‘Citizen Scientists’

By Joe Halpern ’82, September 17, 2020
Biology professor preps IC students for future health crises.

David Gondek, associate professor of biology at Ithaca College, has two main teaching goals this semester:

  1. He wants students in his Communicating Biology class to learn how scientists can more effectively communicate their findings to the general public.
  2. He wants students in his Plagues and People class to become what he calls “citizen scientists” to better prepare us all for another potential global health crisis.

“Covid-19 is a major challenge, but it is something we can figure out how to deal with by thinking creatively.”

David Gondek, associate professor of biology

Gondek is confident he has come up with the remote teaching plan to achieve both of these goals. He’s using a “choose your own adventure” type of practice in his virtual classes that matches assessment options to students’ strengths in showing what they’ve learned. As a result his students will be given more flexibility and be able to choose how they present their progress; whether it’s taking a test or submitting an essay or presentation. His students can also choose to create a public service announcement as a way of demonstrating their understanding of their coursework. In addition, Gondek is giving his students in the Plagues and People class the option of putting together fully illustrated children’s books that will present complicated science problems in an easy to comprehend format.

David Gondek headshot

                              David Gondek, Associate Professor of Biology

Gondek, who has taught at IC since 2011, plans to take full advantage of Zoom technology to break out his classes into smaller groups to encourage student discussions, debates and participation. He’s particularly excited about teaching the Plagues and People course for the first time ever at the college. The timely course, as explained by Gondek, will be a blend of history and biology and focus on how plagues throughout recorded human history — from ancient pandemics right up to Covid-19 — have made a social, political and economic impact on populations.

“As scientists we face challenges and then are asked to go in and fix the problem. Covid-19 is a major challenge, but it is something we can figure out how to deal with by thinking creatively,” says Gondek, who is on the college's 17-member Public Health Task Force, which includes a 6-member Health and Safety Advisory Group, of which he is also a member.