Biology 209 – Vascular Plants

Course Description

Biology 209 introduces students to a group of organisms commonly dealt with by botany departments, but for the most part are not plants at all. We cover algae, fungi and bryophytes. There are three one-hour lectures and a three-hour lab per week (8 lab sections). There are usually three teaching faculty: two lecturers a lab instructor (me), and four teaching assistants. This year there are three lecturers including myself. Dr. Mary Berbee is on sabbatical so I am teaching the bryophyte part of the course. Biology 209 is a well-coordinated course where the lab and lecture are integrated. For each unit, students do a project that requires them to go into the field, collect and classify specimens. I attend all lectures to ensure continuity with the lab.

Course Information and Artifacts

The following documents are in pdf format.
Course Syllabus
Culture Facility Request
- the order for cultures from the Canadian Culture Facility, UBC
Virtual Lab Exam stations, question sheets
Prezi of the Bryophyte part of the first lecture.

Course Website:

The website for this course provides students with course information and study centre. All information for the course is posted. Students can review images of specimens from lab (and contribute to the images as well), participate in self-tests, get study charts, find useful web links, and get information about class activities and lectures. The discussion board is well used and students know that that the responses they get for their questions from their peers are accurate as I check the site as often as I check my email. Online Office hours have been well received (primarily around exam time).


My primary duties have been to organize and execute the labs. The teaching team works closely to present a course that integrates the lab and the lecture material. The students are required to do a project on each of the main topics of the course (bryophytes, fungi, and algae). This works well to have them integrate what they are learning in both lab and lecture. There are eight lab sections totaling over 200 students. Each TA is assigned two lab sections. To run a successful lab the TAs must be well prepared as well as sufficient living material must be obtained. The lab manual and additional materials (preserved, prepared microscope slides, pictures, demonstrations) must be well organized.


While I teach the upper level bryology course, lecturing in Biology 209 is very different.  We discuss transition to terrestrial habitats from algal ancestors.  We compare how bryophytes face the challenges to life on land by comparing their strategies with tracheophytes. We examine the key features of the main groups within the three lineages of bryophytes as well as discuss symbioses (with fungi and cyanobacteria).  Being the third lecturer is challenging as the students are used to the other lecturers and getting tired at the end of term.  At least two days before the beginning of a unit I post a one-pager that includes the readings, outline, and learning outcomes.  Students are instructed on how to use the learning objectives to guide readings and t prepare for exams.  I like to write notes on the overhead with slides that illustrate the points we are discussing.
Unit I – overview
Unit II – overview
Unit III – overview
Example of Lecture – November 16 (this is somewhat abbreviated as it is the 6 slide/page version I post for the students)


Fieldtrips are invaluable to learning about organisms.  This year I offered 5 different times for students to sign up for: campus walk, Pacific Spirit Park (2), Camosun Bog, Stanley Park.  It is an optional activity.  The fieldtrips are optional.  However all students do have to look at the algae, fungi, and bryophytes outside as the projects require collections (or pictures – algae).

Lab/Course Materials:

Materials are obtained through collection and culture (provided by the Canadian Centre for the Culture of Microorganisms). Algae are collected fresh from the intertidal (Stanley Park, Point Grey). Fungi and bryophytes are obtained from terrestrial ecosystems (forest, garden). Some materials, such as Porphyra, are collected in advance and either frozen or dried.

Teaching Goals:

The most important goal of the course is to engage and capture the interest of students in algae, fungi, and bryophytes. In Biology 209 students should be able to identify these organisms in the world around them and understand their basic biology, ecology, and evolutionary relationships. Concepts learned include constructing and interpreting phylogenetic trees, ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity, symbiosis, and life histories. Important skills include microscopy, observation, identification, and problem solving.

Course Reflections:

This will be my last year teaching in Biology 209. With my increased administrative duties I have to decrease my teaching load. This year is transitional. I am doing 1/3 of the labs and lectures and providing support for the new lab instructor. This course provides students with a solid foundation in algae, fungi, and bryophytes. In my section of the lecture my first unit is called “Land Ho!”. It is an excellent opportunity to review the algal ancestors and the challenges of life on land and compare the life strategies of bryophytes and tracheophytes.