MSA Educator Spotlight: Marin Brewer
Interviewed by a member of the MSA Education Committee
Dr. Brewer’s course activity “Fungi Day” can be found on the MSA website.
- What is your name and how long have you been teaching Mycology?
My name is Marin Brewer. This is my 12th year teaching Mycology and Fungi, Friends, and Foes at the University of Georgia.
- What is the title of your Mycology-focused course and what is the level of your course?
I teach two Mycology-focused courses: Mycology and Fungi, Friends and Foes. Mycology includes two laboratory sections and covers the diversity of fungi while providing a basic understanding of their biology, ecology, genetics, morphology, and taxonomy. This course is for upper-level life science majors and graduate students. There are usually around forty students enrolled in this course every fall semester. Fungi, Friends and Foes is a very popular course at the University of Georgia on the impact of fungi on human civilization. This course is a science elective for undergraduate majors and non-majors that I teach every spring semester. In-person enrollment is limited to about 360 students since this is the maximum capacity of our lecture halls, but when the course was online enrollment was nearly 500 students!
- What is your favorite activity taught in this course and what is the goal of this activity?
I really enjoy the fungal collection and fungal cultivation activities in Mycology, but a more recent favorite activity is “Fungi Day*” in Fungi, Friends and Foes. I developed this activity when, due to the pandemic, I was not able to hold our twice per semester lab demonstrations for the class, which were really useful for providing the 350 to 500 students an opportunity to see the fungi and fungal products discussed in class. I wanted the students to actively engage with fungi in the world around them, so to replace the lab demos I came up with “Fungi Day” where on two different days during the semester students pick one of three activities: 1) find a fungus in nature, identify it using the Seek app by iNaturalist and decide if the identification seems accurate; 2) cook a dish with a store-bought fungus or fungal product; or 3) read and discuss a research paper about fungi. Depending on the activity the students will answer several questions about their activity and submit the answers online. The TAs and I read all of the responses and select several of our favorite fungal identifications, fungal feasts, or fungal research studies to share with the class. It is difficult to implement and especially to assess engaging activities for students in a course this large, but “Fungi Day” works very well for getting students out in nature interacting with fungi, in the home interacting with fungi or learning about fungal research, and even more importantly sharing what they were learning with friends and family! The students enjoyed and learned from the activity so much that I have continued to have “Fungi Days” as part of the course because it is even more engaging than the lab demonstrations and gets students actively interacting with fungi in the world around them.
- How is this activity assessed (exam, essay rubric, other)? In other words, how do you know if it’s effective?
The students submit their responses to the questions that correspond to the activity they selected for “Fungi Days”. They receive credit for completing the activity and submitting their responses. The goal of the assignment is for the students to engage with fungi so if they complete the activity, it is a success. Feedback from students on “Fungi Days” is overwhelmingly positive on student course evaluations. Many students report that they really enjoyed the activity and now see fungi everywhere in the world around them and are eager to share what they have learned about fungi with friends and family!
- What advice would you give to someone who is new to teaching a mycology-focused course or who is looking to update their previously taught mycology-focused course?
I recommend including as many active learning activities as possible. This is definitely much easier to implement in smaller courses with labs, but also important for large-enrollment lecture courses. I want students to retain what they have learned so I recommend focusing more on teaching concepts through activities rather than focusing on memorization of terms and jargon that students will likely forget three months or even days after the test. I continually review the learning objectives for each module of my courses and create as many engaging activities as possible for students to effectively learn about fungi.