Learning with Dinosaurs? Jurassic Park and Engaged Learning at Florida Southern College

Oct 11, 2021

by FSC Staff

Chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, an inflatable T-Rex costume, and student club booths run by archaeologists and scientists – welcome to the Jurassic Period at Florida Southern College!

For the third year in a row, Florida Southern brought a large portion of its incoming freshmen learning communities together for an engaged, student-driven learning experience. Students from the biology, psychology, computer science, education, communications, and business first-year learning communities gathered under white-top tents outside of Branscomb Auditorium to eat dino-themed snacks and check out each other’s costumes before making their way inside to chat with different student club representatives and settle in for a screening of the Hollywood blockbuster Jurassic Park.

Student clubs present at the event ran the gamut from the Conservation Club, to the Computer Science Club, to the Enactus Entrepreneurship Club. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors eagerly pitched their clubs to new students, making arguments for how their club fit with the Jurassic Park theme.

Celeste Rosendale ’22, a computer science major, asserted, “Computer science is the framework that makes every event in the movie – from sequencing genomes to reproducing dinosaurs to running park hardware like incubators, gates, and cages – possible!” Brooke Robinson ’23, a business major, passionately contended that the Enactus student club belonged at the event by pointing out that the entire premise of the movie is a (failed) entrepreneurial venture.

The students’ excitement was palpable in the room as they mingled and talked about different club opportunities at FSC.

FSC students exploring student club booths.

The movie screening, preceded by a student costume contest, was the first half of a larger engaged learning project for the first-year student learning communities. After the movie, the students from the six learning community disciplines spent a week considering questions that related their fields of study to the plot of Jurassic Park. The students then gathered again on Zoom to discuss their questions in interdisciplinary discussion groups led by FSC faculty, peer mentors, and senior students before presenting their toughest and most intriguing questions to a faculty panel for a Q&A session.

The engaged learning event aims to help FSC students experience the skills, practices, and information from their chosen fields. The students practice interdisciplinary dialogue as they tackle questions, problems, and theories concerning a topic, such as Jurassic Park, that they find compelling. The event gives students agency in the learning and problem-solving process by drawing them together for the movie screening and then gathering students into small groups to brainstorm and answers questions that grow out of the film.

Dr. Susan Banks, assistant professor of biology and the event’s faculty coordinator, discussed how the kernel of an idea for drawing multiple FSC learning communities together came out of a pedagogical conference that a few members of the FSC faculty attended together.

Upperclassmen and first year students chatting about the Marine Biology Honors Society.

“As we sat in the airport after the conference, waiting on the plane for the ride home, a few of us began discussing the possibility of pulling together multiple learning communities from various disciplines to drive students to practice engaged, interdisciplinary learning,” Dr. Banks said.  “That discussion grew into this annual engaged learning event, which has turned out to be a powerful way to get students talking across disciplines. The dialogue enables students to practice the methods of their specific disciplines and function as ‘experts’ for their peers.”

Both students and faculty praised the event for the stimulating conversations that took place in small groups and the faculty Q&A. The student focus groups, drawing together a diverse array of students majoring in fields such as business marketing, marine biology, political science, and psychology, presented thought provoking questions to the faculty panel, from “Crisis Communication Plans include preparation and prevention planning, how could Hammond’s team have better prepared for this worst case scenario?” to “Given that all of the dinosaurs are female, and the fact that the primary heroines of the movie are female, can Jurassic Park be viewed as a feminist movie?”

The faculty panel praised the students’ wide-ranging and insightful questions.

FSC students gathering outside of Branscomb in preparation for the costume contest.

“I am so thankful for all of your amazing questions, questions that I did not and would not have thought of,” Dr. Nancy Morvillo said to the assembled students. Dr. Morvillo, chair of the biology department, continued, “My lens is biology, my lens is the sciences, and so I am excited to think outside of those lenses with you all and your questions from other disciplines.”

Sophi Brice ’25, a marine biology and environmental studies double major, expressed how important and enjoyable it was for her to learn from her classmates while also seeing the faculty interact and tackle complex issues together.

 

“I really enjoyed the small group discussion because it allowed me to connect with other students in different majors to share our unique perspectives on the discussion questions,” Brice said. “The faculty panel was also great for hearing from professionals in various concentrations about how their line of work related to topics discussed in the movie.  Of course, it was also super fun just to hear the professors joke around with each other and to get a break from stress by watching a fun movie and thinking about the interesting concepts within it.”

Students enjoyed the freedom that they were given in developing and discussing questions, as well as practicing their disciplines in groups. Working together on a project that genuinely interested them encouraged students to explore their own fields and learn from other student-scholars.

“I thought that it was wonderful to be able to talk about the different aspects of the film from all sorts of different perspectives,” said Molly Kennedy ’25, a marine biology major. “I can get really caught up in science, and honestly it can be a little exhausting always taking that perspective. It was nice to step back and consider business models, ethics, computer science, and psychology for a change. I think that activities like watching Jurassic Park and then having formal discussions about the film make coming to college a much more enjoyable experience. The event really help remind me why I chose to major in STEM in the first place: because science interests me deeply and makes me happy.”

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