proper Lab Hygiene To Prevent Accidents


Task 4. What are some possible accidents that may occur in a common biology lab? 

·        What may cause such accidents?

·        Look around your teaching lab and see if you can identify possible accident issues.


Proper lab hygiene includes the following:


  1. No Smoking—I mean, come on.
  2. Eliminate accumulated paper and rubbish.
  3. Do not obstruct passageways and exits.
  4. Inspect for and replace poor wiring or overloaded sockets
  5. Do not use space heaters.
  6. Turn off electrical equipment when not in use.
  7. Keep water away from equipment.



Task 1.  Basics about fume hoods

·      Identify the structures of the hood in the lab.

·      What is a fume hood used for? 

·      What procedures are done here?

 Description: Description: Description: fire_p1


·        Evaluate our hood and the things inside it with the following SOP.

Standard Operating Procedures

  • Confirm that the hood is operational. If fitted with a local on/off switch, make sure the switch is in the "on" position; check the air flow gauge if so equipped. In the absence of a gauge, observe the plastic "flow check ribbon" taped to the lower corner of the sash. Air flow can be visually assessed by noting that the ribbon is pulled gently into the hood. The most recent hood test data and optimum sash height are indicated on the yellow label affixed to the hood face. Never work with a malfunctioning hood; report problem hoods to Phyiscal Plant and EHS
  • Maintain operations at least 6" inside the hood face. Barricade tape can be attached to the work surface to serve as a visual reminder.
  • Lower sash to optimum height. Optimum height is the sash height at which air flow is maximized without creating turbulence, generally 100 feet per minute. A yellow label placed on the hood face indicates the most recently recommended sash height. [This does not apply to variable volume fume hoods- Baxter Research Building.] With unattended or potentially explosive processes, conduct the operation behind a lowered sash or safety shield.
  • Keep head out of hood except when installing and dismantling equipment.
  • Keep hood storage to an absolute minimum. Keep only items needed for the ongoing operation inside the hood. Keep the back bottom slot clear at all times as it serves as an exhaust port for fumes generated near the work surface. Raise large objects at least two inches off the hood surface to minimize air flow disruption.
  • Minimize foot traffic around the fume hood. A person walking past a fume hood can create competing currents at the hood face, causing vapors to flow out. Other sources of competing air currents such as open windows and fans should also be avoided while using a fume hood.
  • Keep doors in the lab closed during operations and minimize traffic into and out of the lab.
  • Use extreme caution with ignition sources inside a fume hood. Ignition sources such as electrical connections and open flame can be used inside a fume hood as long as there are no operations involving flammable or explosive vapors. If possible, ignition sources should remain outside the hood at all times.
  • Replace hood components prior to use. Every component of a fume hood, whether airfoil, baffle, or sash, plays a vital role in preventing the escape of hazardous materials from the hood. Any hood components removed to conduct maintenance or repair activities, or to set up experimental apparatus must be replaced prior to using the hood for contaminant control.







Sexual Harassment


The entire official University policy on sexual harassment can be found in the “Student Handbook” or in the pamphlet “Policy to Prohibit Sexual Harassment” available from the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP), PC 215, 348-2785.  The EOP states the following concerning the nature of sexual harassment:


Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which implies failure to cooperate will threaten one’s employment or academic career, or which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment which affects one’s performance.  Harassing behaviors include:  unwelcome physical contact; overt or implied threats to induce cooperation in provision of sexual favors; verbal harassment of a sexual nature, whether intimidation or remarks of a sexual nature; use of sexually suggestive terms or gestures to describe a person; display of offensive sexually suggestive pictures or material.


Issues involving the interrelationship of instructors and students are important for many reasons.  A great deal of the national litigation involved in sexual harassment cases springs from seemingly amicable relationships at this level.  Additionally, there are numerous complications and conflicts of interest arising from such liaisons which could compromise teaching and efficient operation of various aspects of the department.  The policy of the University and the department is that relationships outside of the classroom are STRONGLY discouraged.  The following is taken directly from the University’s policy on sexual harassment:


The University discourages employee/student and supervisor/employer involvement in amorous relationships.  Such relationships, even though ostensibly consensual, can be exploitive, can involve inherent conflicts of interest, and can imperial the integrity of the educational process.  Sexual harassment of a student or employee within such a relationship is a violation of University rules and, therefore, grounds for disciplinary action.


It is hard to get around the fact that student-teacher relationships involve power.  It is this aspect which can create problems later.  Because the teacher is seen as being in a position of power and authority, almost any claim of sexual harassment can be bolstered with the position that the teacher wielded an unspoken power due to the authority over the student.  Relationships may seem completely amicable, egalitarian, and voluntary at first, but allegations of sexual harassment can show up later with little but the teacher’s word to support his/her position.   


Although the amount of actual litigation from our University is small, there has been an increasing amount of complaints against adjuncts and Teaching Assistants.  It is only a matter of time before these incidents starts showing up in our district courts.  The law recognizes two forms of sexual harassment.  One is harassment per se.  This is direct, overt, non-qualified sexual harassment and include such things as direct attack, unwanted physical advances, and insinuation of grade for sex (“this for that”, quid pro quo).  The other concerns a “hostile environment”.  Here, no direct connection between sex and instruction need be proven.  All that is required is an on-going and pervasive circumstance which a reasonable person would find offensive.  One can see the implication of the second form.  Attitude and self-control are key elements when considering how one should act as an instructor toward students.  First, if you are questioning whether something may be offensive, the chances are good that it is.  Second, ask yourself if you would want someone very close to you (perhaps immediate family) to hear, see, or be involved with the same situation.

So then, what are some ways you can keep yourself above reproach in this matter?  Here are some suggestions:


1.     Monitor your language for leading or offensive material;

2.     Evaluate your level of attention both in and out of class;

3.     Evaluate your manner of attention both in and out of class;

4.     Just do not touch;

5.     Inform the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs when ANY situation may seem to have compromised you or any of your students.  Having a situation recorded quickly can save your…reputation.


How to Deal With Disruptive, Inappropriate, or Threatening Behavior in Class

According to the FIU’s Statement of Philosophy “is the responsibility of the University responsibility to provide a stimulating environment in which scholarship and personal growth may occur.” (FIU Student Handbook 2007-208, page 10). As a TA, you have the right and the obligation to establish and keep a harmonic environment where academic excellence can be achieved. No instructor will ever be negatively affected by reporting behavior problems.


What is disruptive behavior? (FIU Student Handbook 2007-208, page 14)

Behavior that disrupts, disturbs, impairs, interferes with or obstructs the orderly conduct, processes, and functions within the classroom or laboratory. This includes interfering with the academic mission of the University or individual classroom or interfering with a faculty member or instructor’s role to carry out the normal academic or educational functions of his/her classroom laboratory.


What is Harassment?

1. Conduct, not of a sexual nature, (including, but not limited to, physical contact, verbal, graphic, written or electronic communication) that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for another person or group.

2. Conduct, not of a sexual nature, (including, but not limited to, physical contact, verbal, graphic, written or electronic communication) that threatens, harms or intimidates another person or group.


 What is Sexual Misconduct? (FIU Student Handbook 2007-208, page 16)

1. Any sexual act that occurs, regardless of personal relationship, without the consent of the other person, or that occurs when the other person is unable to give consent.

2. Obscene or indecent behavior, which includes, but is not limited to, exposure of one’s sexual organs or the display of sexual behavior that would reasonably be offensive to others.

3. Conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive campus, educational, or working environment for another person. This includes unwanted, unwelcome, inappropriate, or irrelevant sexual or gender-based activities, comments or gestures.


What is Stalking? (FIU Student Handbook 2007-208, page 16).

1.Stalking is defined as activities occurring on more than one occasion that  collectively instill fear in the victim and/or threaten his or her safety, mental health, or physical health. Such behaviors and activities may include, but are not limited to, the following:

•Nonconsensual communication, including face-to-face, telephone calls, voice messages, electronic mail, written letters/notes, unwanted gifts, etc.

• Threatening or obscene gestures, • Pursuing or following, • Surveillance or other types of observation, • Trespassing, • Vandalism, • Nonconsensual touching• Contacting a person after a sanction prohibiting contact with that person.  This includes verbal, written or third party communication, or physical contact.

2. Other violations of stalking laws as outlined in Section 784.048 Florida Statutes.               


What to do?


You need to make everybody aware that kind of behavior is not acceptable in class.  Laboratory rules and expectations must be clearly and strongly articulated to students at the very first class meeting. When inappropriate behavior occurs, it must be confronted in a manner which leads to the positive growth and development of those involved in the process whenever possible.


First and foremost, when you have a significant problem (as you determine it is significant), let your supervisors know about it ASAP.  Even if you feel like you are in control or would like to try to regain control on your own, it is very important that you let us know.  If anything happens later, you will have documented that a potential problem exists.


1)     Explain the consequences of the disruptive behavior:

-        If it is a hazardous conduct, explain the class why it could be harm. You need also to make emphasis that students need to follow laboratory safety rules all the time.

-        If is a violation of the laboratory rules, (wear lab coats, long pants, closed shoes), explain to your class that appropriate wear is meant to protect students against potential hazardous situations.

-        If students complain about particular rules of the lab that are stated in the syllabus, explain that the rules of the syllabus are not subject to negotiation and if they feel there are unfair in any way they can either drop the class and take another one or direct their comments in writing to either the Head TA or the TA coordinator.


2)     Judge the safety of the situation:

-        If the student is aggressive, tell him/her to calm down. By no means allow students to complain all at ones at your desk. Tell them that if they want to discuss any issue, they have to go back to their sits and that you will discuss the issue with each of them at a time.

-        If you feel that the situation is unmanageable, you can call Public Safety at 305-348-5911, and they will dispatch an officer to the classroom immediately to remove a disruptive student.  It is a good idea to keep this number on speed-dial in your cell phones for safety. Contrary to common opinion, it does not take a threat of physical violence to have a public safety officer remove a student from a classroom.  ANY disruptive behavior is a violation of university guidelines and is grounds for having the offending student removed from the classroom by a Public Safety officer.  

Report the incident:

-        A report will be filed if Police remove a disruptive student. However, you also need to complete an incident report form (available at http://www.fiu.edu/~sccr/faculty.htm) and give it to you Head TA or TA coordinator.


3)     Follow up:

-        Report to your Head TA or TA coordinator immediately if the incident is repeated again.



What to do if the behavior is recurrent?

As mentioned before, let you supervisor(s) know.  You need to make your students understand as early as possible that disruptive behavior is not going to be tolerated in class. After students see some examples of consequences due to disruptive behavior (i.e. class participation point reduction, not allowing students to continue in the lab without proper ware, etc), generally students will stop misbehaving.  You need to talk to your TA coordinator or other supervisor to discuss the possibility of official report of the conduct through the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution.



Complains through the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict might lead to disciplinary actions that range from letters of reprimand up to expulsion from the University (For more information, refer to Section 13, pages 24-26)


Where to find more information?

You can find a good source of information at http://www.fiu.edu/~sccr/faculty.htm

In this website you can find the Student Code of Conduct, Student Code of Standards, a guide about Dealing with Disruptive Students (pdf.). 


Also, you can obtain a copy of the Florida International University Student Handbook at the Office of Campus Life at GC 2240.



Useful links:


The Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution address behavioral misconduct in and outside the classroom environment. http://www.fiu.edu/~sccr/

The Office of Academic Affairs addresses issues of academic misconduct http://academic.fiu.edu/

The Office of Equal Opportunity Programs addresses sexual harassment and discrimination issues. http://fiu.edu/hr/eop/Home.html


Animals in Research and Teaching





I.                  Animal Care and Use Policy

a.     General

                                                            i.      All activities, teaching or research, funded or non-funded, using live vertebrate animals or tissues.

                                                          ii.      AWA, USDA, and PHS

                                                          iii.      Reporting deviations

b.    Specific

                                                              i.      Fish, birds, mammals, amphibians/reptiles,


II.               Protocol Review

a.      Fundamental Issues


Key to Pain /Distress Categories (Q VII D)

Category B - Animals are being "bred, conditioned, or held for use in teaching testing, experiments, research, or surgery but not yet used for such purposes"

Category C - Procedures involving no pain or distress or requiring no use of pain relieving drugs. Euthanasia is performed in accordance with the recommendations of the AVMA report on Euthanasia.  these are routine procedures such as blood sampling, tattooing, and injections. Polyclonal antibody production and procedures involving administration of an anesthetic, analgesic or tranquilizing drug to an animal for short term restraint purposes to perform a procedure that involves no pain or distress may be considered level C.


Category D - Alleviated pain. Procedures involving pain or distress for which appropriate anesthetic, analgesic, or tranquilizing drugs were given. In addition, terminal surgical procedures in which the animals are euthanized before recovering from anesthesia are considered level D.


Category E - Unalleviated pain. Procedures involving pain or distress but for which appropriate anesthetic, analgesics, or tranquilizing drugs would have affected the procedures, results, or interpretation of the results. An explanation of these procedures and reasons why appropriate drugs were not used must be justified in the Animal Care and Use Protocol.


b.    Criteria

                                                              i.      Alternatives

Definition of Alternatives

Alternatives refer to methods or approaches which result in refinement of procedures which lessen pain and/or distress; reduction in numbers of animals required; or replacement of animals with non-whole-animal systems or replacement of one animal species with another, particularly if the substituted species is non-mammalian or invertebrate.


                                                            ii.      Euthanasia

                                                          iii.      Humane Endpoints

                                                         iv.      Minimization of Pain and Distress

                                                           v.      Personnel Qualifications

                                                         vi.      Veterinary Review and Consultation


Considerations before you begin animal research:


        Take the online training.  We should receive a copy of your training certificate before we will review a protocol.

        If any part of your research will utilize the Animal Care Facility, contact the Animal Care Supervisor, Ms. Carolina Wong for specific information and training.  Proof of communication with the Supervisor is required before protocol review.

·         Fill-out the appropriate protocol application.  Remember we need a paper AND an email submission for protocol review.

        If there are any procedures requiring special medical training/consideration, contact the FIU Attending Veterinarian (Dr. Joseph Wagner) for specific information and training.  Proof of communication and, possibly, training are required for protocol review.


III.           Record keeping and Communications


Federal regulations require that faculty, staff, and students at Florida International  University who use live vertebrate animals in their teaching or research must conform  to applicable regulations and policies that govern animal care and use on the campus.  These procedures address the acquisition of animals, their transportation, use and care,  efforts to minimize pain and distress, consideration of alternatives to the use of animals,  and training of personnel. 


What is an IACUC?


Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.  All institutions involved with vertebrate research are required by federal law to have an IACUC and their activities are governed by law.


Why do I have to apply for animal use approval in the first place?


Because the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA, and PSA require it.


What animals are covered?


All vertebrate animals, all of them.


What activities are covered?


All of them.  There are cases where a protocol for research that does not affect an animal in any way will be exempt.


What is the time period for the review of a proposal?

All full reviews, which include new proposals, annual and three-year review, and protocol changes, require application submission by the 15th of each month for consideration the following month.

All minor protocol changes, including changes in the title, funding source, personnel, housing, animals numbers 10% less than the number originally approved, and animal source (provided the new source is either from a PSU IACUC approved protocol or approved vendor) will be reviewed individually by an IACUC committee member for possible fast approval.

 Who is required to complete the IACUC Basic Educational Seminar?

All individuals, including faculty, staff, technicians and students, working with animals in activities.

Who do I contact regarding the housing of animals?

The animal care coordinator, Carol; 305-348-7408

When am I required to submit to the IACUC?

Prior to doing any work, getting any form of approval, or applying for grant funding.

When should a protocol change be submitted to the IACUC?

All protocol changes, no matter how minor, must be submitted to the IACUC for review and approval prior to the change being implemented.

Does the approval of a protocol change extend the original approval date?

No. The approval expiration date is the same as originally approved or renewed.

How do I renew my project for continued approval?

Submit “form B” for IACUC consideration eight weeks before the approval expiration date.

Where can I obtain the IACUC Application Form?

All applications, policies, and information regarding University animal use can be found at the DSRT IACUC web page: http://id.fiu.edu/projects/dsrt/animal/procedures.htm

Who do I need to contact to order laboratory animals?

The Animal Resources Program (ARP) can be contacted at 865-1495 for the purchase of laboratory animals.

Why do I have to conduct a literature search for alternatives?

According to Animal Welfare Act, Policy 12, animal procedures require a literature search for alternatives.

If I conduct a literature search for alternatives, what information do I need to submit to the IACUC about my search results?

A minimal written narrative must include:

  • databases searched or other sources consulted;
  • the date the search was conducted;
  • the years covered by the search, and;
  • the keywords and/or search strategy used.

The narrative should be such that the IACUC can readily assess whether the search topics were appropriate and whether the search was sufficiently thorough.

What do I do if my protocol expires or is withdrawn from consideration?

If a protocol expires or is withdrawn from consideration, a new IACUC Application will need to be submitted for review and approval by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Federal regulations indicate that approval can only be granted for a one-year period. The Principal Investigator is responsible for ensuring that his/her approval does not lapse.


How could my protocol expire or be withdrawn from consideration?

A protocol will expire if the PI does not return his/her annual renewal form. If the PI returns his/her annual renewal form after the expiration date, the AR form cannot be accepted. A new IACUC Application will need to be submitted for review and approval by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.  

A protocol will be withdrawn from consideration either at the PI's request or if the PI fails to respond to two requests for additional information. In either case, a new IACUC Application will need to be submitted for review and approval by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.


How do I report an animal concern?

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) has the responsibility for ensuring that all animals used in research, education, or testing activities at FIU are treated humanely and in accordance with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Concerns or questions related to projects involving animals conducted at or under the auspices of the University can be directed to the IACUC committee via the chair (pitzert@fiu.edu; 305-348-1224) or the FIU compliance officer, Chris Grayson (graysonc@fiu.edu ; 305-348-2494). The matter will be referred to the IACUC chairperson, the attending veterinarian, and if appropriate, the IACUC. These concerns or questions will be handled confidentially. Federal law prohibits the discrimination against persons that bring forth legitimate concerns for investigation.