Chris Felege breathes new life into biology courses with student-centered approach


Amy Halvorson

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Chris Felege breathes new life into biology courses with student-centered approach

University of North Dakota biology instructor Chris Felege is shaking things up by "flipping" his classroom.

While teaching Concepts of Biology, Felege tries to enhance student comprehension by using the Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Program, otherwise called a SCALE-UP classroom. The SCALE-UP classroom is made up of small tables to encourage active participation and group work. Traditionally, students come to a classroom and listen to lecture and do homework at home, whereas in the "flipped classroom," they come to class, do homework, and listen to lectures posted online.

Felege believes that the lab and lecture portions link together much better with the flipped classroom.

In the future, Felege thinks teaching styles will continue to adapt to fit the SCALE-UP room, and there will be a move towards actively engaging students. The flipped classroom style helps instructors confront the idea of traditional pedagogy, which is how to teach with reflection and asking the question "how did I come to know this." It also helps instructors construct a better environment for students to build their knowledge and skills.

Felege views education as an investment ? the more one puts into it, the more one gets out of it. The key to teaching is demonstrating to your students that you are genuinely invested in their success.

On Day One classes, he has everyone fill out a 3x5 inch note card with their name, e-mail and three things about them. Felege then makes it his goal to know everyone's first name and at least one thing about each student by the end of the semester.

"If I can get kids to come to class and be engaged, I can teach them," said Felege. "Knowing (the students) names helps develop that responsibility or ownership on their behalf."

One of the most challenging things Felege faces when teaching is maintaining consistency in his enthusiasm. As many instructors can probably agree, there are some things that need to be taught that the instructors are more or less passionate about.

"If students pick up on the instructor not being as excited about a certain topic, you're dead in the water," said Felege.

To help with this problem, Felege takes a page out of Ken Bain's book, What the Best College Teachers Do, and asks himself "Who gives a damn?" He then focuses his class on the answer to that question and why students should care about the particular topic.

Felege believes many students tend to feel that everyone in science is out to convert them into science lovers. Felege's said his goal as an instructor is to get his students to hate science a little less and see the practical value of it.

Prior to teaching at UND, Felege had been a high school teacher. However, he has had no problem switching to teaching college students and excelling as an instructor. In the three years since Felege joined UND, he has been nominated three times for the UND Foundation/McDermott Faculty Award for Individual Excellence in Teaching, and this year, he won it.

"I love it when they ask for a reference and then come back and say they got the job," Felege said. "I love seeing students going on to succeed."

Amy Halvorson University & Public Affairs student writer

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