March 15, 2019

Miriam Rosin meets the Instagram generation

Miriam Rosin wondered how her students would respond to a visually based course design. Extremely well, it turned out.

For the Instagram generation, communication is often about images more than words.

Miriam Rosin has capitalized on that observation by translating her course content into a language her students understand: pictures.

Rosin is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology and director of the BC Oral Cancer Prevention Program at the BC Cancer Agency. In Spring 2018, she redesigned BPK 431: Integrative Cancer Biology by replacing the text-based conceptual framework with a more visual one (pictured below). She also revamped her lecture notes by replacing words with icons.

“My students communicate through visuals, and they learn that way, so I wanted to tap into that.”

This visual representation of Rosin's fourth-year course replaced the previous text-based conceptual framework.

A learning framework that encourages students to play with ideas

Rosin explains that her aim was to help students understand course concepts at both the micro and macro levels.

“The goal of using the icons was to turn the content into bite-sized pieces that they could then play with, while providing a framework that they can use to ground their knowledge. If I teach them everything all at once, it’s like they just memorize the storyboard, but if I break it down into small, bite-sized chunks, then they can play with them and create new knowledge.”

Videos, flipbooks and memes, oh my

Students were invited to submit visual assignments, such as infographics, videos, memes and flipbooks, throughout the course. The visual emphasis was reflected even in final assessments.

“I used icons in the exam and asked them to fill in the blanks—for example, to identify which components fit with which process. One student said it was the first time they had enjoyed an exam.”

Rosin emphasizes that in today’s information-rich era, teaching approaches that encourage students to move beyond memorizing information to developing the skills to process it are crucial.

“We live in a time where there is so much information, the challenge now is equipping students with the skills to knit it together to tell a story. We have to give them creative frameworks to do that, and that means moving beyond the classic textbook format.” 

It takes a village

Rosin credits her teaching assistant, Sneha Ralli, with helping make her vision a reality.

“Sneha really helped me make this approach work, serving as a sounding board and contributing ideas on how to tailor activities and make them work in actual practice. As a millennial herself, she was a bridge to the students.”

She also acknowledges the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Going Visual II workshop for equipping her with the skills to develop her new conceptual framework.

Even with these supports, Rosin cautions that the transformation was a substantial amount of work.

“I probably spent about 30 hours translating course concepts into icons that I thought would be universally understood.”  

However, she feels that the results were well worth the effort. 

“There was such a strong level of engagement between the students and I that it made it feel like I was running a directed study with each one of them. But I think the real evidence of success for me came when I invited a guest lecturer in to talk about a cancer treatment. The quality of thought reflected in the questions they posed to her was higher than anything I had ever seen.”

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