Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Janet Fischer

Questions for Janet Fischer

Janet Fischer is an Associate Professor of Biology at Franklin & Marshall College.


With a background in aquatic community ecology, Janet Fischer specializes in the ecology of alpine lakes. Janet, her husband/collaborator Mark Olson, and F&M students are studying the effects of climate change on lakes in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  She teaches Bio 110 (Principles of Evolution, Ecology, and Heredity) and Bio 323 (Concepts and Applications of Ecology).

In Spring 2012, Janet shifted the format of peer evaluation of student presentations in Bio 323 from hand written to digital. The new approach generated anonymous feedback and eliminated illegible hand written notes. Google Apps for Education provided the platform to accomplish this goal. This too, fits well in the College's sustainability program.

How have developments in technology over the years that you have been teaching impacted the way that you teach?

Most importantly, technology has helped me bring biology to life for my students. I am now able to include beautiful photos and short video clips in my lectures to illustrate the concepts I am trying to convey. Honestly, the days of delivering lectures using black and white overheads seem like eons ago.

In addition, I use Blackboard to make announcements, check student understanding with automatically graded quizzes, and organize my gradebook in a manner that is accessible by individual students. Finally, I have starting asking students to submit their papers electronically as MS Word documents. I find that this approach allows me to give students more detailed feedback on their writing. Although some comments are specific to particular students, others are more general such that one explanation can be inserted efficiently (i.e., cut and pasted) into many student papers.

In Spring 2012, you utilized Google Apps (Google Docs, Google Forms) in your classroom. Could you describe this approach and your experiences? How did this impact teaching and learning in your classroom?

Last semester [Spring 2012], I used Google forms in my upper-level ecology class to gather peer feedback during student oral presentations. At the end of each presentation, all students were asked to (anonymously) give the presenter a score between 1 and 5 and provide comments that he/she could use to improve the project as it progressed to the next stage. I was able to export the scores and comments to Excel and efficiently prepare individual files to distribute to students in less than 1 hour. Needless to say, this approach was a vast improvement over individually transcribing all of the written comments in order to maintain anonymity!

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Janet Fischer and her ecology class on a field trip to Lacawac Sanctuary in the Poconos.

Looking ahead five to ten years, what is your outlook on how technology may continue to transform education?

Technology is a powerful tool that can be used to excite and motivate students to learn, to communicate with one another, and also to increase the efficiency of some aspects of our work as professors.

At the same time, I hope that the next generation of students will find opportunities to disconnect from technology and sit alone in quiet spaces where they can grapple with complex information and problems. Those moments where a new idea or understanding emerges bring a kind of joy that Google will never deliver.

"The days of delivering lectures using black and white overheads seem like eons ago."