Brian H. Lower, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Environmental Microbiology
School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR)

Course: ENR 2100 Introduction to Environmental Science

How Are You Teaching?

Anytime, Anywhere

Brian Lower has been teaching Introduction to Environmental Science in an “anytime anywhere” (or hybrid learning format) since 2012 to help meet the needs of a large class with a diverse student body. 

Lower initially offered his course in Apple iTunes U, but students with PCs couldn’t readily access the material. All course materials are now posted in two locations: on Carmen and at In addition to accommodating PC and Mac users, the website serves as a backup to Carmen and makes content accessible to high school teachers interested in applying the course material to their own classrooms. 

Features of Lower's "anytime, anywhere" approach that have worked especially well:

  • Post all lecture slides, lecture videos and lecture transcripts on Carmen. All course materials for the entire semester are provided to all students on day 1 of class.    
  • Writing assignments are open on Carmen for two weeks.
  • Quizzes are open on Carmen for one week.
  • Exams are open on Carmen for one week.  
  • All writing assignments are run through Turn-It-In software to help prevent academic misconduct.
  • A Practice Turn-It-In folder on Carmen is open all semester, allowing students to upload and check their writing assignments for potential plagiarism before they upload them for a grade.  
  • Post and provide study guides for all exams that are open all semester.
  • Use free course materials (journal articles, open source textbooks, government reports, etc.) and do not require a textbook.  
  • Have a dedicated class email account, with several people answering to ensure emails are replied to within two hours Monday-Friday and within 12 hours on Saturdays and Sundays.  
  • Hold virtual office hours. Although 99 percent of students prefer email, some students want to Skype or Zoom.
  • All quizzes and exams are open book. An instructor has to carefully design exam questions (use graphs, tables, calculations, photographs) and have a large library of questions so students get different questions and exams are unique for each student.  
  • Virtual Poster Sessions are open for one week to allow all students the opportunity to participate. Instructions are provided for peer reviews, and students are assigned posters to review.
  • Grading rubrics are used to grade all writing assignments to improve efficiency in grading and detailed feedback to students.   


Student feedback on the accessible nature of Lower's course has been largely positive. “They tell us that it really helps them do well in class and have a great experience,” he said. “Students still have to do the work, they still have to read, take notes, write, study, watch documentaries, etc. We’re just making it easier for them to accomplish this.”

Lower acknowledges the effort involved in preparing this type of course. Recording lectures and making videos accessible is time consuming, but students have appreciated the ability to rewind and rewatch. His approach also helps serve students that speak English as a second language and acknowledges, in his words, that students "all learn at different rates." 

Lower advises colleagues to pay particular attention to module organization (“students tend to like week-by-week”) and consider course materials from a student's point of view. Also important to successful instruction: a willingness to adapt or adjust when technology fails or course adjustments are necessary. As for the future, Lower looks forward to using virtual reality in his course.

For more information about applying virtual reality to higher education, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality: Changing Realities in a Dynamic World (2019) contains a section on AR and VR in education and features the latest research in areas of immerseive technologies presented at the 5th International Augmented and Vitual Reality Conference last year.