One semester, as K-State entomology students were getting ready for their class, they discovered that right in front of them, their professor Jeremy Marshall had turned into a giant bug.
No, this wasn’t some sort of Kafkaesque sci-fi moment. It was actually a little funny — Marshall had recorded a video of himself, in a bee costume, complete with yellow tutu, “waggling” around the K-State quad looking for bee food.
The video was a hit.
“You can’t unsee that,” Marshall joked. “After I did that, faculty and administrators all across campus saw me in a different light. Students loved it, because it’s so ridiculous. It gets them ready to interact.”
Marshall, 47, had begun teaching online classes in the 2018, when he started to teach a summer class called “Art and Insects.” But in making that transition to online classes, he didn’t know where to start, at least initially.
Marshall said his approach to teaching heavily relies on student engagement, using a very Socratic style to open up his classes and making sure students get to interact with the class material. His classes also focus on something Marshall calls “productive failure,” where students are encouraged to make mistakes but learn from them as well.
“This notion that I could just stand up and lecture for 50 minutes, and you’re expected to remember everything, it’s unreasonable,” Marshall said. “When we think about what we want students to remember a year from now, or five years from now? If we focus on that material, then you can go back and focus your lectures on critical main points.”
So when Marshall tried standing in front of a camera and lecturing for 20 minutes for his first online class, he realized that was inconsistent with his teaching style. It was at this point that Marshall knew he had to come up with some way to keep students’ attention, even through the internet, and that’s when he came up with Insect Fusion.
Through Insect Fusion, Marshall demonstrates the various ways insects are connected to other subjects and everyday life on his Twitter (@insectfusion), YouTube and class pages. After great success with his initial summer 2018 experiment with the videos, Marshall carried over the teaching approach to his other regular classes, and that made the current forced transition to online classes much easier.
“Sometimes, students can be intimidated to come and ask a question, but if you do those things, they’re much more willing to engage with you and ask questions” he said. “You show them your silly side.”
Since he started showing his videos, student engagement with the course materials has increased, Marshall said, and he and other entomology faculty discovered that courses with the “silly” material have also seen student success go up between 30 and 40%.
Now that all of his classes are completely online, Marshall said he makes three to six videos a day, rather than just a few a week, he said, and his existing style and approach to online teaching helped him make that transition.
“Jeremy approaches teaching with passion and an unmatched energy,” said Brian McCornack, interim entomology department head. “He understands the value of a student-centered experience. This helps our students connect to content quicker and retain information longer. He focuses on the student, any chance he gets.
“I would also say that his energy and creativity is off the charts,” McCornack continued. “He is not afraid to try new things in front of the camera or in a classroom. He is definitely in his element when he’s teaching.”
Marshall’s first brush with insects came when majored in chemistry and biology at Piedmont College, a small liberal arts college in northeast Georgia. He never forgot the personal level of education his professors gave him at the college, and it’s an approach he carried with him throughout his career.
Marshall also credits his wife Susan, a former president of the Manhattan-Ogden school board and current middle school math teacher at Fort Riley, for helping him catch the teaching bug. Professors typically aren’t trained in teaching, since their degrees are in their subject areas, not education, and Susan has been a valuable sounding board and source of ideas for him, Marshall said.
“Having someone who actually knows how to teach has been one of the most important resources for me in my entire career,” Marshall said.
But rather than just teaching his classes, Marshall said he loves to encourage students to grow a passion for the subject, and as director of the department’s undergraduate research, he created a program that matches undergraduate students with STEM faculty to work on a research project. The students then present their work at an undergraduate research symposium, which Marshall said has now grown to more than 160 students.
Administrators noticed Marshall’s program, and last fall, he was tapped to be faculty director for the university’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry, in addition to his entomology teaching duties. McCornack said thanks to Marshall’s work, K-State’s entomology minor program is now the largest in the country, having grown to more than 60 students in just a few years’ time.
Since he first got to K-State in 2006, Marshall said he and his wife have found a different, more welcoming sort of environment.
“It’s a community that is really supportive,” he said. “Anything that you want to try to do, there’s always someone there to help. That’s really different than most other places.”